Sea Lice in BC

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by Dale Dennis, Dec 26, 2005.

  1. Dale Dennis Formally Double-D

    Posts: 527
    Arlington, WA
    Ratings: +5 / 0
    This searun lice phenomenon has been eating at me for several years. As I see it brought up more and on this forum it eats at me more. I thought I would do some research and found this site regarding some pink salmon runs in BC that are in serious trouble because of infestations of lice on juvenile pinks.

    Some are blaming the fish farming and I don't think it is what we are experiencing here but it does concern me.

    I really think this parasite that is attacking our beloved searun needs some attention.
    The lice they are experiencing in BC is of a different type but it is still a parasite that is in epidemic porportions as we are experiencing here in the sound.
    Although I have witnessed lice on cutt juveniles at approximatly 8" (in the salt) I think the advantage that searuns may have over BC pink salmon juveniles is that they leave there natal streams at a much larger size.

    I agree with Les, you didn't see this years ago, something has changed. I started seeing the lice approximately 10 years ago in the South Hood Canal and I have fished searuns in the Canal since the early 60's. Now it is prevalent in the North Sound (as far north as Skagit Bay) for at least the last 6 to 7 years that I can recall.

    I appologize in advance if this link doesn't work.
  2. Les Johnson Les Johnson

    Posts: 1,590
    .Redmond, WA
    Ratings: +6 / 0
    Check with the DFO in British Columbia or WDFW. They usually answer questions like yours and have some scientific data available, although not a whole lot on coastal cutthroat. Perhaps Curt Kraemer can clarify your question if he sees the post.
    Good Fishing,
    Les Johnson
  3. Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    Posts: 4,031
    Olympic Peninsula
    Ratings: +706 / 0
    Another researcher from B.C., Dr Volpe, has presented papers and been published on sea lice up there. He was with Oceans Canada and B.C. Fisheries, now he is at Univ Alberta, I believe in Calgary. Appearantly they did not like Dr Volpe saying bad things about the B.C. Fish Farming industry and it's impacts upon the Archipellago waters and fish.
  4. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,836
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +716 / 0
    Double-D -
    First lets be clear the critter that we are seeing on the sea-run cutthroat is not same one as the one causing problems around the net pens. While there are several species of Caliges (sea-lice) none of them appear to be what we see on the cutts. I don't know what that critter is and while it is convenient to call them sea-lice they probably are not. If we knew more about what sort of critter they are we could learn/speculate about what appears to be causing higher abundances.

    The first time I fished Hood Canal for cutthroat (1974) I caught one with those critters on it though not at any kinds of the numbers we now see on them. Why they are more abundant (if they are)? and what changes in the environment caused the increase are unknown. It could be a simple as having more cutthroat in the population allow for the development of higher parastie numbers to the very complex. I supect the answer is complex (changes in the invertebrate community, prey/predator relations and stream flows changes come to immediate mind).

    Perhaps the more important question is whether these parasites are causing significant problems to the cutthroat populations. With the ability of the fish to shed these parasites by ducking into freshwater they be more of an inconvenience than life threating.

    Has anyone seen any evidence of skinny or dying cutthroat with heavy infestations?

    Tight lines
  5. Dale Dennis Formally Double-D

    Posts: 527
    Arlington, WA
    Ratings: +5 / 0
    I totally agree Curt, it is not the same critter or scenario they are experiencing in BC. I just wanted to throuw out a similar situation with lice (or?) infestation. So far, there has been no recorded harm to searun that I know of. However, I do think that there are extreme changes taking place and should be watched closely.

    I could have been a little clearer in my food throwing for thought. Not a red flag, just something we should definitely monitor.

    I might add, don't anyone even try to remove these, they do fall of when they enter fresh water.
  6. NorthernExposure not bad for a yankee

    Posts: 84
    Victoria, BC
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    I actually have had a chance to meet Dr. Volpe, he is now working at my university (University of Victoria on Vancouver island). Between he and Alexandra Morton there have compiled enough research to really provide solid evidence on how profoundly the burgeoning salmon aquaculture industry has become. Their area of study is specific to pink and chum salmon smolt, but it seems likely that their findings will be relevant to young steelhead, searun cuts, dollies, and other salmon. I've had friends that have worked at salmon farms and from what they've told me i will never eat farm raised salmon again.
  7. NorthernExposure not bad for a yankee

    Posts: 84
    Victoria, BC
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Also, as a BC resident, i can tell you that the DFO is a sham. For anyone that wants clear cut evidence, read Otto Langer's letter to the premier of BC, heads of the DFO, and Prime Minister. As a former DFO employee, Langer was told to keep silent on his scientific evidence that proved the dangers of various industry. Industry lobbyists pressured members of the DFO to encourage their scientists not to report their findings if they stood in the way of salmon farms, logging, mining, etc.
  8. Tom H saltchuck

    Posts: 158
    North Seattle
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    Curt - I'm not sure if they died but over the last 2 - 3 seasons I've caught increasing numbers of searuns at Kayak Point that are just loaded with these parasites. In several cases (6 - 7 fish) they had that "snakey" (big head and thin body) look that fish get when they are undernourished or ill.

    On a typical fish in the early '90s I would find an occasional copepod or two but recently this number has increased to a dozen or so and on occasion even more. Hope there is no significance to this but as I said, some of those fish looked pretty sick to me.
  9. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,836
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +716 / 0
    Tom -
    Thanks for the obserations - where those "skinny" fish spring fish (April/May) or summer fish (July/August)? Wondering whether they were kelts that haven't recovered.

    It is pretty clear that the parasites are increasing. With the regulation changes on the Stillaguamish (all CnR with selective gear rules during the summer) I would have expected to see a larger portion of its sea-runs being older fish by now. My experience this past fall is that is not the case and I have to wonder what has prevent that from occurring - certainly these parasites may be a possible "smoking gun".

    I wonder if folks are seeing this increase in other areas - so far Hood Canal and Port Susan. I haven't seen them in any numbers in Skagit Bay though I haven't sampled many fish there lately (sounds like a project for this summer - darn will have to go catch some). What has been others observations in north Sound, Straits, South Sound?

    Maybe if we can define where the problem is the worst we can gain some insights to the underlying causes.

    Tight lines
  10. Banzai FFing and VWs...Bugs & Bugs

    Posts: 786
    Bremerton, WA
    Ratings: +3 / 0
    Over the past few years I've not noticed a marked increase in the amount/presence of sea lice on SRCs in the salt around Bremerton, but them I don't seem to hook that many. :)
  11. Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    Posts: 4,031
    Olympic Peninsula
    Ratings: +706 / 0
    Smalma, I have seen two fish- Sea Run Cutts- in the past five plus years, on Marrowstone Island, that were very heavily infested with Sea Lice, (of many developing sizes), and both fish looked very bad off. They were weak to hand and their slime layer seemed almost gone.

    I do see some fish each year that are heavily infested, but otherwise are robust and dont appear to be wasting or fatigued.

    Most of the Cutts we catch in this area seem healthy and robust, a broad range of sizes and color phases.
  12. Roger Stephens Active Member

    Posts: 1,205
    Ratings: +326 / 0

    I have fished SRC in the South Sound for quite awhile and not noticed sea lice to be very prevalent on SRC at the locations that I fish. Ocassionally a SRC might have numerous sea lice but usually there are none or just a few of these criters on them. The SRC in the South Sound appear to be fat and happy in comparison to fish in the southern part of Hood Canal.

    I keep a detailed fishing journal so I am going to start noting the absence or abundence of sea lice on SRC to see if there are any trends or need for concern.

  13. Dale Dennis Formally Double-D

    Posts: 527
    Arlington, WA
    Ratings: +5 / 0
    I will also be keeping a detailed journal on the cutts and the parasites I find. It will include where, date, number searuns with and without lice, and approximate size (no physical measuring) and # of lice. This needs to be accomplished with the least amount of handling.
    I will typically start fishing searuns in the north sound around the 4th of July.
  14. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,836
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +716 / 0
    It is starting to sound like the worst of the "lice" problems here in Puget Sound is in Hood Canal and Port Susan. Both areas have poor water qualtiy and seem to have gotten worst in recent years. If we keep our collective eyes open we may be able to narrowly define the extend of the problem or at least where it is the most serious.

    Double D's idea of keeping notes sounds good - in addtion to the information he suggested

    For size just group the fish
    Smolt - less than 9"
    Subadult - 9 to 12"
    adult - over 12"
    Old timer - over 16"

    Condition of the fish -
    Robust -

    Other ideas?
    Tight lines
  15. ray helaers New Member

    Posts: 1,088
    Ratings: +0 / 0

    Did I read you correctly that the organism we're talking about is some kind of unknown critter?(!) Or do you just mean it is not the same type of Copepod as the animals we commonly call sea lice, and we on the board don't know what they are? And just to make sure I'm on the right page, we are talking about the largish (dime to nickel sized) disk-ish shaped parasites (the ones I've seen were a darkish smoky color) that can be thick enough on cutthroat backs as to make them appear lumpy; right?

    If they are unknown, that seems pretty remarkable, and figuring out what they are would appear to be a good place to start any serious monitoring effort. And if it is just us, it would be nice to find out (I've always just assumed they were some species of big "sea lice"). One question that occurs to me is whether these organisms occur with any other species other than coastal cutthroat. I've never seen one on any other fish, has anyone else?

    It seems to me there are a couple good reasons for at least the beginning of concern. First the phenomenon appears to be increasing in frequency and intensity, at least in some fairly broad locations. Actually first might be (if it's the case), "we don't even know what the damned things are!" I mean my God, I saw "War of the Worlds"; what if it's the stealth vanguard of an alien invasion?!

    Where was I? Oh yeah; second, doesn’t WDFW acknowledge that the status of most PS cutthroat populations is unknown? From an angler’s perspective, the fishing seems reasonably good so we figure things are OK, but apparently we really don’t know much about long term (or even short term) trends in population abundance, diversity, or distribution. That situation should always encourage caution and concern, particularly in regard to any perceived threat, like a potential parasite infestation.

    Your concern about not seeing more and/or bigger fish in the Stilly is interesting. Some studies have suggested that adfluvial cutthroat in Lake Washington (which might be expected to demonstrate similar life-strategies and ecologies as sea-run cutthroat in sheltered Puget Sound waters) have increased in abundance and distribution as they have exploited niches abandoned by declining populations of coho and Kokanee. It is my understanding (admittedly limited) that sea run cutts show relatively low fidelity to any particular natal stream. That would indicate an evolutionary tendency toward probing and exploiting new habitat opportunities, wouldn’t it? Many species sympatric with coastal cutthroat in tributaries to Puget Sound have experienced declines similar in scale to the declines of coho and kokanee in Lake Washington. Why are we seeing significant expansion of cutthroat populations in Lake Washington but not Puget Sound?

    Of course the rub there is that we probably don’t know whether or not it is happening in Puget Sound; my impression is that serious research on PS cutthroat populations has been lacking, though that is apparently changing somewhat.

    But let’s pretend for a minute that it’s not happening. Available habitat niches have expanded; fishing regulations have gotten more conservative, particularly in most of the smaller tributaries; habitat management, while far from perfect, has certainly gotten better over the last say 25 years. Yet something seems to be not quite right with PS cutthroat. Maybe it is the parasites, whatever they are. Or maybe they are just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Maybe the parasite population hasn’t really “expanded” but the cutthroat population is experiencing some type of stress or combination of stresses that make it more vulnerable to infestation. For instance, while angling regulations have gotten more conservative, angling pressure in the salt has risen, especially in the last few years; maybe angling related mortalities have stayed the same or even increased.

    The more you think about it the more complicated it becomes, and you are right when you say it’s too early to say what the problem is or even if there is a problem. But it certainly seems like something is going on. Increases in parasite infestations almost always indicate something out of whack. Parasites have no “interest” in wiping out host populations; that is clearly an evolutionary dead end.

    But I do want to know if these horrible little things really are unknown. If they are, I’m going to start lining my fishing hat with tin foil.
  16. salt dog card shark

    Posts: 2,306
    Edmonds WA / Mazama
    Ratings: +2 / 0
    For the several years that I have been regularly fishing beaches south of the Snohomish River estuary, I have noted a population size increase, and better distribution of all classes, including 16"+ fish. Fish are robust in health, and parasites, when present, are limited to lower quarter and few in number.

    In the future, I will be sure to better note along the categories suggested here. It makes sense to be vigilant; anecdotal evidence is better than none.
  17. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,836
    Marysville, Washington
    Ratings: +716 / 0
    Where to start?

    I'm sure that someone knows what these "critters" are just that I do not - another of the many holes in my limited knowledge of things fishy.

    Your description should like the same critter though I recall them being more greenish.

    I have not seen them on any other fish.

    No one seems to know whether they are problem to the sea-run populations. Our discussion is an attempt to pool our collective knowledge and see where our lay observation may leads us.

    The status of the Puget Sound coastal cutthroat is largely unknown. This is due in to the extreme difficultity in counting them and understanding the interplay between the resident and anadromous life histories. The wide spread distribution, patchy and variable spawning distribution, difficult streams to survey and extended spawning season all consprire to make traditional spawning surveys extremely difficult and to may knowledge no one on the coast are attempting population monitoring via spawning counts except on the smallest systems. This was a workshop type discussion at the recent coastal cutthroat conference. There it was generally agreed (among the researchers and managers) that monitoring nneds for the species is greatest and most critical for the anadromous form. It was also agreed that the best bet given the limitations involved was that monitoring the demographics of the sea-run population over time may be the most useful approach in providing information on population changes and responses to such things as regulation changes.

    To my knowledge the only large basins where such demographic monitoring on the coast has been attempted was by WDFW on the Stillaguamish, Snohomish, and Skagit basins here in Puget Sound. Unfortunately those efforts have recently ended.

    My own fishing experience as well as all the ancedotal information that I have recieved is that since WWII the good old days of sea-run cutthroat has been recently. In the case of the north Puget Sound systems the peak fishing was likely 5 to 10 years ago. There as many or more fish today than then however there has been a substantial increase in angler effort (mostly fly fishers) target cutts which in turn has resulted in declining CPUEs. In spite of the habitat problems (don't believe that it is getting better just that the rate of decline has been slowed) it is my opinion that many of our populations are as healthy as they have been anytime in the last 50 years.

    My concerns regarding the Stillaguamish is based on the expectation that with the removal of harvest on that population I had expected that there would be more older/larger fish in the population. Fortunately because of the demographic monitoring in the basin (prior to the regulation change) any changes should be easy to demostrate. Without hard data the apparent lack of response would mean that either that harvest was not limiting the population (not a popular position here but certainly possible) or thatCnR mortalities have replaced the harvest mortality (more fish being caught) or some other factor has recently increased mortality on the population (paratistes, elevated Port Susan temperature, etc are potential candidates).

    My understanding on the Lake Washington coastal cutthroat population is that virtually all the larger fish are lake dwellers (adfluvial) rather than anadormous fish. Surprisingly they are much faster growing that sea-run fish with many 4 year fish exceeding 20 inches where in Puget Sound sea-run populations a 4 year fish is typcially in the 12 inch range. They are also relatively short lived with very few fish older than 5 years. It is my belief that the explosion of the cutthroat populations in Lake Washington has been primarily due to changes in the flow regime of the small tribs. The low summer flows and increased fall/winer flooding to increased imprevious surfaces in the basins have converted what were typcial coho streams to streams that are typcial cutthroat streams (the smaller jump across streams in the summer low flow period).

    I'm not sure that the genetic sampling done to date supports the notion that cutthroat stray quite a bit. The sampling pretty consistently finds that there are significant differences from trib. to trib. If there were significant and constant straying one would expect the genetic profiles from stream to stream would look much the same.

    I have to disagree that available habitat niches for the cutthroat are expanding. It is the small streams through out the Puget Sound region that are under the greatest threat from our urban sprawl, timber harvest, ag, etc. On many streams I'm see more low summer flows and some streams even drying up than I have anytime in my life. Even in Lake Washington I not sure that much new cutthroat habitat has been created as that it has moved down stream - the exception being in those areas where fall flooding has tipped the scale in favor of spring spawners rather than fall spawners. However much of the land use practices that has caused those flow changes occurred several decades ago so not sure that accounts for the recent change in cutthroat abundance - a classic example would be Thornton Creek which was pretty much hammered with the Northgate mall development which occurred what 40+ years ago?

    I do agree that most of these issues are complicated. Heck the increase in parasites maybe due to nothing more complicated than there are more cutthroat.

    Still we should stay alert.

    Tight lines