Sea lice in salmon poses no health risk: aquaculture expert

Jim Day
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A anti fish farming activist’s campaign that coaxed Sobeys to pull whole Atlantic salmon from its stores in response to concerns over sea lice is an unjustified scare tactic, says an expert in fish health.

Alexandra Morton launched a campaign to get salmon pulled from store shelves.

Morton started buying whole salmon at local grocery stores across the Maritimes and posting images of what she says are salmon infected with sea lice.

CBC reported that when an image was posted to Sobeys Facebook page on Wednesday, the company responded by removing all whole salmon from all 84 of its Maritime stores.

Sobeys spokeswoman Cynthia Thompson says its move was a proactive measure while Sobeys investigates.

Larry Hammell, a professor of aquaculture health management at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, says the action was not necessary.

“There is absolutely no human health concern associated with them (sea lice)…there is no reason scientifically to remove these salmon from the shelves,’’ said Hammell.

He says since food safety is not affected by sea lice Morton’s campaign amounts to nothing more than fear mongering.

“It’s a scare tactic,’’ he said.

“I have to admit it is a pretty effective one.’’



Organizations: Atlantic Veterinary College, Sobeys, CBC

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Sir Frank
    April 15, 2015 - 20:28

    May Alexandra Morton can elaborate on where else these chemicals are used in farming. Should Sobey's stop selling potatoes also if there is a bug that slips by the pesticide treatments. BTW lobster catches have never been better on the east-coast according to reports so the fear factor is less concerning to this consumer. I like a bit of balance to the media reports on a topic and I believe Mr. Hammell has done that but stirred up the environmentalists in the process.

  • Maurice Alarie
    October 23, 2012 - 12:21

    For Dr. Larry Hammell to suggest that visible sea lice are not harmful to humans, presumably cooked before being injested, is not unlike Alberta's opposition leader, Danielle Smith suggesting that the rejected, potentially E Coli contaminated XL Foods beef products, be cooked and served to the poor. Since when do we present and accept such food stuffs in the Canadian food supply? Worse, how did the aquaculturist, the processor, the wholesaler, the store fish monger and general staff ever let such visibly sea lice infected fish on to the retail food shelf!? Sounds way too much like Richard Hadfield's Tunagate in 1985 when he attempted to soft sell rancid tuna being canned at the Starkist plant in St. Andrews. Salmon aquaculturists have been less than transparent, as have government agencies, in identifying the chemical content in their retail products, from dyes, pharmaceuticals, feed additives to resist sea lice, and registered pesticides like cypermethrin, deltamethrin, and copper based net antifoulants, some obtained and applied illegally, some applied in illegal doses. All now being compounded in the marine environment by the acceptance of insitu net cleaning dispersing net bio-foulants and mussel captured contaminants to the sea. Kudos to Sobeys! Food appearance, smell and flavour (less parasites) contribute in whole to an enjoyable dining experience!

    • Will
      October 24, 2012 - 06:19

      Have you got half a clue ? Have you ever actually gone fishing and caught anything ? Sea lice are completely harmless , we remove them from salmon and sea run trout that we catch up our rivers all the time ( fresh run fish ) , this happens with fresh run fish because they haven't been in the fresh water long enough for the lice to die ( they need the salt water ) . They are naturally occuring , and live on the scales of fish . Nothing at all like the unsanitary conditions xl foods had that caused ecoli , improper cleaning of tools excetera ..... Ever been anywhere but a grocery store for your food ? the beef cattle ( while alive ) weren't the cause of the outbreak , it was the conditions under which they were processed that caused the contamination , I can't believe the moronic comment you posted , get a life and an education ..

    October 20, 2012 - 05:55

    Alexandra Morton, you say your only issue is with the drugs used to kill sea lice. So, the picture you posted to Sobey's Facebook page, that was of the drugs they use, right? No, I think it wasn't. I think you knew exactly what you were doing, and the good doctor is right, it's nothing more than fear mongering. You should be proud of your accomplishment, well done. Maybe you should go help out the Plan B protestors now.

  • Alexandra Morton
    October 19, 2012 - 16:59

    Dear Dr. Hammell, Your statements above must be a misquote. I have never stated sea lice are a human health issue. The drugs used to kill the sea lice, however, are a concern to the communities of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Both sea lice and lobster are crustaceans. It is not surprising, therefore, that lobster appear impacted by the drugs used to kill sea lice. Lobster fishermen feel strongly that drug treatments in salmon farms sited on their lobster grounds are killing lobster. And that, in turn, has impact on many communities. I hope to hear from you directly so that we can clear this up. All the best Alexandra Morton

  • Karen Crocker
    October 19, 2012 - 12:28

    It is not the thought of the lice on the fish's the thought of what chemical may be used to remove the infestation from the farms. Also the effects of those chemicals on other creatures such as lobster. I applaud Sobey's for their action. They are all about sustainable seafood.

  • Know the facts
    October 19, 2012 - 11:41

    I have fished wild Atlantic Salmon, and a tell tale sign that the fish are fresh in the river is when they have sea lice on them. They don't need to be farm raised. Maybe all cod fish should be removed too for the fear of the worms that each and everyone have. Albeit, most likely removed before they hit stores.

  • lice hater
    October 19, 2012 - 11:31

    Does it have to be called "sea LICE"?!?!?!?!?!? I love salmon btw. and lobster. and scallops. and mussels. and cake. and ice cream. purple. i have a bike. cat.