Recent work by Martin Krkosek of the University of Alberta has demonstrated strong links between the practice of salmon aquaculture and the incidence of sea lice infestations that threaten wild populations. One study used mathematically coupled datasets on the transmission of sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) on migratory pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and chum (Oncorhynchus keta) salmon. They concluded that:
Farm-origin lice induced 9–95% mortality in several sympatric wild juvenile pink and chum salmon populations. The epizootics arise through a mechanism that is new to our understanding of emerging infectious diseases: fish farms undermine a functional role of host migration in protecting juvenile hosts from parasites associated with adult hosts. Although the migratory life cycles of Pacific salmon naturally separate adults from juveniles, fish farms provide L. salmonis novel access to juvenile hosts, in this case raising infection rates for at least the first 2.5 months of the salmon’s marine life (80 km of the migration route).
Packing fish together in pens that are open to the sea is an almost ideal mechanism for breeding and distributing parasites and disease. In nature, you would never find salmon packed 25,000 to an acre. Keeping them in such conditions – and making them grow as quickly as possible – generally requires chemical manipulation. The earlier discussion here about antibiotic use and its role in the emergence of resistant bacteria is relevant.
These concerns also exist in addition to the fundamental reason for which fish farming cannot be sustainable: it relies on catching smaller and less tasty fish to feed to the tastier carnivorous fish that people enjoy. It thus lets us strip the sea bare of salmon or cod or trout and compensate for some period of time by using cheaper fish as a factor for their intensive production. Given that those cheaper fish are caught unsustainably, however, fish farming simply delays the emergence of truly empty oceans. And the industry is trying to have farmed salmon labelled ‘organic.’ Ludicrous.
Source: Krkosek, Martin et al. “Epizootics of wild fish induced by farm fish.” Proceedings of the National Association of Sciences. October 17, 2006, vol. 103, no. 42, 15506-15510.
P.S. Shifting Baselines also has some commentary on sea lice and salmon farming.