When contacted by SCT about the reports that 30 to 90 adult sea lice had been found in and around the gills of whole Atlantic farmed salmon sold at supermarkets in Atlantic Canada, University of PEI professor of aquatic epidemiology Larry Hammell told SCT “I’ve never seen this many lice in the gills of fish,” Hammell told SCT. “It is very unusual and perplexing as adult lice do not live on gills.”
The sea lice were reported by BC-based researcher Alexandra Morton , who is in the area to present the Ransome Meyers Lecture at Dalhousie University Friday evening.
After photos of the sea lice were posted on Sobeys’ Facebook page and other places on the internet, Sobeys recalled all whole salmon on its 84 regional stores and said they were to conduct an investigation of the matter.
A more likely scenario than the sea lice growing on the gills, says Hammell, is that the lice were in the ice slurry in which salmon are shipped from the cage site where the slaughter takes place to the processing plant. One gill is generally sliced open to allow the bleeding to take place and lice may have attached there.
When asked whether the disturbing number of sea lice found in the Sobeys fish might provoke the salmon grower to revisit the health protocols at the farm where the fish was grown, Hammell had doubts. “There is a rigorous monitoring system in place in this region and Cooke has three full-time veterinarians on staff.” The grower and supplier of the salmon would know exactly where the salmon came from, but would rely on their own data, rather than Morton’s, for any risk assessment, says Hammell.
“The salmon grower is going to be largely concerned about the optics here,” says Hammell, who told SCT that the sea lice pose no rick to humans. One possibility for the large number of lice being on the fish, said Hammell, is that a grower noted a concentration of lice on fish nearing harvest weight and, “rather than going through the expense of a chemical treatment regime, decide to harvest early” and ship the fish to market.
Aquaculture activist and global coordinator at GAAIA told SCT that he thinks Hammell is an aquaculture industry “stooge”, who operates as “a scientist for rent.” Staniford said that Hammell operated as an apologist for the industry during the Infection Salmon Anemia contagion in Shelburne early in 2012, minimizing in media interviews the risk that ISA posed to salmon populations and to humans.
When asked by CBC interviewer Don Connolly whether fish with ISA were without any harm to humans, Hammell said, “Yeah. The virus lives in cold temperatures, so when it is introduced into mammals, there is no disease present.”