A local biologist is raising concerns about the province's salmon farming industry after she purchased a fillet with a sea louse in it.
Alexandra Morton went to Superstore in North Vancouver last Friday to buy a piece of fresh farmed Atlantic salmon for research purposes. As an independent biologist, she says she does this frequently to test local fish for viruses.
She says she was surprised to find a live sea louse attached to the fish.
“It’s very rare to find sea lice on fish that are in the market. It just suggests to me that when they were cleaning the fish, there were so many lice that they were crawling around and one jumped onto the fillet," she explains.
In an email statement to CTV News, Loblaws says it has contacted its vendor to discuss quality protocols.
"We take pride in the food we provide our customers, and while sea lice is not harmful, this should have never happened. We have inspected all product on shelf and this seems to be an isolated case," a spokesperson says.
Sea lice are naturally occurring crustaceans and do not pose any danger to human health, according Morton.
“I don’t see this as the fault of the store at all. It’s just a symptom of a problem that is happening on this coast that is having tremendous consequences.”
Morton says open-net salmon farming is largely to blame.
“Like all farms, parasites and viruses breed rapidly because there’s no way the fish can get away from them and there’s no predators. So the sea lice numbers just build and build.”
She says wild salmon that travel through the open nets are then exposed to a high concentration of larvae. It’s often fatal for juvenile fish because they don’t yet have scales to protect themselves.
“The solution is put the farms on land like every other feed lot in North America.”
But the BC Salmon Farmers Association says the solution isn’t that simple.
“You have to use a lot of land for one thing and cover those in concrete tanks. You have to fill those tanks with fresh water and then you have to have electricity to circulate that water around and artificially replicate ocean conditions,” says spokesperson Shawn Hall.
Hall believes land-based salmon farming is still in its early stages, but will be a bigger part of province's operations in the future. He says B.C. Salmon farmers are using the latest technology to combat sea lice and do monthly inspections to prevent outbreaks.
“Sea lice are actually an example of how B.C. salmon farmers are operating at a world class level and managing issues that come up in any human activity.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada monitors farm activities.
Critics say the department's sea lice rules are too lax and there's little repercussions for failing to control parasites.
“The consumer is such an important voice because ultimately, the salmon farming companies want to do what the consumers want,” said Morton.
She’s encouraging shoppers to stop buying salmon from net pens.