reLAKSation no 1133

Fluffy clouds: In a previous issue of reLAKSation I referred to the Coastal Communities Network’s spokesperson on aquaculture John Aitchison, who the Green’s MSP Ariane Burgess described as the award-winning cameraman and author. I mentioned that when John was speaking to the SEPA workshop on sea lice made the assertion that wild fish have to swim through ‘lice clouds’ and said that opponents of salmon farming such as John often use terminology which they are unable to justify. Of course, despite the fact I have highlighted the need to justify this description, no explanation has been forthcoming. I have therefore opted to conduct my own research into the concept of ‘lice clouds’.

It didn’t take long to uncover the source of this phrase. It appeared in the web edition of ‘Anthropocene’, part of the publication Future Earth, which aims to keep researchers, policymakers, designers, and educators up to date on the latest science and innovations.  Dated July 30th, 2008, Anthropocene published an article titled ‘Salmon Farms Create Deadly Clouds of Sea Lice’ about new research that showed salmon farms were spreading sea lice to juvenile wild salmon killing up to 95% of the smolts during their migration to sea. The new research paper ‘Epizootics of wild fish induced by farmed fish, although published on 17th October 2006 could not be described then as new appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with the lead author of Martin Krkosek. The full reference was published in the Anthropocene article.

Dr Krkosek told the magazine that ‘Juveniles have to migrate through clouds of sea lice’ even though the word ‘clouds’ does not appear at all in the published paper.  The phrase does appear more recently in the book ‘Not on My Watch’ by Alexandra Morton. On page 77, she writes that ‘young wild salmon were migrating through clouds of lice’. Her reference to clouds is not of any surprise as she was cited as a co-author on the 2006 paper.

Her colleague Dr Krkosek must have been disappointed that he only gets one small reference in her book when she described him as the first young scientist to work out of her place in the Broughton. Dr Krkosek is to this day a long-time supporter of Ms Morton and a board member of her Salmon Coast Field Station. Interestingly, Dr Krkosek’s early work is what prompted independent researcher Vivian Krause on the journey to uncover at least $33 million of funding from US charitable foundation aimed at undermining the salmon farming industry. Although Vivian no longer researches the salmon farming sector, undoubtedly charitable foundations continue to fund large scale anti-salmon farming activities.

Following publication of this paper, Martin Krkosek told a BC Government hearing that all his findings were correlative, and this does not show evidence of causation. In the same way, there is no evidence of sea lice clouds in the sea. The claim there is by John Atchison is simply not backed by any evidence, just a motivation to rid Scotland of salmon farms.

In much the same way, the idea that there is a sea lice soup is not supported by any evidence. Unlike ‘lice clouds’ sea lice soup appears to come from a single source. This is the now retired Director of the then Salmon & Trout Association, now wild fish. Mr Graham Stewart was interviewed by the BBC Countryfile programme broadcast on 1st December 2013. When it was pointed out to Mr Graham Stewart that sea lice occur naturally in the ocean, he replied:

“They do. There’s a natural background level of sea lice in the sea but fish farms… when you’ve got half a million fish or so in the fish farms… there’s a reservoir of breeding adults which create billions, literally billions of sea lice larvae which spread out into the sea lochs and you’ve got what is called a sea lice soup through which the juvenile fish, which aren’t adapted to coping with those numbers of lice, have got to swim. The latest credible study, which was done by sea lice experts from Scotland, Canada and Norway conclude that thirty four percent of salmon leaving these rivers next to fish farms die as a result.”

Unfortunately, like the study he referred to, Mr Graham Stewart’s claim is not credible and not backed by evidence. As I have previously mentioned, Wild Fish’s recent claim that every farm is pumping out 2 billion sea lice making a total of 400 billion lice in the sea every week is not recognised by Marine Scotland Science. I can only say that if the number of sea lice actually found in the sea is considered a soup by Mr Graham Stewart, then he must like his soup to be just like water!


Pink lice: In 2007, Martin Krkosek published another paper in Science that examined forty years of data relating to the numbers of returning pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago and found that numbers had declined rapidly over the most recent four years. Dr Krkosek predicted that because the impact of sea lice was so severe with sea lice killing more than 80 percent of the annual pink salmon returns that the whole pink salmon population would suffer a 99% collapse within the following four years if infestations should continue.

Of course, the pink salmon population did not collapse as predicted, and at the time, Alexandra Morton made some excuse that salmon farms had reduced their infestations.

Roll forward sixteen years, and FIS report that the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has joined with NOFIMA to uncover the genetic secrets of why pink salmon appear to be resistant to sea lice whilst Atlantic salmon are not.

I have written previously asking why it is that pink salmon are able to expand so rapidly across the same area of Norway where Atlantic salmon are farmed. According to Norwegian scientists, sea lice from salmon farms are killing wild salmon and sea trout, hence the need for the Traffic Light System to control sea lice numbers.

How can it be that pink salmon are resistant to sea lice in Norway, yet some Canadian researchers have claimed that sea lice have killed 80% of the pink salmon population. It makes no sense. But then most of the research about sea lice and salmon farms makes no sense, which is why in my experience most researchers refuse to engage in any discussion about their science.


Pinks: iLAKS reports that the pinks are back in Northern Norway with almost 10,000 fish caught around Varangerfjord in just one week at the end of June. Large numbers are also being caught from Norwegian rivers.

In 2021, the Norwegian Environment Agency reported that 38,000 pinks were caught in the sea and a further 110,000 from rivers. It therefore looks like 2023 might be a bumper year for pinks. The same could be true for Scotland too.

Control of invasive species in freshwater is the responsibility of SEPA.  Their current advice is to report any sightings of these fish to Fisheries Management Scotland so with both organisations focused on controlling the absolute minimal risk to wild salmon from salmon farms, it seems the predicted pink onslaught this year will progress unchallenged.

From Twitter


Alarming lice: Intrafish reported that there is also an ‘alarming’ number of lice in the sea. A reporter from the website participated in the sample at Herdla on Askøy. The lead researcher told Intrafish that it is very sad when you can see flesh wounds on the fish due to lice. Its also not good for the fish.

The sampling was undertaken by researchers at NORCE as part of the assessment for the Traffic Light System. It ran from 13 to 24 May and according to Intrafish the average count on the fish they caught was 74 lice with a maximum of 237 lice on one fish. According to the researchers, never before have such high numbers of lice been measured on sea trout.

The findings agree with those found from other areas such as Bolstadfjorden, which led to the order from the Norwegian Environment Agency. According to Intrafish, the researchers sampled 41 sea trout and 8 salmon smolts and a further sea trout whilst Intrafish were present. The average number of lice to fish weight was 0.3 lice per gram of sea trout in May which is equivalent to the highest level of risk. The worst example of fish caught previously at Bolstadfjorden weighed 140g but carried 242 lice giving a relative intensity of 1.7 lice per gram, way above the 0.3 lice per gram high.

One of the researchers told Intrafish that ‘It is alarming’.

I agree that it is alarming but not for the reason they say. I would argue that it is alarming that sea lice researchers have so limited knowledge of sea lice ecology which means that their analysis is not only misleading, but unnecessarily potentially damaging to the salmon farming industry.


Fraud: Alexandra Morton has written accusing Dr Simon Jones of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans of research fraud. She writes:

“I write to you again regarding scientific conclusions that you provided on impact of the salmon farming industry that do not appear to be supported by your own research.”

What Ms Morton fails to realise is that the same accusation can be levelled at herself. For years she has claimed that wild salmon populations in the Fraser River are being put at risk by the activities of salmon farmers. She claims that sea lice from salmon farms are killing wild salmon.

Yet her own data from the Salmon Coast Field Station on sea lice sampling on migrating juvenile salmon does not support her claim. The data from over twenty years shows that the majority of sampled fish are in fact lice free.

The problem is that in this case Ms Morton hasn’t actually done the science so it’s not really fraud but rather ignorance. Like many critics, Ms Morton prefers to focus on the very few fish with high lice counts believing them to be representative of the whole wild salmon population when they are not.

If Ms Morton believes that I am wrong, I am more than happy to debate the subject with her, even in a public forum, something she always seems unwilling to do.