February 25, 2017
Today, a team of scientists from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, funded by Genome BC, published a scientific paper that put to rest the debate whether the salmon disease, heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, HSMI is occurring in BC farm salmon.
Could the piscine reovirus be harmful in one ocean, and harmless in another as was commonly believed? The answer is no.
This team of scientists need our voice if they are going to keep working for us. The fish farmers are not going to be pleased with this finding because 80% of their fish are infected with this virus and we were told it was harmless. Please see the bottom of this page on how to help.
The team, which includes DFO’s Dr. Kristi Miller renowned for her pioneering work on deciphering the immune system of salmon, tracked the amount of piscine reovirus (PRV) in salmon in a farm in the Discovery Islands, off Campbell River. They report that as the virus level increased, the fish developed the signature cell damage caused by the disease HSMI. Scientists in Norway report that PRV causes HSMI and HSMI damages heart and skeletal muscle to the point where salmon become so weak they can barely swim. Today, the highly contagious Atlantic salmon disease HSMI is confirmed in BC.
Farm salmon lying on the surface, weak and lethargic, at the Venture Pt salmon farm August 2016.
While HSMI was first detected in Norway in 1999, the virus that causes this disease, piscine reovirus, was not discovered until 2010. This means that the 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs that entered BC prior to the discovery of PRV could not be screened for the virus. Today, 80% of BC farm salmon are infected with PRV. In their Annual General Reports, Marine Harvest lists HSMI among the greatest impact on their production since 2012.
The paper reports that piscine reovirus infects the red blood cells of fish, where it lies in wait for the fish to experience some kind of stress, such as sea lice, handling, disease, warm water etc. at which point it is released and damages the salmon's heart and the muscles the run the length of the fish that are required to swim. This means that every time farm salmon are deloused, the stress of that can cause an outbreak where billions of viral particles will explode into the surrounding waters. What does this mean for wild salmon? Double jeopardy - lice then infection.
The authors tested for 44 disease agents, and only piscine reovirus correlated with the appearance of the lesions in the heart and skeletal muscle of the farm salmon.
The virus reported on in this paper matches a virus I collected from an Atlantic salmon.
In 2013, my co-authors and I reported in Virology Journal that the piscine reovirus we found in BC salmon closely matched a virus from a farm salmon suffering from HSMI in Lofoten, Norway. This suggests this strain of PRV is a recent import from Norway. Moving viruses around the world is a highly dangerous practice.
Somehow government scientists and Marine Harvest report in 3 scientific papers that PRV is harmless in BC.
The paper published today confirms PRV is not harmless in BC, that it is causing disease. This is a very important finding for everyone working to figure out what is happening to wild salmon. We can be grateful to Genome BC for funding this work. I know from experience that researching disease in BC farm salmon invites harassment. The salmon farming industry is going to be upset by this finding. DFO put out no press release and the paper is hard to find. If we don't stand up and be heard it will be buried along with wild salmon.
I am hopeful that Minister of Fisheries, Dominic LeBlanc will allow this research team to continue and will heed this science from his own department. The salmon farming industry will not be pleased with this paper, Minister LeBlanc must protect his team of scientists from industry backlash and allow this research to continue in the interest of Canadians.
I know from experience that revealing anything about viruses in BC farm salmon invites harassment.
Please consider contacting the president of Genome BC Pascal Spothelfer at email@example.com and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc firstname.lastname@example.org to thank them for funding the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative and the work of Dr. Kristi Miller. This work is going to allow us to restore salmon to this coast, because for the first time we will understand what is harming wild salmon. This is a breakthrough in our relationship with salmon and this is the mandate that Trudeau has given to his minister - to use science to manage wild fisheries. You can cc Dr. Miller as well email@example.com
I feel certain they will be hearing unpleasantness from some and I think this research is going to make an enormous difference to wild salmon and Canadians. This work has just begun and we need to stand by it to see it through.