Dr. Kristi Miller took the stand today to finally explain what she knows about the health of the Fraser sockeye. The court room was filled to over-flowing. It is first time she has been able to speak to the public about what she knows about our fish.
Since 1995, so many Fraser sockeye are reaching the river but failing to spawn that today DFO has to figure out how many are going to die, before they can open a fishery. So in 2005 they tasked their scientist Dr. Miller to use genomic profiling to read the sockeye salmon cells to try and figure out why they are dying. Genomic profiling reads 10,000s of switches that turn on/off in cells in response to starvation, toxic blooms, high water temperature, good feeding etc. When Miller read the cells of the Fraser sockeye she found all the ones that were dying had very similar genomic signatures. This suggested they were dying of the same thing. The cellular switches that were turned on and off were ones that respond to viruses. No one expected this.
Miller's search for what virus this was began at that moment and it is my observation that in doing so she has run afoul of DFO's policy that salmon farms are safe.
Both the physical condition of the sockeye and their "unhealthy" genomic profile led her to a mystery illness that appeared in Chinook salmon farms in 1992 on the Fraser sockeye migration route. While it was given the name "Plasmacytoid Leukemia" by Dr. Kent (who was on the stand yesterday,) and he called it a retrovirus in his many scientific papers written in the 1990s, he told us yesterday that really, he was never actually sure that it was a virus. He never took the final step with his research to actually visualize, culture and sequence it. He did find sockeye could be infected with it and that it was widespread. His colleague Dr. Craig Stephens, also on the stand yesterday wrote in a scientific paper:
“Evidence supporting the hypothesis that marine anemia is a spreading, infectious neopplastic disease could have profound regulatory effects on the salmon farming industry” (Stephens and Ribble 1995). "Marine Anemia" is what the fish farmers call this disease.
Is this why everyone dropped their research into this disease? DFO never responded to examine if this farm salmon disease could be impacting the Fraser sockeye and no one mentioned it again after 1999, until now.
In 2007, faced with evidence that millions of sockeye were dying of a virus, Miller reviewed what was known about the farm salmon epidemic and found it closely resembled what the sockeye are dying of.
Today, she spoke with great clarity that the Fraser sockeye are being heavily affected by a virus. "It could be the smoking gun," said Miller, "but we have work to do."
When lawyer Greg McDade put up two versions of the same DFO briefing document, we saw that the paragraph that referenced a potential link with salmon farms had been removed in the second version. Miller told us, she and other DFO scientists had not been allowed to attend the Simon Fraser University invitational think tank held on the 2009 sockeye crash, even though it was closed to the public and the media. I was there and we never heard there was evidence that a virus could be killing the majority of Fraser sockeye, even from her non-DFO co-authors and ex-DFO participant Dr. Riddell.
We learned today that although strong similarities exist between the farm salmon disease and the condition of the sockeye, Miller has been unable to test farm salmon. But, she said, a couple of weeks ago the salmon farming industry decided to cooperate! No, she has still not been able to speak to the farm vets and begin the process of setting up the protocol. That was not going to happen until after the Inquiry.
If 100,000,000s of sockeye are dying of what appears to be a virus, how is it possible we are paying $25 million for an inquiry into what happened to them and the salmon farming industry can stall an investigation into whether this is coming from their fish until after the inquiry is over? Yesterday we saw emails from Miller asking her colleagues at DFO why they would not authorize testing, Drs. Johnson and MacWilliams said Miller was mistaken, they never said that.
How is it Dr. Kent could be tasked by the Inquiry to write a technical report into diseases that could be affecting the Fraser sockeye and he never reviewed the farm salmon disease records? Where are things at with this mystery farm salmon disease today? Has anyone looked at the farm salmon records to see if it is still out there?
In 1990, Dr. Kent wrote a paper on the farm salmon disease saying he found ocular tumors and submitted them to the Smithsonian "Registry of Tumours in Lower Animals." It was as a result of this work that Miller decided to look at the sockeye's brains and as she told us today – Low and behold...when we opened the optic lobes in the sockeye brains we saw mass growths with blood vessels connected. She took pictures, they looked like tumours, ..we brought fish health staff up to see if this looked like Plasmacytoid Leukemia , but no one knew what PL tumours looked like.
So she sent samples to Dr. Kent because he was the expert in the farm salmon disease, he must have seen the tumours because he reported he sent them to the tumour registry, but Miller said it was revealed to her that Kent had never actually looked at the tumours. In his testimony Kent suggested there never were tumours, only inflammation.
What did he send to the Smithsonian Registry then? Someone should look in to that.
Miller went on to say that she has not ruled out Plasmacytoid Leukemia in the sockeye, but that she is at a loss as how to move forward, because all the PL experts seemed to be backtracking.
However, Miller did not let this stop her.... she began her own search in the sockeye and reported to Cohen that she has just found evidence of a Parvo virus in the sockeye. This virus has never been reported in salmon, though it can be deadly to dogs and is found in many other species; snakes, birds, shrimp, insects etc....
Miller is a " broad thinker" in her own words and she found interesting similarities between Parvo virus and the farm salmon disease abandoned by Kent, Stephens and the others. She noted there are a "plethora of studies on Parvo and Leukemia."
The only Fraser sockeye she could not find Parvo in was the Harrison sockeye [that do not migrate past the salmon farms]. Since Harrison sockeye spend the least amount of time in the river, she considered whether the source of the virus could be in the freshwater, however, she noted the Birkenstock sockeye go right through the Harrison portion of the river and they have the doomed genomic profile. How could two stocks use the same part of the river and one has the virus and the other not? Harrison sockeye have not been declining like the rest of the Fraser sockeye.
If juvenile sockeye have this virus does that mean it comes from the river? No one knows. As I write, thousands of adult sockeye are swimming past salmon farms and into the river and lakes where young sockeye are growing. If the adult salmon are picking up pathogens from the farms, they are taking it straight into the nurseries.
Right now my feeling is to follow through with Parvo, Miller said.
McDade: I hope it is not going to take 10 years
Kyle Garver, DFO virologist also on the stand: It will take a considerable amount of time
Miller: but we do have a candidate virus
Garver was asked if he had looked for Parvo with a molecular microscope, he said "no."
This was perplexing, why not?
Tomorrow Miller will be on the stand again.