It has been a week since it became public that the European strain ISA virus was found in 2 Rivers Inlet sockeye smolts caught last spring. To understand the significance please read article "Why this fish virus spooks scientists":
Clearly the report of European ISA virus is making some people extremely uncomfortable. The reaction by the Provincial government has been strange. The Provincial Minister of Agriculture and Lands, which used to be entirely responsible for salmon farms and since January is only responsible for renting them the sea floor, told the Legislative Assembly that the samples of the infected fish had been destroyed so there could be no confirmation tests done.
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY (Hansard)
HOUSE BLUES Wednesday, Oct 19, 2011, Afternoon Sitting
Hon. D. McRae: Well, we've got another example of spinning media headlines and fearmongering from the opposition.
The reality is this. The lab results were sent to PEI. They were sent to PEI. They were not following protocol when, instead of actually contacting CFIA, they went directly to SFU, which in turn went to the media.
When CFIA then, in turn, said, "We'd like to do our test samples," and said, "We'd like to test the fish," well, unfortunately, I'm advised that the tested-positive results at the PEI lab were destroyed, and therefore, not available to CFIA.
HSE - 20111019 PM 010/hbw/1415
The Minister was inaccurately "advised." Certainly the results were not destroyed, nor were the samples, in fact last week the CFIA took possession of not only the original 48 smolts, but also all the ones caught in the same time and place.
A few days later the CFIA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada put out a statement. Clearly the CFIA does have samples of ISA v case# 1 and 2 British Columbia.
Canada is a member of the World Organisation of Animal Health which tracks dangerous animal diseases around the world. This Paris-based organization picked Dr. Kibenge's lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College as one of its two reference labs for ISA virus because they determined this was the best lab on this side of the planet. The other lab is in Norway where this virus was first identified. It is good that Canada wants to confirm these tests, but Kibenge's lab is the international confirmation lab.
Whoever has the samples has the opportunity to find out how long this strain of ISA virus has been in BC and could trace it to source. You see why possession of these samples has become so significant.
My concern at this point is that so many senior people in government have played a role in lowering BC's defense against this virus, that the politics will dominate, not science. The Cohen Inquiry changed our understanding of how salmon feedlots in BC have been managed. I did produce a report on what I found and it became an exhibit. Download Morton report- What is happening to Fraser sockeye Aug 16 (00372318).pdf (1857.0K)
Just a couple of pivotal events:
This is not the first time the BC Minister of Agriculture and Lands has been inaccurately advised on ISA virus. In 2007, provincial vet, Dr. Mark Sheppard, told the Minister that BC won't get ISA virus from farm salmon because BC does not import Atlantic salmon eggs. Download ISA Confidential BCP1001938.pdf (491.2K)
But when Sheppard wrote this tens of millions of Atlantic salmon eggs had already been imported into BC Fisheries and Oceans Canada
We have two federal Ministers of Fisheries who have assured the public that BC was protected from ISA virus.
The Ashfield letter above says: "Any facility serving as a source of eggs for import into British Columbia must undergo rigorous health testing under the Fish Health Protection Regulations before eggs can be provided to British Columbia culture operations." I think this is inaccurate.
In 2004, the Fisheries and Ocean Canada's Director General of Science, Pacific Region requested that the Fish Health Protection Regulations be waived so that Atlantic salmon eggs could come from a North Atlantic hatchery that does not meet these regulations.
Download 2004 Fish Health1.pdf (2176.3K)
The Ashfield correspondence above goes on to say among the "measures in place to deal with ISAV" is egg surface disinfection. But egg surface disinfection is only a guideline. Below is an excerpt from a chain of DFO egg import emails November 2009 that I included in my report to the Cohen Inquiry:
Porter to Thomson and Swerdfager “….there is a small possibility that ISAV could be transmitted with reproductive fluids…However, surface disinfection of eggs, which is routinely carried out …..provides assurance that ISAV will not be transmitted.”
Porter to Ford “Disinfection isn’t a regulatory requirement by FHPR, but strongly suggested…..”
Stephen (Director Biotechnology, DFO) to Porter “The I&T committees can make this a requirement for import and set any other conditions…. That being said I’m not sure that this is happening in every case, ...”
I fully support DFO confirmation of the European strain of ISA virus in the Rivers Inlet sockeye caught in spring 2011, but I do not think it is wise to allow the federal government to do this confidentially in-house. I think it would be easier for them and all of us if we embarked on testing using the OIE lab and furthermore set up a satellite emergency lab in British Columbia in a place where this could be completely transparent.
Ground zero is the lake where the Rivers Inlet sockeye came from. There is data to suggest that the smolts that tested positive were not growing normally. Tests in Rivers Inlet should be done there right now. Due to the enormity of the risk to the North Pacific, the salmon farms have to lose their right to prohibit sampling of their fish - the most obvious source of the virus. If they are not hosting ISA virus, this should not be a problem. The provincial fish farm vet, Dr. Marty has not told us to date what type of tests he did on the Atlantic salmon he reported died of "classic" ISA virus lesions. We know from correspondence released by the Cohen Inquiry that his lab in Abbotsford was not sure if they were testing the Atlantic salmon eggs using the proper OIE certified protocol. (In the same document cited in paragraph above about waiving the Fish health Protection Regulations April 14, 2004, Animal Health Center).
We know 150,000 eggs from the uncertified hatchery were destroyed in 2005 with viral testing noted, but no pathogen named. Download 2004 Fish Health1.pdf (2176.3K)
And we know that 4 weeks earlier there was a shipment from the same hatchery to Mainstream. Was any special attention given to inspect those eggs?
My point in revealing all this is to suggest the smart thing to do is to set up an independent volunteer board to decide how, where and what to test and to do that testing in a lab set on neutral territory where everything is open to scrutiny and results posted publicly. This needs to begin immediately as ISA virus has a deadly habit of increasing virulence. We cannot deal with this virus with our eyes shut. I am not at all comfortable with the federal government taking all the samples concerned in this case into a DFO lab. They should split them with the international OIE lab to give us complete confidence.
However, it is already too late as they have custody of the fish. So the next step is the testing of the wild and farm salmon of the eastern Pacific.
Write to your MP and MLA if you want an open, international and best possible testing program to begin now. Farm salmon prices remain in decline according to Intrafish because they have over-stocked the world's oceans with farm salmon. The fish farm industry cannot sustain another ISA pandemic. If they wipe themselves out again with ISA virus here, as they did in Chile, everyone will be left standing empty-handed and there will be so much ISA virus DNA in the water everyone will know where this came from.
On the stand in the last days of the Cohen hearings, senior DFO testified that they never read the provincial salmon farm disease audit data. As a result, they did not see the 1,100 reports of one or both of what the provincial vet called "classic" ISA virus type lesions. I feel we should thank the provincial vet for doing this as I suspect he is under some pressure.
DFO did not know, they know now, they have the legislative tools and we all have the salmon farm disease data. I feel this is a good point for a clean start.
I would like to thank Simon Fraser University for breaking these findings.
May wisdom prevail,