Lumpsuckers and Salmon Farming


Lumpsuckers by Debbie Kay

One of the largest criticisms against salmon farms has been about the methods used to keep large populations of salmon that are densely packed as clean and parasite-free as possible.  Chemical methods, antibiotics and placing pens in areas of high flow to flush the problems downstream are all solutions. These have been used, but have had a number of critics.  Others have tried to use tropical cleaner fish like wrasse to try and keep salmon clean. However, they struggle in the cold water required for salmon.  But, wrasse are not the only cleaner fish out there. Therefore fish farmers are turning to a more northerly creature as a potential solution to farming parasites:  the lumpsucker.

What’s a Lumpsucker?

Lumpsuckers are a family of fish that is found in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic oceans.  They get their name from their gelatinous flesh and the large sucker on their bottom which they use to attach to different surfaces.   Fishers who have encountered these small to tiny creatures will find that they can stick to anything, from metal pipes on a commercial boat to rubber gloves to your face.  This allows them to attach to rocks and other hard surfaces in areas with a lot of current and to feed on what comes by.

Species like the pacific spiny lumpsuckers are very small, maxing out at about the size of a 2 inch sphere.  They are easy to grow in aquarium situations, but are also a popular commercial fishing target species by Icelandic trawlers.  This is both due to their use as caviar in Asia as well as their live harvest for transport to both fish farms and more whimsical purposes.  For example, lumpsuckers have become popular Japanese party favors, where birthday celebration goers will come home with a live specimen in an aquarium, stuck to something festive like a balloon.

How are Lumpsuckers Used in Salmon Farming?

The world leader when it comes to chemical-free, environmentally friendly, sustainable salmon farming is the nation of Norway. Where lumpsuckers have become a staple in many farms. They feed on invertebrates, and are excellent cleaners of things like sea lice.  Fish farmers will bring these small helpers into pens in the tens of thousands, and it is not unusual for fish farms to have 100,000 or more keeping their areas clean.  The presence of these fish, in some areas, has completely eliminated the need for some chemical pesticides in salmon farming.

Would they work in the Pacific?

Currently, much of the use of lumpsuckers in salmon farming is limited to Northern Europe.  However, the application in places like the Pacific Northwest seems promising. There are two North Pacific species of lumpsuckers that would be available without introducing an invasive species into the waters.  As this is already much of the argument against salmon farming in this region. Because of bringing Atlantic Salmon into Pacific waters. This can assuage some of the concerns with the practice and limit chemical input into local waters as a bonus.

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