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Are wild salmon attacked by diseases or parasites?

Salmon, both in the wild state and in fish farms, are vulnerable to bacterial and viral diseases, and also to infestation by parasites, particularly sea lice.

A common bacterial disease is Furunculosis. The furuncles or boils, which are usually fatal, are most likely to appear in wild fish in warmer months when river levels are low and fish collect in pools while waiting for more water to allow their upstream journey to continue. It has been controlled in salmon farms by vaccination.

Ulcerative Dermal Necrosis (UDN) was rife among wild fish in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although the causative organism has never been identified, it was almost certainly a virus. It showed itself first in the appearance of small bleached areas on the head, back and tail, which were then covered in a slimy bluish-grey growth. The affected areas were vulnerable to ulceration and infection by fungus.

Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) is another viral disease to which wild fish are vulnerable; it has been endemic for some years in salmon farms in Norway, and was first detected in a number of Scottish farm sites in 1998.

Sea Lice, which can only survive in salt water, are naturally occurring parasites whose presence in small numbers indicates that a salmon in the river is fresh from sea. However, they multiply exceedingly when large numbers of farmed salmon are concentrated in sea cages, and can infest wild salmon smolts encountering them in inshore waters during their seaward migration, with highly damaging results. Sea trout smolts and adults are even more seriously affected because, unlike salmon, they spend much of their life at sea close inshore.

Gyrodactylus salaris is a skin parasite on parr. Endemic in the Baltic, where native salmon stocks are immune, it reached Norwegian rivers via local hatcheries which had received Swedish fingerlings, with devastating results, and has since been detected throughout much of continental Europe. The parasite can live for some time in damp conditions, and stringent cleaning and disinfection of fishing tackle and clothing used abroad are necessary to prevent its ingress into the United Kingdom.