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

October 28, 2011 eNews

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

Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA), a highly contagious virus that resulted in the 2007/08 collapse of the Chilean salmon farming industry, as well as problems in other salmon farming regions, has been detected for the first time in the North Pacific. A Simon Fraser University (SFU) field team, investigating the collapse of the Rivers Inlet sockeye populations, sent samples to the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island (PEI) where the ISA infection was confirmed. Viruses like ISA are known to mutate and the presence of this disease could potentially decimate wild salmon runs in British Columbia. It is imperative that the Canadian government act immediately to locate the source of the disease and stop it from spreading.

The particular strain of the virus has been identified as European, therefore it is most likely that the net-cage salmon farming industry is responsible for introducing the disease to the region – an outcome long feared by wild salmon conservation groups. (91% of the salmon currently raised in BC salmon farms are Atlantic salmon; a portion of salmon eggs are imported from Europe.) The BC salmon farming industry says they have never found a single case of the ISA virus on their 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 “classic symptoms” of ISA were detected in BC farmed fish over one thousand times since 2006.

CAAR is calling for an immediate action plan from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in response to the discovery of ISA in BC waters. However DFO has already been criticized for their reluctant response to the potential crisis. Fisheries biologist Dr. Daniel Pauly was quoted in a New York Times blog post saying that time is of the essence and criticized DFO as “…still in public relations mode, but it’s a potential catastrophe — public relations will not help in this.”

A joint statement issued last week by DFO Minister Keith Ashfield and the Minister of Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada states that the report of the ISA virus is “not yet verified” and that they are “concerned that proper protocols may not have been followed in the testing and reporting of these findings.” This, despite the fact that the samples were tested using the method recommended by World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and performed by a designated OIE expert in a designated OIE reference laboratory in PEI.

With the devastating news that the ISA virus has been found in the North Pacific, the negative consequences of farming salmon in BC’s marine environment has become an international issue. Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell said in a recent article, “We need to act now to protect the Pacific Northwest’s coastal economy and jobs.” With the potential for this virus to decimate wild salmon populations up and down the Pacific Northwest coast, there is too much at stake for the Canadian government to continue putting the salmon farming industry first. Read CAAR’s statement and recommendations for action.

CAAR to Cohen Commission: DFO requires overhaul to protect wild salmon

Photo: Stan Proboszcz

The Cohen Inquiry, now in the final stages with its report and recommendations to the Government of Canada due in June 2012, has accepted the final recommendations of the participant groups. In its submission, CAAR, as part of the Conservation Coalition, has strongly advised that the Commission call on the federal government to restore DFO’s primary mandate in order to prioritize science and conserving salmon rather than acting as an advocate for the salmon farming industry.

The recommendations also include mandating an immediate halt to new net-cage farm approvals and any expansion of farm sites in BC; to immediately remove all net-cage salmon farms from the narrow channels of Fraser sockeye migration routes in the Discovery Islands (the Wild Salmon Narrows) and to phase out all other net-cage salmon farms in BC waters; and to support the development of a closed containment aquaculture industry to assist in the transition of net-cages to closed containment.

See the media release and all recommendations.

Closed containment workshop highlights significant progress for the industry

Fresh Water Institute closed containment tank. Photo: Andrew S. Wright

This month, several members of CAAR attended the Aquaculture Innovation Workshop in Campbell River, BC. Organized by TIDES Canada, the event was packed with open-net cage industry representatives, government and closed containment experts from around the world.

Attendees heard presentations from seven closed containment operations designed to grow salmon commercially, as well as three commercial-scale research facilities dedicated to fine-tuning the technology and determining the most effective and economical growing environments. A whole range of systems of varying sizes and designs are now being developed to meet the needs of suppliers and retailers experiencing an ever-increasing demand for an environmentally-friendly farmed salmon product.

Read more about the event and the amazing technological developments that are steadily creating the future of sustainable salmon aquaculture in our recent blog post.