Marine conservationists are warning that sea lice outbreaks are a growing problem for young freshwater salmon.

Conservation group Clayoquat Action, which tracks lice outbreaks in the area, says that 75 per cent of the young fish in the area are infected with the lice.

“It is a very dire situation for the wild salmon,” group member Bonny Glambeck told CTV News. “For these little salmon, it is essentially a death sentence.”

Sea lice are a natural parasite that feeds on the skin of fish. While they’re normally not harmful to the fish, but for juvenile salmon just two of the bugs can be deadly.

Some scientists blame rising sea temperatures for the increase in sea lice, but others point the blame at fish farming operations.

“Around the farms there is a kind of larval soup of lice,” Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society said. “The fish are swimming a gauntlet of lice.”

The fish farming industry says that parasites are a reality of the business, but that approved pesticides and special delousing machines are used to try and combat the problem.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for monitoring farm activities, though critics say their sea lice rules are too lax, and lack serious punishment for infractions.

“We wouldn’t have this problem at all if we could just get the farms to move into closed containment,” Wristen said.

The federal government says its exploring new containment technologies that would potentially allow fish farms to be moved on land.