Allowing viruses to multiply and mutate in feedlot environments and then pour out into the natural environment is dangerous. Introducing new viruses is even more dangerous.
In 2007, Norway contaminated Chile with a salmon virus (from the influenza family) called Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISA virus). Despite serious problems with the ISA virus in Norway, millions of Atlantic salmon eggs were imported to Chile. Fish from these eggs were put in ocean net pens and the virus mutated, spread and killed more salmon than anyone thought possible. The virus caused $2 billion in damages in Chile and they cannot get rid of it. Arguably, the Norwegian companies involved knew how dangerous this virus was, but clearly allowed it to enter the south Pacific waters of Chile.
The scientists who traced the virus back to its
source (a hatchery in Norway), were put through a trial for scientific
misconduct. Although eventually proven right and the charges were dropped, their
creditability suffered and they also lost a year of their lives. This event put
chill on other labs. Many scientists
are now afraid to work on farmed salmon viruses.
The US Food and
Drug Agency told the Toronto Star reporter Marco Oved (February
1, 2013) that they do not want ISA
virus contaminated farmed salmon entering the United States. Dr. Kim
Klotins of the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency (CFIA) observed this in her Cohen Commission testimony, that if ISA
virus is "confirmed" in British Columbia, borders could be closed to British
Columbia farmed salmon (watch Salmon
To "confirm" the ISA virus in Canada, the live virus must be isolated
and cultured outside the fish. This is a
clumsy test that ignores the early warnings when only parts of the virus are
From 1985 to 2009, 30 million Atlantic salmon
eggs were imported to British Columbia, Canada.
None of these eggs were certified as ISA
virus-free. In fact, they were not certified free of any of the three most
lethal farmed salmon viruses known:
- Piscine reovirus
- ISA virus
- Salmon alphavirus
Atlantic salmon raised from these eggs were placed
in pens on the migration routes of wild Pacific salmon. With bright lights
turned on at night, wild fish were attracted to the pen locations and the stage
was set for viruses to be transmitted from farmed Atlantic to wild Pacific
It is not surprising that I am finding evidence of European-strained
viruses present in North Pacific. Not unlike the situation faced by
Norwegian scientists who reported the ISA virus in Chile, the lab I am working with has been attacked for reporting their findings to me.
Here is what we have found:
Farmed Atlantic salmon positive
for piscine reovirus from BC supermarket
In 1999, farmed Atlantic salmon in Norway began
developing heart disease. Named Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), it took
scientists 11 years to find that piscine reovirus is almost certainly the cause
of HSMI. Meanwhile, the virus spread and HSMI became one of the biggest
killers of farmed Atlantic salmon in Norway.
Being so widespread in Norway and with no screening
of salmon eggs coming to British Columbia (for this virus), it is not
surprising we have found most British Columbia farmed Atlantic salmon in
supermarkets today are testing positive for this virus. We have also found it
in wild salmon. I
co-published research on piscine reovirus in Virology Journal. The
evidence suggests that piscine
reovirus entered British Columbia in ~ 2007. If so, it is spreading
Norwegian scientists warn Canada to stop it before it spreads too far.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada refuses
to respond to this the threat of this virus. So with EcoJustice, I launched a legal action
to prevent putting farmed salmon infected with any virus into ocean net
case will be before the courts on June 9, 2014. You can check my blog for updates.
Infectious Salmon Anemia virus ISAV
Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISA virus) was
discovered in Norwegian salmon farms in 1984. A member of the influenza family,
it mutated from its harmless wild form into a virulent form in the salmon
feedlot environment. It became lethal to salmon.
The ISA virus began appearing around the world
where Atlantic salmon are farmed: Scotland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Chile
and eastern Canada. So many salmon have died from this virus that it was listed as an international notifiable disease by the World Organisation
for Animal Health. Despite this global
epidemic, Canada never required Atlantic salmon eggs entering British Columbia to
be certified ISA virus-free.
Typically, the ISA virus appears harmless when it
first enters a new region and is ignored. It is inconvenient and expensive to
cull infected farmed salmon to try to stop the spread of the virus. Then, after
a period of years it begins killing salmon and cannot be eradicated. True to
form, when ISA virus entered Chile it was detected, ignored and then mutated,
spread faster and killed more salmon than any thought possible, causing $2
billion in damages. A new strain of ISA virus is currently spreading through
salmon farms in eastern Canada. Canadians have paid the company $33 million (and counting) to have these
Seven labs have now detected segments of the ISA
virus in British Columbia, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the CFIA
are ignoring the growing evidence. If the ISA virus is officially “confirmed”
in British Columbia, borders would close to the trade in Atlantic salmon eggs
and fillets. Some farms might have to be emptied, and the industry hatcheries
inspected. These costs would lower the profits.
A previously confidential 2007 briefing written by Dr. Mark Sheppard, the British Columbia provincial veterinarian with responsibilities for farmed salmon, informed
Columbia Minister in charge, that the province was not at risk from the ISA virus
because no Atlantic salmon eggs had been imported. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada website
reports that in truth, between 1985 and 2009, nearly 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs had been imported. Yes, Dr. Sheppard who was in charge of the fish that hatched from these
eggs informed the Minister he worked for, that Atlantic salmon eggs had never been imported
and therefore the
was not at risk from the ISA virus.
The CFIA reported
to the World Organization for Animal Health that the ISA virus-positive lab
results on my samples were not repeatable and therefore recommended the lab lose
its international certification status. Later the CFIA stated that in fact they had never retested my samples. This
leaves British Columbia dangerously exposed where the virus could be spreading
and mutating due to government obstruction.
It is not if but rather when the ISA virus will
break out in British Columbia. We have no idea what a mutated farm-strain of
ISA virus will do to Pacific wild salmon.
Salmon alphavirus causes pancreas disease in salmon. First recognized in 1984 in Scotland, it is now the number one viral killer of farmed salmon in Norway. In 2009, Chile petitioned the World Trade Organization for permission to ban import of eggs from areas contaminated with this virus. In 2011, Chile applied to the World Organization for Animal Health to make it a reportable virus so that it would be mandatory for companies operating in Chile to report it. Chilean authorities are trying to prevent this virus from establishing itself and trying to rebuild the industries reputation. The alphavirus has been detected in British Columbia samples. There is no visible effort to stop salmon alphavirus spreading in Canada.
The same few Norwegian companies are farming salmon around the world (including Chile). Around 98% of British Columbia salmon farms belong to Norwegian-owned companies. It is not unreasonable to expect the same problems we see wherever Norweigan salmon farms are active on our Coast.