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Assessing heritable variation in biological control of the salmon louse by cleaner fish and co-operative behaviour by their client, Atlantic salmon



The sea louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, continues to be the pest with the greatest impact on the economics of salmon farming globally. Poor lice control can result in Atlantic salmon in sea cages having to be culled because of animal welfare concerns before growing to harvestable sizes, and sole reliance on a single chemical treatment for control of sea lice strongly selects lice for resistance to chemicals (Jones et al. 2013; Aaen et al. 2015). In Atlantic Canada, the lumpfish and a North American wrasse, the cunner, have been shown to significantly reduce adult lice densities on salmon living in marine sea cages. Further, some families of lumpfish are more effective lice cleaners than others suggesting lice cleaning propensity is heritable and would be expected to respond to selection for increased lice cleaning of salmon.

This project aims to asses efficacy in louse removal at different developmental stages by lumpfish, and to allow for the comparison of how patterns of sea lice load changes in the presence of a cleaner fish. Additionally, it will provide data for genomic analysis for heritable traits in lumpfish, and assess the families in the broodstock development program for potentially heritable cleaning behaviours.

Program name

Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program (ACRDP)


Two years: 2019-2021

Principal investigator

Steven Leadbeater, aquatic sciences biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, St. Andrews Biological Station, Maritimes Region

Team members

Vicky Merritt, aquatic animal health technician, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, St. Andrews Biological Station, Maritimes Region
Elizabeth Boulding, professor, University of Guelph
Larry Schaeffer, professor emeritus, University of Guelph
Anthony J. Manning, senior scientist, Research and Productivity Council


Keng Pee Ang, Vice-President of Research, Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd.
Jake Elliott, Vice-President, Freshwater Operations, Cooke Aquaculture Inc.
Frank Powell, Broodstock and Traceability Manager, Cooke Aquaculture Inc.

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