"Trying to Stop Sea Lice From Partying Like It’s 1999"

 When Prince penned his classic song “1999”, he likely wasn’t thinking about the sea lice that infect Atlantic salmon. Dr. Mark Fast says that was a crucial year for sea lice in the aquaculture industry, and now the parasite is partying again like it’s 1999.

Fast is the Novartis Research Chair in Fish Health at the Atlantic Veterinary College of UPEI. He’s giving one of two presentations at UPEI’s 25th Research Breakfast (details below).

“1999 was the year the aquaculture industry gained what would be its most powerful tool in the fight against sea lice,” says Fast. “It’s called SLICE. It’s an in-feed treatment that, for a time, acted like a silver bullet. It was so effective that as a researcher studying sea lice, I found it difficult to harvest sea lice from salmon in an aquaculture environment. I just couldn’t find them. It worked that well.”

Fast says the treatment was so effective, research into other potential sea-lice fighting agents tapered off.

“Prior to 1999, there was a lot of promising research into vaccines, different chemotherapeutics, even echnology that would block the parasite’s ability to find a salmon to attach itself to. But SLICE was so effective, development of many of these projects just fell by the side.”

Some researchers warned against the silver-bullet approach, arguing the sea lice could eventually build up a tolerance—which is exactly what has occurred in aquaculture settings around the world.

“SLICE’s effectiveness started to seriously wane around 2008,” says Fast. “The sea lice were adapting. The previous two summers had been worse than ever. Sea lice were partying even harder than they were in 1999.”

In the meantime, researchers such as Fast have been digging out some of those old treatments, and meshing them with new ideas. Some of them are showing great promise.

“Industry needs these tools right now,” says Fast, “but regulators don’t move quite as fast because these products need to be tested. We’re working to find a medium-term solution—something that perhaps has already been approved for use—that could control the parasites until we have a long-term solution.”

Fast says that long-term solution must have several components. Neither the researchers nor the industry will trust just one solution again.

“More than likely, there will be several things incorporated into a long-term management plan that include vaccines, immune-boosting feed, anti-attachment technology, and treatment for fish that are already infected.”

Learn more about Dr. Mark Fast’s work at UPEI’s 25th Research Breakfast, Wednesday, December 1, 7:30-9 a.m. in the Georgian Room of the Rodd Charlottetown. Dr. Khym Goslin, Assistant Professor of Education will also present "Instructional Leadership for the 21st Century Changes in Teaching and Schooling."

Tickets for the breakfast are $10 each and may be purchased at the door. Please respond regarding your ability to attend by calling the Office of the Dean of Arts at 566-0307.