Canada's politicians and industrial salmon farmers can't say they weren't warned.
Marine biologists say they've detected a feared, salmon-killing virus in farmed and wild salmon from British Columbia ... Canada's Pacific coast province.
Infectious salmon anemia (ISA) is caused by an influenza-type virus that poses no health risk to people, or to marine mammals.
The ISA virus infects wild salmon that swim anywhere near salmon farms, and has devastated wild salmon populations in the Atlantic.
Incredibly, the Canadian government allowed the siting of dozens of salmon farms along major migration routes of wild Pacific salmon.
At the bottom of this article, we list some actions you can take to help prevent devastation of wild Pacific salmon.
What is ISA?
As we said, ISA is a type of influenza virus that cannot harm people, but easily kills salmon.
Importantly, the ISA sometimes found in wild salmon usually occurs in benign forms that produce no symptoms.
Although virulent strains can occur in the wild, they do little harm ... probably because of the very low population density of wild fish.
In contrast, history shows that ocean-based salmon pens crowded with farmed fish help virulent strains develop, and speed their spread.
If – as appears to have happened – a virulent strain of the ISA virus appears on Canadian salmon farms, it could easily spread to wild salmon in Alaska and Washington State.
Sadly, that may already have happened, because traces of the same virulent strain were also detected in wild salmon caught off the coast of British Columbia.
Alaskan law prohibits salmon farms ... but if the virus spreads to wild salmon in Canadian waters just south of Alaska, it could affect Alaskan salmon as well.
Unlike Alaska, the waters of Puget Sound off the Washington State Coast host several salmon farms ... and the Wild Fish Conservancy recently sued the U.S. EPA for allowing this.
Imported salmon eggs may be to blame
Importing salmon eggs from infected regions such as Norway – which Canada-based salmon farms have done – is reckless.
Six years ago, Professor Are Nylund – head of the Fish Diseases Group at the University of Bergen, Norway – issued a stern warning:
"…based on 20 years of experience, I can guarantee that if British Columbia continues to import salmon eggs from the eastern Atlantic ... ISA will arrive in Western Canada ... BC is the last place you should have salmon farms.”
Last year, Eco Justice persuaded Canada's Federal Court to strike down a regulation
that allowed private companies to transfer fish infected with viruses to open-pen farms in the ocean.
But the risks posed by salmon eggs imported from Europe remains ... and the new findings suggest that imported eggs have produced infected progeny.
New findings raise a flaming red flag
Our longtime readers may remember marine biologist Alexandra Morton.
Alexandra has co-authored pioneering research papers published in major scientific journals.
And she's led concerned Canadians' fight to save wild Pacific salmon from the effects of salmon farms. (Vital Choice is a longtime supporter of Alexandra's work.)
Alarmingly, they found traces in wild salmon, as well as farmed salmon (Kibenge MJ et al. 2016).
DNA tests for the ISA virus were performed on flesh taken from 397 farmed salmon purchased in markets and from 708 wild salmon caught off British Columbia.
Critically, the ISA virus they detected appears closely related to virulent ISA strains found in salmon farms in Norway, Chile, and elsewhere.
And the new findings support secretive, unpublished Canadian government results released only under judicial order (see Salmon Confidential Exposé
Enough evidence to act
Salmon farming corporations say that the finding may be wrong, and called the announcement premature.
But those protests lack credibility, and seem hypocritical, because the same large multinational firms refuse to provide live fish for testing.
(They have every motive to resist, because Canadian regulations require detection of the ISA virus in live farmed salmon before the authorities can act.)
Based on the history of virulent ISA outbreaks in salmon farms, Canadian authorities must act now, before the situation gets out of hand.
Virus is hard to stop once it starts
Once ISA takes root in a region dotted with salmon farms, it is extremely difficult to eradicate.
The ISA virus devastated Faroe Islands salmon farms, cost Scotland $32 million in a failed attempt to eradicate it, and caused $5 million in losses in New Brunswick (Eastern Canada).
And the U.S. spent $8 million trying to eradicate it from Maine's salmon farms when it spread southward from New Brunswick.
Economic damage to industrial salmon farms is one thing, but the ISA virus can easily spread from salmon farms to wild salmon.
In fact, wild salmon were nearly eliminated from the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to sea lice and viruses from ocean-based salmon farms.
What can you do?
- Kibenge MJ, Iwamoto T, Wang Y, Morton A, Routledge R, Kibenge FS. Discovery of variant infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV) of European genotype in British Columbia, Canada. Virol J. 2016 Jan 6;13(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s12985-015-0459-1.
- Kulshreshtha V, Kibenge M, Salonius K, Simard N, Riveroll A, Kibenge F. Identification of the 3' and 5' terminal sequences of the 8 rna genome segments of European and North American genotypes of infectious salmon anemia virus (an orthomyxovirus) and evidence for quasispecies based on the non-coding sequences of transcripts. Virol J. 2010 Nov 23;7:338. doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-7-338.
- Ritchie RJ, McDonald JT, Glebe B, Young-Lai W, Johnsen E, Gagné N. Comparative virulence of Infectious salmon anaemia virus isolates in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L. J Fish Dis. 2009 Feb;32(2):157-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2761.2008.00973.x.