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Canada fears the virulent strain of ISA could be spreading to wild salmon

Wednesday, November 2nd 2011 - 04:27 UTC
Full article
The European strain of ISA devastated Chile’s salmon industry The European strain of ISA devastated Chile’s salmon industry

Wild-salmon advocates in Canada fear that tests showing a serious virus in one Fraser River coho and two wild sockeye salmon mean the European strain of infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) could be spreading through British Columbia's wild-salmon runs.

But B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association spokeswoman Mary Ellen Walling said the positive laboratory test results at the Atlantic Veterinary College have yet to be confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“The CFIA is now doing additional testing on the sockeye and coho to see if they are false positives, which is quite common,” she said.

Salmon farmers are worried because the virulent strain of ISA has been shown to kill Atlantic salmon, which are raised in B.C. salmon farms, Walling said. In Chile, where ISA devastated Atlantic stocks in fish farms, coho salmon, which were also being raised on farms, did not die, she said.

“We are certainly concerned and we are anxiously waiting for the results of their findings. What we have to do is just have confidence in the CFIA and their processes,” she said.

Fish-farm opponents believe ISA has been introduced to the Pacific through salmon eggs imported by fish farms. But Walling said farms are not seeing any unexpected or unexplained diseases. “We have a good survival rate on the farms,” she said.

More than 4,700 farm fish have been tested and there has been no sign of the virus, Walling said.

Biologist Alexandra Morton, who provided the specimens of wild fish for testing, said the strain of the virus is unknown, as is its effect on wild salmon. But the potential effect could be devastating, she said.

“This is hugely significant. We now have two cases, from 600 kilometres apart, from different species and two different generations,” she said.

“What are the chances that two tests on this coast should come back positive? It's a very alarming development.”

There are reports from Chile that fish with ISA turned yellow, and Morton said she has found two dead chinook salmon and four pink salmon whose organs were yellow and flesh white.

“That means to me that this European disease can affect wild Pacific salmon,” she said.

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