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A spawning sockeye salmon in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)
A spawning sockeye salmon in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)

Fisheries

Discovery of lethal fish virus in B.C. sockeye prompts special inquiry session Add to ...

A federal inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in British Columbia will reconvene next month for a special two day session to hear evidence concerning the apparent discovery of an Atlantic fish virus on the West Coast.

Alarm bells were sounded almost two weeks ago when Rick Routledge, a Professor at Simon Fraser University, announced that tissue samples from two of 48 young sockeye salmon collected on the Central Coast had tested positive for infectious salmon anemia (ISA).

The highly contagious virus originates in Atlantic salmon and has never been found before in Pacific salmon. It is suspected that the disease, the finding of which has not yet been confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, could have been imported with Atlantic salmon which are raised in open net fish farms in B.C.

Last week there were reports, which are also now under study by the CFIA, that Pacific Coho and Chinook salmon samples taken from fish in the Fraser River have also tested positive for ISA.

Brian Wallace, senior counsel for the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, issued a statement Friday saying the hearings, which were due to end Thursday, will reconvene in December.

“Testing of samples of Pacific salmon from two areas of the province has indicated the possible presence of the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus in several Pacific salmon. The commission has been advised that further results will be available in about one month. We have requested disclosure of documents related to these fish and the current testing,” said Mr. Wallace in a statement.

“The commission plans to convene a two-day hearing in mid-December to put new information about the possible presence of the ISA virus in BC on the commission’s record. Further details, including any witnesses or exhibits for those days of hearings, will be released later,” he stated.

The apparent discovery of ISA in Pacific salmon has raised concerns on both sides of the Canadian border because of the possible threat it could pose to wild stocks from Alaska to California.

ISA is lethal to Atlantic salmon, and has hit the fish farming industry with devastating impact on the East Coast, in Norway and most recently in Chile.

Laboratory tests suggest the virus is not fatal to Pacific salmon, but the concern is it could mutate, become lethal to wild stocks and spread along the entire West Coast.

The CFIA has collected the samples that Prof. Routledge had analyzed and is conducting its own tests. The results are expected in several weeks.

Last week the Wild Fish Conservancy, a non-profit based in Washington State, criticized Canada for its slow reaction to the potential crisis.

“The response of the B.C. government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been sluggish and inadequate. While these detections should be confirmed (preferably by an agency unaffiliated with the CFIA and DFO) the detection of such a dangerous virus. . .should already have triggered a rapid, widespread sampling effort among [farmed Atlantic]and wild salmon throughout the province,” stated the Wild Fish Conservancy.

However, Mainstream Canada, a leading fish farming company, says the findings so far are inconclusive and the CFIA studies are needed before any conclusions are reached.

“We believe it is more important than ever to wait for the lead agency on this file to give the final word on this issue, and for them to complete their battery of tests before jumping to any conclusion. We urge the CFIA scientists to quickly conclude their investigation and publish their findings,” said the company in a statement.

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