Because Fisheries and Oceans Canada was caught failing to produce key evidence that the European ISA virus could be in BC wild salmon and has furthermore failed to even comment on the 11 salmon farm-specific recommendations of the Cohen Inquiry, I am continuing to sample and test wild salmon and herring and farmed salmon and steelhead in BC for European viruses. I am going to need your help to keep this work going.
Touring the spawning rivers of British Columbia takes me to some of the most beautiful places on earth and I see a lot of beautiful salmon.
But nothing beats getting out in the field if you want to know what is going on. We have covered enormous ground this fall from the Skeena watershed, through the Central Coast, Vancouver Island and the length of the Fraser River. Some of what we have found is disturbing and needs to be figured out.
Because I am not part of a large organization, I am free to investigate even when the results conflict with the prevailing politics. This project is daring, expensive, and essential. We need to understand why so many labs are finding evidence of European viruses. And we need to know what is going on with some of the major wild salmon runs.
When I hear that a run of salmon has mysteriously disappeared in BC, I sample the salmon for European salmon viruses, so we can rule them out or deal with them. Many think the Skeena River is too far north to be exposed to farmed salmon pathogens, but think again. First, southcoast salmon swim through farmed salmon effluent and then travel up the coast and mingle with northern stocks. Second, in 2010 tons of Fraser sockeye caught off the Fraser River after passing through several concentrations of Atlantic salmon farms, were transported back north to Prince Rupert for processing. The offal from these fish entered the ocean near the Skeena River. Adult salmon headed for the Skeena would have been exposed just before they entered the river to spawn.
Juvenile sockeye spend a year in freshwater lakes before migrating out to sea. The generation of sockeye that were rearing in the Skeena system in 2010 is the generation that has gone missing this year. If the Fraser sockeye picked up a virus from the farmed Atlantic salmon, their remains could have passed it on to the migrating adult Skeena sockeye, which would have carried up the Skeena into the lakes. This is the danger of viruses - they spread.
When Jody Eriksson and Farlyn and Tavish Campbell got to the spawning grounds of the Skeena sockeye that had collapsed, they found massive numbers were dying before spawning. This is a Fraser sockeye problem.
The Cohen Commission spent a considerable amount of time on prespawn mortality, a problem specific to the Fraser sockeye until now. At the Commission we learned DFO scientist, Dr. Kristi Miller, found that the immune systems of the Fraser sockeye dying before spawning were fighting a virus. When Dr. Miller requested permission to test farmed salmon for this virus signature she was not allowed, she was also prevented from going to meetings and speaking to the media when she published in the journal of SCIENCE on this phenomena. Now, the Skeena sockeye appear to be exhibiting a similar characteristic. We understand that DFO Fish Health sampled sockeye at the Babine fence as well, so we look forward to hearing their results. No one informed First Nations of this die-off until my crew spoke with them.
We are hoping not to find European salmon viruses in these fish, but someone has to look because IF EU viruses are implicated, this is something that can be corrected by removing Atlantic salmon from the wild salmon migration routes of BC and US salmon.
I recently spent five days on the lower Fraser River thanks to the generous help of fishermen Brad Crowther and Sandy Bodrug.
I met them the first day of sampling on the Fraser River in 2011 and they have become an essential part of the team, working as volunteers.
On the first day we came across a First Nation fishery and found pink salmon that were a deep, canary yellow.
In doing autopsies on them I found parts of their hearts are yellow, their gill arches and spines are yellow, the cartilage in their head is yellow. Their spleens are swollen and enlarged, and their livers are spotted. In some cases their eyes were bugged out.
"In Chile the ISA virus was first isolated in 1999 from Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) stock cultivated in the south of Chile, and identified later as ISA virus (ISAV) by Dr. Kibenge at the University of Prince Edward Island. In this case, the fish exhibited atypical signs of ISA infection and the condition was locally called Jaundice Syndrome. The first cases started at the end of summer and initially affected the bigger fish on the site. The main external findings were anemia and jaundice of the mucosa, eyes and abdomen, while internally, the liver, spleen and kidney were swollen. "
In 2011, farmed chinook salmon were turning yellow (jaundice) and dying in Clayoquot Sound. The company contracted DFO scientist, Dr. Kristi Miller to figure out why and she detected ISA virus sequence in these fish:
Download Exh 2053 - 136a. Creative Salmon ISA Test Results.xls (39.5K)
I am hoping the salmon of the Fraser River do not have ISA virus, but it certainly warrants investigation because ISA virus, in the influenza family has a well-known tendency to go viral with huge consequences. As well, every stone must be turned to figure out what happened in the Skeena this year.
The lab bills are enormous for this work and so I am putting out a plea for help with the bills. My viral detective work need only go on until we have broken through the code of silence around disease in salmon farms. After that the big organizations can take over. But for now no one dares do this work because they risk their institutions. I do not have such an encumbrance and so I see my role as finite and essential.
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Raincoast Research Society
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My goal is to take the science past the denial that European farmed salmon viruses are in BC. I have already co-published a paper on the Norwegian piscine reovirus in BC, with zero response from government. Zero - zip - nothing!
Thank you to my incredible field crews, all the people who have contacted me on facebook at Alexandra Morton FB page to send me pictures of the salmon they are seeing in the creeks and rivers of BC and to the business community of Vancouver who have stepped up to make the testing possible so far. It is increasingly apparent that if we want wild salmon it is up to us.