On November 8, two weeks ahead of their own schedule, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Province of BC suddenly held a phone-in press conference. When we got our first positives for ISA virus, the CFIA said they would require 4 - 6 weeks, but they did not wait that long. You can listen to the briefing here.
The statements made by these government agencies in their press conference countered the ISA virus positive test results that we received from two different labs. The government agencies said their own tests on the 48 original samples - the Rivers Inlet sockeye of which 2 tested positive for ISA virus at the World Animal Health Lab for ISA virus - were all negative for ISA virus. Con Kiley, director of the CFIA's national animal health program went on to say that the DFO lab in Moncton "verified" results from an independent lab in Norway.
“The results are consistent with independent testing conducted by a lab in Norway, officials said. While that lab found one weak positive reading among multiple tests, it also noted the sample was poor and results could not be reproduced", said Peter Wright, national manager for the Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
They took the weak positive found in Norway and made it a "negative" because it was not repeatable. All sampling and testing were considered negative due to poor quality of some of the samples.
"There is no evidence that ISAv occurs in fish in the waters of British Columbia" - Con Kiley CFIA
However, the Norwegian scientist at the University of Bergen, who has studied and tracked ISA virus through Norway and Chile who did the tests says:
"Our results are not conclusive, but do suggest ... that an ISA virus is present in wild populations of O. nerka (Pacific sockeye)," Dr. Are Nylund, a professor of biology at the University of Bergen, wrote in an email exchange with The Seattle Times.
The CFIA and the federal and provincial government turned 6 ISA virus positive tests into negatives, because they were apparently unable to reproduce the results. Since the labs that arrived at positives results are world-accredited labs, this calls into question the ability of the government lab. They have not released the actual results and said they were not going to share the samples with the U.S. They did not explain how the World Animal Health Reference Lab results were invalid. They reasoned that the positive result from the Norwegian lab (verifying the World Animal Health lab's results) were actually a negative because the quality of the tissue was degraded. But ISA virus is not going to appear as a result of freezer-burn, to the contrary it would disappear.
ISA virus is the most deadly salmon virus known, it plagues salmon farms worldwide but Canada is going to ignore the results from two of the top ISA virus labs in the world, because the samples were of poor quality?
They did not mention the fresh samples I sent to the World Animal Health Lab that produced three more positives. One of the government scientists said these positive results defied logic. This seems an odd comment. We are not dealing with logic here, we are dealing with an aggressive influenza-type virus.
Why would government jump out and deny evidence of ISA virus in BC? If the samples were poor wouldn't it make sense to go back to the places where the positive tested fish came from and take their own samples? How can we take any confidence when government says everything is fine because the virus was found in poor quality samples?
Also of note is the salmon farming industry's repeated assertion that when ISA virus spread throughout Chile it did not kill the farmed coho and therefore our coho are going to be resistant:
"And the alarm bells went off again last week, when supposedly another sample implicating Dr. Morton- this time from a dead Pacific Coho salmon supposedly found in a tributary to the Fraser River- was reported by The New York Times to have the virus, despite the fact that Coho salmon is the species of Pacific salmon generally considered by salmon culturists to be “bullet-proof” against exposure to viruses of any kind. Strong resistance to laboratory exposure to the ISA virus has already been documented in Coho salmon." fishfarmxpert.com
This is not backed by the science:
Isolation and identification of infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV) from Coho salmon in Chile.
Kibenge FS, Gárate ON, Johnson G, Arriagada R, Kibenge MJ, Wadowska D.
Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org
The isolation of infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV) from asymptomatic wild fish species including wild salmon, sea trout and eel established that wild fish can be a reservoir of ISAV for farmed Atlantic salmon. This report characterizes the biological properties of ISAV isolated from a disease outbreak in farmed Coho salmon in Chile and compares it with ISAV isolated from farmed Atlantic salmon in Canada and Europe. The virus that was isolated from Coho salmon tissues was initially detected with ISAV-specific RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction). The ability of the virus to grow in cell culture was poor, as cytopathology was not always conspicuous and isolation required passage in the presence of trypsin. Virus replication in cell culture was detected by RT-PCR and IFAT (indirect fluorescent antibody test), and the virus morphology was confirmed by positive staining electron microscopy. Further analysis of the Chilean virus revealed similarities to Canadian ISAV isolates in their ability to grow in the CHSE-214 cell line and in viral protein profile. Sequence analysis of genome segment 2, which encodes the viral RNA polymerase PB1, and segment 8, which encodes the nonstructural proteins NS1 and NS2, showed the Chilean virus to be very similar to Canadian strains of ISAV. This high sequence similarity of ISAV strains of geographically distinct origins illustrates the highly conserved nature of ISAV proteins PB1, NS1 and NS2 of ISAV. It is noteworthy that ISAV was associated with disease outbreaks in farmed Coho salmon in Chile without corresponding clinical disease in farmed Atlantic salmon. This outbreak, which produced high mortality in Coho salmon due to ISAV, is unique and may represent the introduction of the virus to a native wild fish population or a new strain of ISAV.
The November 11, 2011 headlines in the aquaculture industry paper Intrafish provide interesting backdrop to this drama:
Real Salmon files for bankruptcy
The group, which owned shares in Bolaks, Scottish Salmon Company and Grieg Seafood, has filed for bankruptcy
Salmon prices slide backwards
Fredriksen Fish Farmer Chokes on Salmon Glut: Corporate Finance
“Marine Harvest’s” ability to honor loan conditions is being called into question after third-quarter net income declined 97 percent” “The industry outlook looks weak”
Investors grow concerned about Marine Harvest’s heavy debt load
On another website:
Norwegian fish farm companies' share prices have been in freefall for some time: Marine Harvest is at: 44.2 cents; Cermaq is at $10.20; Grieg Seafood is at: 66.1 cents. All USA dollars.
From Norway: Salmon producers face new crisis
The industry has over-stocked its farms worldwide, the public appetite is not keeping up. On October 28, Marine Harvest just fired 50 people from the communities of Northern Vancouver Island CTV News due to "oversupply."
As it turns out, the Premier of BC was in China on a trade-mission on the day of the government press conference.
British Columbia Minister of Agriculture Don McRae noted: “It is vitally important that we base our policy decisions on sound science so as to preserve and protect BC’s reputation as a reliable supplier of high quality seafood to the world. This is particularly true for the dozens of coastal communities that rely on wild and farmed fisheries to feed their families and maintain their way of life. Reckless allegations based on incomplete science can be devastating to these communities and unfair to the families that make a living from the sea. Since Premier Clark is currently on a trade mission to China, I have personally asked her to reassure our valued trading partners that now, as always, BC can be relied upon as a supplier of safe, sustainable seafood.” fishnewseu.com
The news that the industry is going downhill because they have more product than the world wants and that the BC Premier, on a trade mission in China, was immediately briefed on BC's hastily-declared ISA virus - free status does raise questions. Perhaps the CFIA and DFO have the only lab that can't find ISA virus in the samples, but isn't it a bit reckless to declare there is "no evidence that ISA virus occurs in BC"? Isn't 6 positive tests from world-class ISA virus labs "evidence"? Was this press conference an effort to encourage China to buy up the farm salmon product that is now piling up worldwide?
In a November 9 press release from Canada says:
In Canada, infectious salmon anaemia is a "federally reportable disease". This means that all suspected or confirmed cases must be immediately reported to the CFIA. But the 1,100 reports by the BC fish farm vet of "classic lesions" associated with ISA virus were never reported to the CFIA.
In an October 24 statement the Minister of Fisheries Keith Ashfield says:
"There are stringent federal regulations in place to protect Canada’s aquatic species (farmed and wild) from disease."
But he fails to mention that in 2004 his department waived the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations to allow Atlantic salmon eggs to pour in since then from a hatchery in the North Atlantic that does not meet Canada's "stringent federal regulations." Download 2004 Fish Health1.pdf (2176.3K)
All the public salmon hatcheries in BC received a notice not to provide samples for ISA virus testing to independent researchers. I hope that the hatcheries will take it on themselves to make sure testing is done. ISA virus is an aggressive competitor against other pathogens and so when it occurs in a confined environment it ramps up virulence to win out over the competition. Two of the positives I received from my fresh samples were found only in the gills (chinook and chum). Experts say this could mean very recent exposure. Because these two salmon were found in the same area as a coho that had ISA virus in her heart, which suggests a more systemic infection, it is possible the chum and chinook had just become infected. It is well known around the world that ISA virus can move from harmless to lethal in fish confined in close quarters.
It would be tragic if the hard work by hundreds of volunteer British Columbians was undone by spread of ISA virus through hatcheries. The samples required for testing are heart and gills, unfrozen stored in RNALater.
I went back to the area where I got the three ISA virus-positive salmon at Harrison Mills, took fresh samples again of the recently dead fish and over-night Fedexed them back to the World Animal Health Lab. They did not run the samples, they put them in storage. I am not sure what this means for future testing in BC.
I do not accept the CFIA, DFO, BC opinion that there is "no evidence" of ISA virus. I have not seen their test results. I have 6 positives, including confirmation by a second highly experienced lab in one of the Rivers Inlet sockeye. I feel the only responsible action right now is to test for this virus as widely as possible, striving for the best possible sample quality.
Thank you for your donations we will keep you informed of results. We did get negative results from juvenile herring that we tested - which is really good news.
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