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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Deadly salmon virus found in B.C. sockeye

The highly contagious virus that wiped out seventy percent of Chile’s farmed salmon industry has now been confirmed in B.C. wild salmon.

The devastating news that Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) is definitely present in B.C. was delivered by Simon Fraser University (SFU) Professor Dr. Rick Routledge, whose research team found the infected sockeye while doing field work in Rivers Inlet on B.C.’s central coast.

This is the first time that ISA has been confirmed in the entire North Pacific.

Routledge, joined by SFU team member Nicole Gerbrandt and activist Alexandra Morton, announced the findings at a media conference in Vancouver and did not downplay the seriousness of the risk.

48 sockeye smolts that were collected by the SFU team as part of a long term study into the collapse of Rivers Inlet sockeye stocks were sent to Dr. Fred Kibenge at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.. Kibenge confirmed ISA in two fish, confirmed it was a European strain of the virus and notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as is required in the case of contagious and lethal diseases.

The BC salmon farming industry reacted immediately to Routledge’s information, calling the findings “unconfirmed” even though Kibenge’s lab is recognized as an ISA reference laboratory by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). (http://www.upei.ca/avc/oie)

Routledge pulled no punches at the media conference. He said ISA is a deadly exotic disease, it could have devastating impacts on B.C.’s wild salmon and all the species that depend on them, and noted that the only plausible source for the European strain of the virus is Atlantic salmon farms.

Dr. Routledge did stress that now that the virus has been confirmed, B.C. still has the chance to get out ahead of it and control its potentially catastrophic consequences. But that is only possible if our governments act -- and act quickly.

He recommended vigorous efforts to identify the source of the virus, an independent emergency board that will oversee the testing of all salmon farms, wild salmon and herring, a cull of farm fish identified as exposed to infection and finally, fast-tracking the development of closed containment for salmon farming and firm timelines for phasing out open net-cages.

We couldn’t agree more. The lice infestation of wild juvenile salmon, the waste dumped in our oceans, the escapes of thousands of non-indigenous salmon, the routine killing of marine mammals are argument enough to get these farms out of our waters and into closed containment. The appearance of ISA in our wild salmon should be the tipping point that finally moves debate to action.

Will our government act – or turn a blind eye to the potential for disaster? One thing is clear – Members of Parliament will only act if they hear from voters. That’s you. Call your MP’s constituency office today. You can find the phone number here: http://bit.ly/rdK6N2

Cath Stewart is Living Oceans Society's Salmon Farm Campaign Manager.

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