The aim of this study was to evaluate the potential of diatom (microalgae) biomass as a lice-reducing ingredient in salmon feed. The original hypothesis was based on the fact that polyunsaturated aldehydes (PUAs), e.g. 2-trans, 4-trans decadenial (A3) produced by diatoms can function as grazing deterrents and harm copepod development. Salmon lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) is a copepod, and we intended to test if inclusion of diatom biomass in the feed could reduce the infestation of lice on salmon. We performed experiments where salmon kept in tanks were offered four different diets, i.e. basic feed with diatoms, fish oil, Calanus sp. oil or rapeseed oil added. After a feeding period of 67 days a statistically representative group of fishes, tagged with diet group origin, were pooled in a 4000L tank and exposed to salmon lice copepodites whereafter lice infestation was enumerated. Salmon from all four diet groups had good growth with SGR values from 1.29 to 1.44% day-1 (increase from ca. 130 g to 350 g). At the termination of the experiment the number of lice on salmon offered diatom feed were statistically significantly lower than on salmon fed the other diets. Mean lice infestation values increased from diatom feed through Calanus and fish oil to standard feed with terrestrial plant ingredients. Analysis of the chemical composition of the different diets (fatty acids, amino acids) failed to explain the differences in lice infestation. The only notable result was that diatom and Calanus feed contained more FFA (free fatty acids) than feed with fish oil and the control feed. None of the potential deleterious targeted polyunsaturated aldehydes could be detected in skin samples of the salmon. What was exclusive for salmon that experienced reduced lice was diatom inclusion in the feed. This therefore still indicates the presence of some lice deterring ingredient, either in the feed, or an ingredient can have triggered production of an deterrent in the fish. An obvious follow up of this will be to perform experiments with different degrees of diatom inclusion in the feeds, i.e. dose response experiments combined with targeted PUA analyses, as well as to perform large scale experiments under natural conditions in aquaculture pens.
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