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Deadly salmon virus found in British Columbia waters

By Karen Graham     Jan 9, 2016 in Food
Based on a study of farm-raised salmon, a European variant of a deadly disease called infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAV) has now arrived in British Columbia.
The European variant of ISAV was said to have arrived in British Columbia water five years ago, in 2011, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said then that it just wasn't so after testing two suspect salmon, according to Food Safety News.
While the CFIA has held off in declaring the virus to be present in Canada's Pacific coast waters, this latest study ratchets up the concern that not only Canadian salmon farms are at serious risk, but also Washington state salmon farms.
A school of Chinook salmon.
A school of Chinook salmon.
Zureks (CC BY-SA 3.0)
ISAV first detected in 2004 and in 2011
In a story published in Natural World News, in 2011, a Simon Fraser University professor working on the central coast of British Columbia sent 48 heart samples to the world’s top ISA labs at the University of Prince Edward Island, where two of the salmon samples turned up positive for the ISAV virus.
At about the same time as the 2011 discovery, an earlier 2004 study conducted by Dr. Molly Kibenge surfaced that summarized results of testing done on Coho, pink, and sockeye salmon from southern BC, southeast Alaska, and Bering Sea waters. That report concluded there was “an asymptomatic form of infectious salmon anemia occurring among some species of wild Pacific salmon in the north Pacific.”
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not allow the draft to be published. However, the "smoking salmon" reports did spark an increased diligence in testing by Canada's federal government with help from the province of British Columbia. On December 2, 2011, in a technical briefing, the CFIA, and BC’s Chief Veterinary Officer reported, “that in-depth test results showed no signs of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) in British Columbia salmon.”
“After Canada’s reputation has needlessly been put at risk over the past several weeks because of speculation and unfounded science, additional in-depth, conclusive tests, using proper and internationally recognized procedures, are now complete and we can confirm there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in BC salmon, wild or farmed,” said Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield.
2015 study is the first published report on ISAV being detected in salmon in British Columbia
According to a Digital Journal story published in June 2015, the ISAV virus is related to the influenza virus and was first observed in 1984 in fish farms in Norway. Since that time, the virus has spread around the world and has been identified in Atlantic salmon fish farms in Norway, Chile, Scotland, Ireland, Eastern Canada and the state of Maine.
The disease is not harmful to humans, but ISAV can devastate a fish farm, causing billions of dollars in damage. Fish with the disease die within weeks of its detection. The threat to the wild salmon industry in British Columbia, which includes tourism, commercial and sports fishing, is very serious and real.
The researchers in the study were concerned over the consequences of the ISAV in Cultus sockeye and other BC wild salmon populations, and if so, at what cost? The researchers were not allowed access to any Atlantic salmon fish farms for testing and had to get their samples from local markets in British Columbia.
According to the study, evidence of the ISA virus was three times greater in farmed than in wild salmon, but European ISA virus genetic sequence was detected in 72 percent of the cutthroat trout that reside in Cultus Lake, home to Canada’s most endangered Fraser River sockeye salmon population.
“The potential that viruses such as ISAV are contributing to the widespread decline in sockeye salmon populations cannot be taken lightly,” states co-author Rick Routledge. “The findings in this paper should lead to the development of more sensitive screening for this specific virus. This opportunity needs to be pursued with vigor.”
A more damaging discovery was made when the ISAV virus was found in sea lice in the Discovery Islands, a heavily salmon-farmed region. This study should not be taken lightly by either the Canadian or the U.S. salmon farming industry.
This very interesting study, "Discovery of variant infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV) of European genotype in British Columbia, Canada," was published in The Virology Journal, a peer-reviewed scientific publication from BioMed Central.
More about salmon virus, farmraised salmon, British columbia, CFIA, ISAV
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