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More salmon shenanigans in British Columbia

sockeye salmon.jpgPosted on behalf of Anne Casselman.

Whether or not infectious salmon anemia (ISA) has spread among British Columbia’s wild salmon is the latest controversy in a protracted debate about whether farmed salmon endanger wild stock (pictured) in the Pacific Northwest.

A row has erupted over the revelation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada’s federal fisheries agency, kept the lid on a study that detected an ISA-like virus in 100 wild fish back in 2002. According to The Seattle Times, the incident raises doubts among environmentalists and US politicians alike as to how well equipped the DFO is to handle such threats given its dual mandate to safeguard and manage wild fish while promoting salmon farms.

This recent outing of subterfuge comes hot on the heels of an announcement made in mid-October by Simon Fraser University biologist Rick Routledge that ISA was present in two out of 48 young salmon from Rivers Inlet, British Columbia. For all anyone knew, Routledge’s discovery was the first reported case of ISA in wild salmon. But with the revelation of the 2002 DFO report, it appears that may not be the case.

Wild fish advocates have long feared that open-net farms of Atlantic salmon reared along the Pacific coast might endanger local wild salmon by exposing them to new diseases. Whether these whispers of ISA represents their worse fears realized remains to be seen, as the data is inconclusive and has yet to be corroborated.


Outbreaks of ISA can decimate millions of fish, as was the case in Chile in 2007. A report on that outbreak traces the most likely cause of the outbreak to Chile-bound salmon eggs from Norway.

Whether ISA is the salmon equivalent of measles being introduced to indigenous North Americans remains unclear. One of the authors of the recently surfaced DFO report concludes in the report that the ISA-like virus detected may in fact be a local and wild strain of ISA. The same author hasn’t been granted permission by the DFO to submit the study data for publication in an academic journal.

The fracas has touched a raw nerve in BC where a federal inquiry into the Fraser River’s declining sockeye stocks has often scrutinized the DFO’s management practices (see Mystery of Canada’s missing salmon continues).

The Cohen Commission, charged with investigating the missing salmon, will reconvene on 15 December for a special two day session on the topic of salmon anemia.

Image courtesy of USFWS Pacific via Flickr under Creative Commons.

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