Times Colonist

Virus worries salmon interests

- JUDITH LAVOIE jlavoie@timescolon­ist.com

Wild-salmon advocates fear that tests showing a serious virus in one Fraser River coho and two wild sockeye salmon mean the European strain of infectious salmon anemia could be spreading through B.C.’S wild salmon runs.

But B.C. Salmon Farmers Associatio­n spokeswoma­n Mary Ellen Walling said the positive laboratory tests 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 infectious salmon anemia devastated Atlantic stocks in fish farms, farmed coho salmon 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 infectious salmon anemia, known as 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 it is not known which strain of the virus is at play and what the effect will be on wild salmon.

But the potential effects 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.

“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 four dead pink salmon and two chinooks whose organs were yellow and flesh white.

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

Morton contends that if cases of ISA are establishe­d, they can be traced back to a specific hatchery.

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