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“The cost to the salmon farming industry from sea lice is huge,” he said.Archaeologists tell us humans have been eating crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, shrimp) from prehistoric times to present.Feeding fish a pesticide with the active ingredient of emamectin benzoate became the tool of choice to control lice, Carr said.But around 2009, the lice appeared to become resistant to the pesticide, and they have spread globally since.
The tiny lice attach themselves to salmon and feed on them, killing or rendering them unsuitable for dinner tables.
“Our work has to be quicker than the evolution of the lice,” said Jake Elliott, vice president of Cooke Aquaculture in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick.
Experts say defeating the lice will take a suite of new and established technology, including older management tools such as pesticides and newer strategies such as breeding for genetic resistance.
The industry's key mistake was reacting when the lice evolved to survive pesticide, Carr said, rather than “getting ahead in the game.” “The efficacy went away and pressure developed to create new treatments,” said Kris Nicholls, chief operating officer at Cooke, a major player in world salmon farming.
The worldwide supply of salmon fell almost 10 percent last year, with Norway, the largest producer in the world, especially hard hit.
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Farmed salmon was worth nearly $12 billion in 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.