Infectious Salmon Anemia virus has been found in two young sockeye salmon. Sheer reckless, negligent behaviour has loosed a highly infectious fish farm influenza virus into the North Pacific. I have been told over and over by industry and government that this could not happen, but they were wrong. No one has any idea what Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV) will do in the North Pacific. We were told that it could not infect Pacific salmon, that enough tests had been done to assure us that it was not here and would not get here. Well here it is in two young sockeye. Are they the only 2 salmon in the North Pacific with ISA virus, or are they among 100s, or millions? No one knows yet. Government and the salmon farming industry is at best dangerously incompetent. Humanity is well aware that moving viruses around has caused enormous misery and death. We make horror movies about this, and yet there is no sign of a learning curve here. We have put a highly infectious marine influenza virus into the ocean we depend on. So incredibly foolish.
In May, Dr. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University noticed the Rivers Inlet sockeye smolt out-migration was an exceptionally small run. Rick has been studying these sockeye to figure out why the Rivers Inlet sockeye, once Canada's second most prolific sockeye salmon run has declined to an average over the last 5 years of less than 1% of its historic abundance. When we talked this spring I suggested testing for ISA virus, just to rule it out.
The results came back last week; 2 out of 48 smolts were infected with the EUROPEAN STRAIN OF INFECTIOUS SALMON ANEMIA VIRUS (ISAV). The shock of this diagnosis remains.
The test was done by Dr. Fred Kibenge of the lab designated as the OIE reference lab for ISAV.
The ISA virus has appeared everywhere that industrial Atlantic salmon farming has moved in. It killed 70% of the farm salmon in Chile in 2007, but there are no natural wild salmon in Chile. It was found in 1984 in Norway and is now in Scotland, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Eastern Canada, and Chile. No country has ever gotten rid of it, probably because they never turn off the source. This is the first time ISA virus has been set loose into wild Pacific salmon populations. That it was found in a Rivers Inlet sockeye smolt 100km away from the nearest salmon farm is ominous. Is it everywhere? Is it in herring, does it infect oolichans? No one knows.
At the Cohen Inquiry I heard government, scientists and industry say Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISAV) is not in BC, that they have never detected in BC salmon farms. If the Norwegian companies who brought nearly 40 million Atlantic salmon eggs into BC want to quibble about this diagnosis they can take it up with the 87 year old OIE, based in Paris, who designated Dr. Kibenge and the PEI Atlantic Veterinary College as the ISAV reference lab for this side of the planet.
ISAV is an internationally tracked virus and should appear here alongside Anthrax, West Nile Fever, Foot and Mouth.
As I have written before in this blog, Canada has failed to maintain a line of defense against ISAV. There is no place on the Fish Health Certificate that must be signed by foreign hatcheries to report ISAV. Even when the European strain of the virus began spreading in Chile, Canada did not close the border to eggs, government did not even make it a reportable disease if it occurred on a fish farm, even though it is an internationally reportable disease. This does not seem to have worked well for us. This is the first time ISAV has been first reported in a wild salmon, rather than farm.
In 2004, our Director General of Science waived the Canadian Fish Health Regulations so the Norwegian operators in BC could import eggs from a foreign hatchery that does not meet these regulations. Download 2004 Fish Health1.pdf (2176.3K) When an entire shipment of eggs from this hatchery were destroyed in 2005, there is no evidence government checked on a shipment that had entered Canada 4 weeks prior. Download 2004 Fish Health2.pdf (89.9K)
When I saw over 1,100 reports of ISAV-like lesions in the provincial fish farm vet reports given to the Cohen Inquiry I notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. According to documents submitted to the Cohen Inquiry the sum total of their response appears be a call to the companies to ask if they have ISAV, there was no record of verification. Download CFIA Decisions.pdf (157.1K)
These are some of the many reports of ISAV lesion made by the Provincial fish farm vet Dr. Gary Marty:
This report was made to the CFIA:
Download CAN185775.pdf (241.3K)
As it turns out, it was not possible for me to inspire government to protect the North Pacific from the Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus. No country has ever gotten rid of it because they have never turned off the source. If it is lethal to fish in the North Pacific, maybe it will extinguish itself after rampaging through populations, but not if we leave the tap on. This is like the BP oil spill, we heard at the Cohen Inquiry that a single farm with an epidemic can shed 60 billion viral particles an hour.
"Farmed salmon prices are in hopeless ‘freefall’" (Intrafish, October 14, 2011) because they have over-produced and their fish are not worth much. So we have put our entire coast, as well as, Washington State and Alaskan waters at risk for a failing corporate scheme. It is unconscionable that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of BC have done this to us.
If wild salmon mean anything to the people on the west coast of this continent, a volunteer international epidemiological team has to be formed immediately. The findings cannot be secret this virus can be tracked. ISAV can be tracked to the source hatchery.
Because this ISAV is the European strain, the only reasonable source is the tens of millions of Atlantic eggs brought into BC. Since the federal and provincial governments and the industry don't seem to know anything about this and the infected sockeye were 100 km from the nearest salmon farm, the infection could have come from any salmon farm on this coast.
We can do one of two things:
Nothing and watch this virus live up to its reputation
take the Atlantic salmon, the only known ISAV carriers in the North Pacific, out of the ocean
It was Simon Fraser University that made the discovery, an non-government, non industry organization.
Government needs to step away from the fish and allow people who actually want wild salmon to figure out how to deal with this situation. The salmon farmers must not be allowed the right to prohibit testing of their fish any longer. This is an international disease event. There needs to be a volunteer board to track this virus.
We make horror films about viruses – think of the ocean and all the life in it. What have we done to them? We are an out of control species making bad decisions and unless we take this thing by the horns and seriously deal with it, we don’t deserve wild salmon
You can donate and help us pay for the samples we have sent in for testing (donate button on right side, will be titled "adopt-a-fry")
You can sign a statement here