Sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, transfer between wild sympatric adult and juvenile salmon on the north coast of British Columbia, Canada


We examine sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, on juvenile and adult salmon from the north coast of British Columbia between 2004 and 2006 in an area that does not at present contain salmon farms. There is a pronounced zonation in the abundance of L. salmonis on juvenile pink salmon, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, in the Skeena and Nass estuaries. Abundances in the proximal and distal zones of these estuaries are 0.01 and 0.05 respectively. The outer zones serve as feeding and staging areas for the pink salmon smolts. Returning Chinook, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, and coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, concentrate in these areas. We collected data in 2006 to examine whether L. salmonis on returning adult salmon are an important source of the sea lice that appear on juvenile pink salmon. Nearly all (99%) of the sea lice on returning Chinook and over 80% on coho salmon were L. salmonis. Most of the L. salmonis were motile stages including many ovigerous females. There was a sharp increase in the abundance of sea lice on juvenile pink salmon smolts between May and July 2006 near the sites of adult captures. As there are no salmon farms on the north coast, few sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, and very few resident salmonids until later in the summer, it seems that the most important reservoir of L. salmonis under natural conditions is returning adult salmon. This natural source of sea lice results in levels of abundance that are one or two orders of magnitude lower than those observed on juvenile pink salmon in areas with salmon farms such as the Broughton Archipelago.