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Deadly Salmon Disease Found on West Coast

For the first time ever, scientists have uncovered the presence of infectious salmon anemia, a deadly virus that has devastated farmed fish in Chile, in wild salmon populations on the West Coast.

For the first time ever, scientists have uncovered the presence of infectious salmon anemia, a deadly virus that has devastated farmed fish in Chile, in wild salmon populations on the West Coast.

This news arrived at a time when the Obama administration is fast-tracking the approval of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, promoting environmentally destructive corporate aquaculture facilities and pushing the privatization of public trust resources through the controversial “catch shares” program.

Scientists from Simon Fraser University reported at a news conference in Vancouver on October 17 that the virus had been found in 2 of 48 juvenile fish collected as part of a study of sockeye salmon in Rivers Inlet, British Columbia.

“The highly contagious marine influenza virus, Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA,) has for the first time been officially reported after being found in the Pacific on B.C.’s central coast,” according to a news release from the scientists.

“Now it threatens both wild salmon and herring,” said biologist Alexandra Morton and Simon Fraser University professor Rick Routledge, whose laboratory led to the discovery of ISA in B.C. salmon smolts.

Morton is calling for removal of Atlantic salmon from B.C. salmon farms. “Loosing a virus as lethal and contagious as ISA into the North Pacific is a cataclysmic biological threat to life,” said Morton. “The European strain of ISA virus can only have come from the Atlantic salmon farms. European strain ISA infected Chile via Atlantic salmon eggs in 2007.”

Morton says ISA was first found in Norway in 1984. “Since then, there have been lethal outbreaks in every important salmon-farming region around the globe, with the exception – or so we thought – of B.C. Now we know for sure that it has hit B.C.

“The Cohen Inquiry revealed ISA symptoms have been reported in farm salmon in B.C. since 2006. The Fisheries Ministers have written me repeatedly that B.C. is safe from ISA. Clearly they are not in control of the situation,” Morton stated.

“If there is any hope, we have to turn off the source: Atlantic salmon have to be immediately removed,” she concluded.

Dr. Fred Kibenge of the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I. made the diagnosis and notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of the positive results for the European strain of ISA virus, according to the release.

“ISA is a deadly exotic disease which could have devastating impacts on wild salmon and the many species that depend on them throughout much of British Columbia and beyond,” said Routledge. “The combined impacts of this influenza-like virus and the recently identified parvovirus that can suppress the immune system could be particularly deadly.”

The study results were released on the heels of a report by Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group, regarding the “troubling consequences” of factory fish farming.

Zach Corrigan, fish program director at Food & Water Watch, responded to the SFU report by noting that salmon farms present the “perfect conditions” for the spread of the deadly disease.

“While we cannot say for certain what caused this particular outbreak of infectious salmon anemia, salmon fish farms present the perfect conditions for it to spread like wild fire,” said Corrigan. “The salmon industry in Chile, for instance, was devastated by the same virus due to the filthy conditions inherent in factory fish farms.”

“Haven’t we learned anything from factory farming on land? It’s a bastion of disease. We should be pursuing closed-system, land-based fish farming methods instead of factory farming our oceans,” he concluded.

Caleen Sisk-Franco, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemen Wintu Tribe, emphasized that state and federal scientists should listen to the Tribes when they make their fisheries management decisions to avoid disasters, such as infectious salmon anemia spreading to wild salmon, from occurring. The Winnemem Wintu are attempting to restore native winter run chinook salmon, via eggs of the original strain of the transplanted fish now thriving in New Zealand, to the McCloud River above Lake Shasta.

“Putting all the ‘fish experts’ heads together, they still don’t have the historical memory of the tribes, who they refuse to listen to because they don’t have the post hole digger (PhD) initials behind their surname,” said Sisk-Franco. “Salmon hold the knowledge from the Creator directly; we should follow the salmon!”

The release of the report exposing the presence of infectious salmon anemia in wild fish on the West Coast couldn’t come at a worse time. The Sacramento River fall chinook salmon run, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, is recovering from an unprecedented collapse in 2008 and 2009. Salmon advocates point to a combination of record water exports out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to agribusiness and southern California, declining water quality and poor ocean conditions as the key factors behind the collapse.

Meanwhile, the Obama and Brown administrations are fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build a peripheral canal to divert more water to agribusiness and southern California water agencies. Delta residents, fishing groups, Indian Tribes, family farmers and conservation groups oppose the enormously expensive and environmentally destructive peripheral canal or tunnel because it would likely lead to the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail and other imperiled species.

The breakout of a deadly fish disease in wild salmon populations is the last thing at we need at a time when salmon populations throughout the West Coast are in crisis. I agree with Alexandra Morton’s contention that Atlantic salmon, produced in environmentally destructive aquaculture facilities in British Columbia, need to be “immediately removed.”