Professor Erik Slinde believes it is possible to develop an effective vaccine against salmon lice. But he sees several bumps in the road.
“Of course we can make a lice vaccine, but it is not necessarily the case that we all want to make it. Many people live on lice,” says Slinde.
“There is a lice vaccine in Chile. Then we’ll see if one comes here,” he added.
He isn’t just anybody. Slinde is professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Environmental and Life Sciences and has been a senior researcher at the Institute of Marine Research. He also has spent time as director of Norbio, later MSD Animal Health.
“Farmed salmon has greater biodiversity than wild salmon in all our 400 salmon rivers. I don’t understand you paying for escaped farmed salmon. There are no foreign genes in Norwegian farmed salmon. It comes in from Målselv in the north to the Lysaker River in the south,” said the river owner, adding that this should be tried before the Supreme Court.
Slinde is known for being outspoken and has developed this trait further as he is now a pensioner.
“Are you all so guilty of the louse outbreak?” he asks rhetorically, looking out over the Aqkva conference hall’s 580 farming delegates. “When I was a boy, in the ’50s, we found lice on the fish. And often quite a lot of lice. And then my father said: It means the salmon has been in the sea.
“We did not have lice counts before 1970, so how many lice we had before the Norwegian aquaculture industry started, not many people know,” he explained.
One needle prick
“There is little to be gained from vaccines, there is a lot to be gained from delousing.
“I started vaccines in 1985,” he said. In the job at Norbio’s, he got good knowledge of both salmon lice and the logic of pharmaceutical companies.
“The industry wants a vaccine. One needle prick and the problem is gone. Pharmaceutical companies want to treat several times and prioritize delousing agents.
“One sting doesn’t make money, but repeated treatments do,” he pointed out.
The veteran scientist himself will take on the task of developing a salmon lice vaccine, through the family company Salei.
“The gene sequence of salmon is known. The gene sequence of lice is known. The salmon has an immune system. How to find lice find salmon? We think in the beginning it lives in the mucus, we don’t know, we think. It sticks in the sting and sucks blood,” he said.
“We have found a possible antigen that can be used in a vaccine. Then the vaccine must be made and tested on a laboratory scale. Successful laboratory experiments with approximately 100 per cent protection are required.
“If I succeed, that’s good. If I do not succeed, then at least I have made a good attempt,” smiled Slinde.