Columns: New Norwegian Virus In Supermarket Farm Salmon

By on April 15, 2012

By Alexandra Morton. Test results report 44 out of 45 farm salmon purchased from the Superstore and T&T markets throughout Vancouver tested positive for a newly identified Norwegian virus. [Click On Image For Full Story]

The piscine reovirus weakens the fish’s heart causing Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). HSMI is considered a “major challenge” in Norway infecting over 400 farms since it’s symptoms first appeared in 1999. It has spread to the U.K.

Scientists only recently identified the virus causing this disease making diagnosis possible. Thus no screening was possible for the 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs that entered BC for fish farming prior to 2010. Detected for the first time in Chile last year, Sernapesca, the fisheries regulator, responded with “intensified preventative measures.” Reports of HSMI in Chile drove industry share values down.

Alex and the 3 other women with shopping carts, Nicole MacKay, Anissa Reed, Sabra Woodworth

The virus reportedly spreads easily to wild fish near the pens like “wildfire”. There is no information on how it affects wild Pacific salmon.

The Provincial farm salmon health audits released by the Cohen Commission did not report HSMI. The Cohen Commission Technical Report on Disease and Parasites did not consider HSMI impact on Fraser sockeye. Author, Dr. Michael Kent, testified if HSMI appears in BC it would come from the wild fish (Aug. 23, 2012). Dr. Miller, from the DFO Genomic Lab testified on Dec. 15 that she is detecting the virus in wild sockeye.

If these fish are not from BC, we have a breach in BC’s food security protocol. People preparing to cook these may wash them, sending the virus into the water system. If the fish were raised in BC, why didn’t anyone who testified at Cohen know about HSMI? There is something very wrong when four women with shopping carts can find this and the salmon flu virus in Atlantic salmon in BC but almost no one else seems to know anything about it. Are the industry and government really unaware of HSMI, or is no one concerned there about wild salmon? I don’t see how Cohen can ignore HSMI. Weakening the heart of a fish that has to travel 100s of km against the Fraser River seems a bad idea.

“This hurts,” says Anissa Reed, co-founder of the SalmonAreSacred.org</a>, “even with everything I heard at Cohen, I was still hoping the industry, Christy Clark and Stephen Harper were being a little more careful with wild salmon. I want to know what DFO’s response is to this.”

We hope the Province of BC will report which lease these fish came from. BC grants the licenses of occupation for each farm and so is responsible for the fact that the farms are sited in BC’s wild salmon habitat. We need to know, so we can go there and have a look at how the wild salmon are doing with this disease. Someone has be testing the wild salmon and if that falls to us then we will do it. No research on the state of wild salmon is going to be valid without testing for the European viruses.

In the 1991, Pat Chamut, Director General DFO Pacific Region said: “Continued large-scale introductions from areas of the world including Washington State, Scotland, Norway and even eastern Canada would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in BC could be both biologically damaging to the resource and economically devastating to its user groups” (Chamut former ADM, DFO, to Sarna, Director of Pacific Rim & Trade, Policy Division, International Directories, DFO, 1990). It would appear he was right, but we are still going to suffer the consequences. How did Atlantic salmon happen to BC?

Further testing is underway to determine where the fish were raised and the origins of the virus. The lab sequenced the virus in many samples and found it 99% identical to Norwegian strains of Piscine reovirus.

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