Salmon Aquaculture

Infectious Salmon Anemia

Government ISAv initial test inconclusive, extended sampling of both wild and farmed fish required urgently

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Province of BC announced November 8, 2011 that  further testing for ISA on samples taken in Rivers Inlet and a tributary of the Fraser River were negative, however, they also conceded that the findings must be considered inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples. Peter King, of DFO's Moncton laboratory, stressed that they received the samples in either a partially degraded or totally degraded state. Given that, he noted "That's why we call things inconclusive - because the degradation is so bad you can't form an opinion...."

Based on the initial findings by Dr. Fred Kibenge, who is an expert in the field of ISAv detection, and one test run confirming a positive finding by Dr. Are Nylund of the University of Bergen, Norway, there are still strong indications that ISAv may be present in the North Pacific. The fact that further testing of the degraded samples could not confirm the initial results does not negate those results.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Our elected officials and staff at both CFIA and DFO need to expand the sampling efforts of both wild and farmed fish and do so urgently. 

Appearance of ISA in BC must lead to immediate action by DFO

Conservationists working to protect wild salmon in BC from the negative effects of net-cage salmon farming have long feared the possibility of an outbreak of a highly contagious marine influenza virus - Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). This deadly disease has appeared where salmon are raised in open net-cage aquaculture. Outbreaks have caused problems in Norway, Scotland, eastern Canada and the USA. In 2007 an outbreak among Chilean salmon farms became an epidemic leading to the death or destruction of 70% of the country's farmed salmon. Now for the first time the ISA virus has been detected in the North Pacific. The consequences could be devastating.

Sockeye salmon smolts were collected in early 2011 as part of a long-term study on the collapse of the Rivers Inlet sockeye populations. The study is led by Simon Fraser University professor Dr. Rick Routledge. 48 sockeye were noted to be extremely thin and samples were sent for analysis. It was announced on October 17, 2011 that 2 of the 48 tested positive for the European strain of the ISA virus. Since then it appears that several other salmon from the Fraser River system have also tested positive for the same ISA strain.

The salmon farming industry has stated that they have never found one case of the ISA virus on BC salmon farms among the 600 to 800 fish they claim to test each year. However salmon farming industry documents entered into evidence during the Cohen Inquiry revealed that symptoms of ISA were detected in farmed fish over one thousand times since 2006.

While the evidence is not yet comprehensive, the simple detection of this virus in wild salmon should be enough to compel the Canadian government to act, and act quickly. Viruses including ISA are known to mutate and the presence of this disease could potentially decimate wild salmon runs in British Columbia. It is imperative the Government of Canada act on this issue without delay.

Experts certainly concur. According to the New York Times on Oct. 17th: "James Winton, who leads the fish health research group at the Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, an arm of the United States Geological Survey, called it a "disease emergency" and urged that research begin at once to determine on how far the virus had spread."

We are calling on Canada's federal government leaders and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to take the following actions:

  1. DFO must immediately convene a workshop of international experts
    and develop a transparent, public plan to address this threat.
  2. In cooperation and collaboration with the US National Oceanic
    and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DFO must immediately initiate
    comprehensive, independently-audited testing of wild salmon, farmed salmon,
    herring and pilchard in BC to determine the extent of the disease. Results
    should be verified by the OIE reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary
    College in P.E.I.
  3. Conduct the testing necessary to track the source of the
    disease.
  4. Immediately cull all farmed fish in any farm site where fish
    test positive for ISAv.
  5. Fast-track the development of closed containment systems for
    salmon aquaculture and present a firm, expedited timeline for phasing out all open
    net-cage operations.
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