Marine Harvest's Sea Lice Costs Rise 32 Percent


Marine Harvest’s sea lice fight costs rise 32%

April 13, 2017, 9:13 am
Neil Ramsden

Marine Harvest saw the costs of fighting sea lice across its global operations rise in 2016, as Norway and Scotland in particular struggled with the pest.

In Norway alone, the firm noted, “the exceptional cost related to sea lice mitigation amounted to €78.5 million in 2016, compared to €59.2m in 2015, an increase of 32.5%”.

In Norway, “other seawater costs” per kilogram of fish harvested were 26% higher in 2016 due to “higher sea lice pressure contributing to an increased number of treatments, and the harvesting of fish at a lower average weight”, the firm said in its 2016 annual report.

Scotland felt the impact of sea lice to an even greater degree, with “other seawater costs” per kg harvested rising by 36.8% compared to 2015.

This increase was again mainly due to costs associated with biological challenges, specified as increased sea lice treatment and mitigation costs. Marine Harvest did not break down the figures involved in sea lice mitigation for Scotland.

The company also revealed data showing that the percentage of farming sites which exceeded national sea lice “trigger levels” or lice limits – on an average monthly basis – rose in 2016.

“The increase in losses associated with delousing interventions highlights the need to strengthen our efforts to further develop integrated approaches and optimize non-medicinal treatment systems,” the company added.

Scotland had the worst showing, with the percentage of sites exceeding limits rising from 50% to 69%. Norway saw the number of sites double, from 4% to 8%.

Elsewhere the mitigation efforts led to a better result; in Ireland the number of sites exceeding national levels fell from 18% to 4%, in the Faroes they fell from 12% to 3%, and in Canada they fell from 25% to 13%.

Across the group, the total sites exceeding sea lice limits rose from 14% to 15%.

Scotland aquaculture's 'dirty man'

The Salmon and Trout Conservation of Scotland (S&TCS) has seized upon these numbers, suggesting they show Scottish salmon farms “lag very far behind its operations elsewhere in the world” in terms of controlling the parasite.

“The situation in Scotland compared to other countries is truly shocking and a damning indictment of Scottish Government’s failure to regulate salmon farming effectively,” said Andrew Graham-Stewart, S&TCS director.

“This is incontrovertible proof that Scotland really is the dirty man of global aquaculture. It lays bare Scottish government’s complacent mantra that the industry here is well regulated and sustainable. Ministers must surely now cease peddling ‘alternative facts’ when it comes to the industry’s environmental performance.”

While Marine Harvest itself is obviously disappointed with the figures, it's worth noting that it owns 122 sites in Norway, and only 50 in Scotland, so percentage shifts appear far more drastic in the latter than the former.

S&TCS pointed to Marine Harvest CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog's own assertions in the annual report, which state, “poorly managed fish farming systems can lead to a high frequency of diseases and increased use of antibiotics or other medicines, including medication to combat sea lice, the industry’s main challenge at present".

“We know that two important drivers in this regard are a too high density of fish farms and too rapid growth in a small area.”

This warning against too-high a density of farms and too-rapid growth makes the Scottish government’s growth targets – of doubling the size of the industry by 2030 – look increasingly dangerous to the environment and to the industry, said Graham-Stewart.

This discounts the potential for improvements; a potential which Marine Harvest – and other salmon farmers – are investing much to try and achieve.

“Sea lice remain our number one challenge, and as such will continue to be our top R&D priority for the foreseeable future,” said Marine Harvest.

“Although we still have a way to go, we increased our use of non-medicinal tools in 2016 and expect to reap the benefits of our efforts going forward.”

The company spent €51.3m on R&D in 2016, an increase of 95% on 2015.

“Our zero-adult-female strategy, rolled out in the group in 2015, remains in focus. In 2016, we decided to further increase our resources within this field and will therefore establish an internal 'lice action team' which will run and coordinate all lice projects and activities in which we are involved.”

This team will be strengthened through the addition of engineering competence, it added.

Marine Harvest is also searching for opportunities to better protect the fish from becoming infected during the marine phase of farming.

It is currently testing the second batch of fish in its semi-closed floating facility, Neptun, which is helping it to develop more sustainable production regimes, it said.

“Since the floating semi-closed technology is still very new, we are focusing on testing several different concepts, to be sure we select the best one once the technology is taken to a larger scale.”