Brick Wall: Two years ago, the Norwegian Government appointed a committee to review the permit system in the aquaculture industry. The Committee finally handed over their report to the Norwegian Fisheries Minister last week. Of most interest are their suggestions regarding the impact of sea lice. These include the introduction of a lice quota for farms with a maximum number allowed and fines introduced should the number be exceeded. They also propose changes to the Traffic Light System to a more targeted system but will retain measures relating to sea lice. In addition, they propose the introduction of fire breaks between areas to minimise the spread of infection and infestation.
The Committee consists of eleven members including their chairperson, yet I am unsure as to how much experience any of them have with regard to sea lice, except Geir Lasse Taranger of the institute of Marine Research (IMR) and his views are not likely to be that impartial given that it is his paper that is used as the basis for estimation of risk of mortality from sea lice as applied to the Traffic Light System.
Just as elsewhere, Norway is still invested in the long-time established narrative that sea lice from salmon farms are damaging to wild fish. The narrative is maintained by a scientific community who are conducting the research in line with that narrative. There is a total unwillingness to consider any other possibilities.
Last month, IMR issued a press release that said that if the salmon farming industry wanted to expand, then it must learn from the mistakes that salmon farmers made in the west of Norway. What they mean is that sea lice infestations in the west have been deemed by the Traffic Light process to been sufficiently high to cause the imposition of controls that have limited growth.
IMR say that the solution to the problem of sea lice, in their view, is simple, although they do say ‘in theory’. They say that research, industry, and administration must work together to restructure the industry. IMR add that key words here are ‘good models’ that identify the infection network between both salmon farms and fjords. These, they say are the ‘tools’ that can help farmers and managers to assess sea lice spread and impact and then IMR can quantify the effect.
Sometimes, it is like banging one’s head against a brick wall! The scientific community working on sea lice are not interested in any discussion about these issues unless it is in agreement with their own established narrative.
I would argue that far from it being the salmon industry that has made mistakes; it is IMR that are the ones that are mistaken. Even though IMR’s Chief Executive has put his name to this press release, he too appears unwilling to engage in a discussion. I suppose IMR are simply not used to being challenged. The problem here is that this is not just about the science, but the implications for a multi-billion kroner industry. Science is always evolving and therefore there should also be room for discussion, not putting up brick walls.
I have previously written extensively about the issues of sea lice and impacts on wild fish so I will not repeat them again here.
Implications: Last August Intrafish reported that the Norwegian Food Safety Authority refused an application from Salmar to increase production at their Olausskjæret farm. The reason given was excessive pressure from sea lice.
As I mentioned in the previous commentary, acceptance of the established narrative on sea lice has major implications for salmon farming companies, which is why the narrative should be challenged. Clearly the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has access to data that shows this excessive pressure.
I have not seen this data, nor I have any idea what it shows however, I am in the process of analysing extensive data, not just from Norway but also from Scotland and none of it supports the claims made for excessive pressure from sea lice. I don’t see why the data used by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority would be any different.
Perhaps the time has come for the salmon farming industry to standup for itself and challenge the decisions made that are based on flawed science.
Sea trout: Vitenskapelig råd For Lakseforvaltning (VRL) had issued a press statement to say that the Scientific Committee for Salmon Management would be publishing their first report on the status of sea trout in Norway this week. If anyone had asked me what I thought the headline story from the report would be I would have said that ‘Sea Trout stocks are in serious decline and that sea lice from salmon farms are the main driver of this decline’.
The actual headline is the ‘Sea lice steer the sea trout towards crisis.’ I was very close.
VRL say that one threat to sea trout stands out from the rest and that is sea lice from salmon farms. Consequently, there is a high risk that sea trout will be critically endangered due to insufficient measures being taken against the lice. They conclude that the only way to help safeguard sea trout in Norway is to take significant measures to reduce the infection pressure from farming.
VRL continue by saying that sea lice affect sea trout even more negatively than in salmon. This is for several reasons including that sea trout remain in the local fjord systems.
VRL have produced their usual risk graph, and this shows that sea lice are the greatest threat.
The colour and number indicate that they have the most confidence in their assessment. Yet the section of the report about sea lice is just four paragraphs long and runs to about 570 words, not one of which provides any evidence to support their claims. They say:
An exact estimate of the reduction of the sea trout population due to sea lice is very difficult but correlation analysis suggests that that it is very likely that the productivity has been greatly reduced.
In other words, they haven’t got a clue. The simple assumption is that as VRL have previously assessed sea lice to be a major threat to salmon, then sea trout that remain in the fjord around salmon farms must be at a greater risk.
This is the thoughts of the ‘scientific’ committee of salmon management? They are wrong and there is plenty of evidence to show that they are wrong. They just don’t know where to look.
The reality is that the biggest threat to sea trout in Norway, as well as salmon, comes from VRL not from sea lice.