VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 1 (UPI) -- In a recent study, juvenile salmon that were heavily infected with sea lice were 20 percent less successful at finding and consuming food than those that were only lightly infected.
The study was conducted by biologists at Simon Fraser University, located in British Columbia. Lead author of the new study, Sean Godwin, says little is known about the effects of sea lice on salmon populations.
For regulators and conservationists trying to protect healthy salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, the lack of information is a problem.
"We need to get a better understanding of whether the effect of sea louse infection in our study scales up to the population level," Godwin, a doctoral biology student at Simon Fraser, explained in a press release.
"This is the first concrete evidence to suggest that sea lice may indirectly affect the survival of juvenile sockeye, not directly through disease but instead through reduced foraging success," Godwin said. "More research is needed to determine whether sea lice influence adult sockeye returns."
Previous research has shown open net salmon farms can host massive populations of sea lice, and that these infestations can spread to nearby wild salmon populations, infecting vulnerable juveniles.
Life for a newly born wild salmon is hard enough without a lice infection. And as Godwin's new research proves, it's even harder with one.
"This is where they have to cope with challenges such as increased predation, lack of food and pathogens such as sea lice," Godwin said of a young salmon's journey back to the ocean. "They have to have sufficient energy reserves and be able to capitalize on whatever food they can find. If their ability to compete for limited food is impaired, say by sea louse infection, starvation risk could be increased."
Godwin's study, co-authored with Simon Fraser biologists John Reynolds and Larry Dill, as well as University of Toronto researcher Martin Krkosek, was published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.