Quantifying the contribution of sea lice from aquaculture to declining annual returns in a wild Atlantic salmon population

Atlantic salmon Salmo salar has shown declines in abundance associated with reduced survival during marine life stages.

Key impacts on survival may include a changing ocean environment and salmon louse Lepeophtheirus salmonis infestation from aquaculture. A 26 yr record from the Erriff River (Western Ireland) was used to evaluate the contribution of sea lice from salmon aquaculture to declining returns of wild 1 sea-winter (1SW) salmon. Statistical models suggested that returns were >50% lower in years following high lice levels on nearby salmon farms during the smolt out-migration.

The long-term impact of salmon lice was explored by applying predicted annual loss rates as a multiplier to observed 1SW salmon returns. This produced a ‘lice-corrected’ return time series, i.e. an estimate of how returns might have looked in the absence of a serious aquaculture lice impact. The corrected time series was adjusted to account for some reduction in recruitment due to lost spawners.

Comparing observed and lice-corrected time series suggested that salmon lice have strongly reduced annual returns of 1SW Erriff salmon, but that the salmon lice impact does not explain a declining trend in this population.


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