Appearance of ISA in BC must lead to immediate action by DFO

CAAR is calling for an immediate action plan from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in response to the discovery of a deadly salmon disease in BC waters.

Conservationists working to protect wild salmon in BC from the negative effects of net-cage salmon farming have long feared the possibility of an outbreak of a highly contagious marine influenza virus – Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). This deadly disease has appeared where salmon are raised in open net-cage aquaculture. Outbreaks have caused problems in Norway, Scotland, eastern Canada and the USA. In 2007 an outbreak among Chilean salmon farms became an epidemic leading to the death or destruction of 70% of the country’s farmed salmon. Now for the first time the ISA virus has been detected in the North Pacific. The consequences could be devastating.

While the evidence is not yet comprehensive, the simple detection of this virus in wild salmon should be enough to compel the Canadian government to act, and act quickly.

Experts certainly concur. According to the New York Times on Oct. 17th: “James Winton, who leads the fish health research group at the Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, an arm of the United States Geological Survey, called it a “disease emergency” and urged that research begin at once to determine on how far the virus had spread.”

CAAR is calling on Canada’s federal government leaders and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to take the following actions:

  1. DFO must immediately convene a workshop of international experts and develop a transparent, public plan to address this threat.
  2. In cooperation and collaboration with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DFO must immediately initiate comprehensive, independently-audited testing of wild salmon, farmed salmon, herring and pilchard in BC to determine the extent of the disease. Results should be verified by the OIE reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.
  3. Conduct the testing necessary to track the source of the disease.
  4. Immediately cull all farmed fish in any farm site where fish test positive for ISAv.
  5. Fast-track the development of closed containment systems for salmon aquaculture and present a firm, expedited timeline for phasing out all open net-cage operations.

Background:

Sockeye salmon smolts were collected in early 2011 as part of a long-term study on the collapse of the Rivers Inlet sockeye populations. The study is led by Simon Fraser University professor Dr. Rick Routledge. 48 sockeye were noted to be extremely thin and samples were sent for analysis. 2 of the 48 tested positive for the European strain of the ISA virus.

The salmon farming industry has stated that they have never found one case of the ISA virus on BC salmon farms among the 600 to 800 fish they claim to test each year. However salmon farming industry documents entered into evidence during the Cohen Inquiry revealed that symptoms of ISA were detected in farmed fish over one thousand times since 2006.

Viruses including ISA are known to mutate and the presence of this disease could potentially decimate wild salmon runs in British Columbia. It is imperative the Government of Canada act on this issue without delay.