Public Enquiry looks at Salmon Farms: A special commission has been appointed to look into the collapse of the 2009 sockeye salmon fishery. The report, expected in June of 2012, will look closely at a number of possible causes of the collapse, including fishfarming. During extensive oral hearings in 2011, the commission heard evidence that fish viruses that were not believed to exist on the west coast of North America have been detected in wild salmon, raising the concern that such viruses were imported with salmon eggs or fry used in the fish farming industry.
A fish virus known as ISA, that is deadly to farmed Atlantic salmon, has been detected in several samples of wild fish in the waters of British Columbia, Canada. Another virus has also been isolated and, although it is not yet identified with certainty, it appears to be linked to premature death of wild fish. Neither of the viruses was previously believed to exist on this coast and one of them (ISA) is reported to be a strain originating in Europe. Neither virus poses a risk to human health, but both are being studied among the possible causes of the abrupt decline of the 2009 sockeye run.
In an interesting development late in the hearings, a Canadian government scientist testified that she returned to some old tissue samples stored in her lab, to test for the possible existence of the ISA virus using current technology and methods. She detected ISA in samples as old as 25 years, which is just about the same time that commercial salmon farming began on this coast, in Sechelt Inlet, British Columbia.
Wild salmon activists have long warned that the danger of importing diseases such as ISA was one of the best reasons to restrict salmon farming to closed, contained systems that could not communicate disease to the wild. Severe outbreaks of ISA devastated the Chilean salmon farming industry in 2009, wiping out the majority of the fish in the farms. It is not known how wild Pacific salmon will respond to the virus if it becomes endemic.
The Canadian government and the fishfarm industry have responded to the reports by questioning the integrity of the samples tested and the methods employed by the laboratories that reported the findings. The laboratories included Canada’s Atlantic Veterinary College and the University of Bergen in Norway.
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