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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

B.C. Legislation Moves to Make Reporting on Disease Outbreaks Illegal and Punishable, While Multiple Salmon Net Pen Disease Outbreaks Occur in Washington and BC

Legislation being proposed by the Liberal British Columbia (BC) government will make it illegal and punishable for a person, including citizens or journalists, to disclose information relating to reportable animal disease in the Canadian province.
May 25, 2012

WILD FISH CONSERVANCY

PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 · Tel 425-788-1167 · Fax 425-788-9634 info@wildfishconservancy.org

Contact: Dr. Todd Sandell, Wild Fish Conservancy, 206-310-7910
Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, 425-788-1167

For Immediate Release: Friday, May 25, 2012

B.C. Legislation Moves to Make Reporting on Disease Outbreaks Illegal and Punishable, While Multiple Salmon Net Pen Disease Outbreaks Occur in

Washington and BC


Legislation being proposed by the Liberal British Columbia (BC) government will make it illegal and punishable for a person, including citizens or journalists, to disclose information relating to reportable animal disease in the Canadian province. Bill 37, The Animal Health Act, over-rides BC's Freedom of Information Act, making it unlawful for the public or the press to speak publicly about an agriculture-related disease outbreak or identify the location of an outbreak such as the deadly bird flu or a viral outbreak of IHNV at a salmon aquaculture feedlot.

Section 16 of the Act reads, "A person must refuse, despite the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, to disclose . . . information that would reveal that a notifiable or reportable disease is or may be present in a specific place or on or in a specific vehicle." Individuals failing to keep such information confidential may expect penalties of up to $75,000 in fines and two years in prison.

The legislation comes at a time when outbreaks of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis virus (IHNV) have been reported at two salmon farms in BC: an Atlantic salmon net pen at Dixon Bay, north of Tofino and a coho salmon facility at Ahlstrom Point, near Sechelt; and at two salmon farms and one hatchery in Washington State: two Atlantic salmon net pens at Bainbridge Island, at Fort Ward and Orchard Rock, and a sockeye hatchery on Baker Lake.

IHNV is naturally occurring in the Pacific Northwest and can be contracted by any of our salmon species, and it is likely that the net pen farms were infected by viruses shed from local wild (or hatchery) fish. Wild juvenile salmon are at the highest risk of mortality from IHNV infection, although survivors may act as carriers of the virus and may begin shedding viral particles when stressed; in some cases adult fish succumb to the infection.

Even though IHNV is naturally occurring, viral amplification is a serious concern. Given the high densities of the farmed fish in the pens (and a lack of resistance in Atlantic salmon to IHNV), these operations have the potential to release millions of viral particles into the seawater flushing through the pens with each tide, with the potential to infect juvenile wild salmon passing by on their outmigration to the Pacific Ocean (the virus can survive for up to 3 weeks in seawater).  Quarantining the net pens is impossible, which is why moving the pens to land-based operations, where the effluent from the farms can be treated and monitored, is the best way forward.

Currently no agency monitors the effects of net pen disease outbreaks on wild fish, and there is no guarantee that public notice will be made, including notification to consumers of diseased fish (labeling) and the possibility that a purchased fish could still spread the disease.

This legislation would be a significant setback to coast-wide efforts to recover wild salmon. The ability of citizens, scientists, journalists, and organizations to clearly communicate about potential disease threats to wild salmon in a timely manner is crucial. Salmon know no borders; both Canadian and US originating salmon stocks pass through Canadian and US waters, and may come in close proximity to salmon aquaculture.

“This is an attack on the civil liberties of the good citizens of B.C.,” said Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy Executive Director, “and the provincial government should be embarrassed. Prohibiting our ability to speak with our Canadian colleagues openly about potential threats to wild salmon will compromise recovery efforts in both countries. The B.C. government needs to promote an atmosphere of openness and accountability instead of conceding public freedoms to protect the marine feedlot industry.”

Bill 37, The Animal Health Act, is slotted for a vote the end of this month.

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