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New centre targets sea lice

Over the past 10 years, sea lice have become the plague of the salmon farming industry. Combating sea lice now claims up to ten per cent of the cost of producing Norwegian salmon. To coordinate and streamline efforts to fight this destructive parasite, the Sea Lice Research Centre (SLRC) has been launched in Bergen.

Sea lice infestation costs farmers close to NOK 2 per kilo of salmon produced, according to aquaculture industry figures.

“Sea lice are one of the greatest environmental challenges to Norwegian aquaculture,” stated Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Lisbeth Berg-Hansen at the opening ceremony for the country’s newest Centre for Research-based Innovation (SFI). The University of Bergen (UiB) is the centre’s host institution.

Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen The Research Council’s Eirik Normann (left) and Rector Sigmund Grønmo of the University of Bergen sign the SFI agreement that secures NOK 200 million in funding over eight years for the Sea Lice Research Centre. Frank Nilsen, Director of SLRC, and Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Lisbeth Berg-Hansen (back row) have high expectations for SLRC’s ability to find solutions to one of the aquaculture industry’s most difficult challenges. (Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen)

The SFI scheme is funded and administered by the Research Council of Norway.

Quick action needed

This summer the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen reported an alarmingly high level of sea lice infestation in wild salmon smolt and salmon trout. Throughout Norway, coordinated delousing campaigns among producers have achieved low levels of sea lice infestation in production fish.

Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen “We are running out of measures to employ against sea lice,” says Endre Sæter, Marketing Director at EWOS. “This new centre can help to find new ways of dealing with this scourge.” (Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen) Figures show the industry has intensified its efforts substantially in recent years. Until 2007 the fish farming industry was averaging one delousing treatment per salmon produced. By 2010, each production salmon averaged three delousing treatments.

 But the parasite is becoming increasingly resistant to measures to contain it. Resistance to seven of the nine delousing products has been documented.

“We are running out of measures to employ against sea lice,” confirms Endre Sæter, Marketing Director at feed supplier EWOS.

Contributing financially

Sea lice are considered a major threat to the competitiveness and sustainability of Norwegian aquaculture, so the industry is willing to invest heavily to find ways to eradicate this persistent pest.

“Individual players cannot be expected to solve this on their own,” believes Mr Sæter. “But together, by cooperating through the new SFI centre, we can provide the major boost needed to develop new ways of tackling sea lice.”

 The five industry partners contributing financially to SLRC activities are EWOS Innovation AS, Novartis Animal Health, PatoGen Analyse AS, Marine Harvest ASA, and Lerøy Seafood Group ASA.

World-class researchers in Bergen

Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen Professor Frank Nilsen of the University of Bergen’s Department of Biology is Director of the Sea Lice Research Centre. (Photo: Torkil Marsdal Hanssen) SLRC seeks to foster innovation by carrying out long-term research in close collaboration between research-intensive companies and the most eminent research groups in the field. Together, they intend to become the world’s leading centre for research on sea lice and similar parasites.

Frank Nilsen, director of the new centre and a professor at UiB’s Department of Biology, knows the centre is expected to produce results.

“Ambitions are high, and so are expectations,” says the director. “Our overall objective is to generate new ideas and find entirely new ways of solving the sea lice challenge.”

“One of our objectives is to promote the development of more effective, less harmful medicines to combat sea lice,” explains Sigmund Grønmo, Rector of UiB and the proud host of the new centre.

SLRC activities will include work on medicines, feed additives and vaccines. The centre will take steps to accelerate the process of converting research results into ready-to-use products.

Photo: SLRC A sea louse at the copepodid stage: Less than one millimetre long, it is already able to attach itself to a salmon. (Photo: SLRC) NOK 200 million for research and innovation

Using a combination of public and private funding and close cooperation between the research community and industry players, SLRC will spend NOK 200 million over the next eight years towards research on sea lice and similar parasites. The Research Council of Norway is contributing a total of NOK 80 million.

“We truly appreciate the fact that this centre features major stakeholders from the aquaculture, feed and pharmaceutical industries cooperating with universities, university colleges and research institutes,” says Eirik Normann, Executive Director of the Research Council’s Division for Innovation.

“Research-based innovation is demanding,” adds Mr Normann. “It involves interaction between academic and commercial interests. Experience from other SFI centres has nevertheless shown that there are great synergies to draw upon if the participants can achieve good cooperation and distribution of tasks.”

Facts about sea lice

The sea louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), a crustacean, is a parasite with high specificity for salmon and other marine salmonids. It develops in several moulting stages. Sea lice can spread across several kilometres of water masses. In their final stages, sea lice reposition themselves on the host salmon, inflicting multiple wounds. In production environments the fish are treated for sea lice using chemical delousing agents and/or the cleaner-fish Ballan wrasse.

Source: National Veterinary Institute, Norway.


Written by:
Torkil Marsdal Hanssen/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann
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