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WFC Learns of ISAv Detection in B.C. Coho Salmon

Wild Fish Conservancy Learns of ISAv Detection in B.C. Coho Salmon
Oct 28, 2011


PO Box 402 Duvall, WA 98019 · Tel 425-788-1167 · Fax 425-788-9634 [email protected]

Contact: Todd Sandell, Wild Fish Conservancy, 206-707-2979

Dr. James Winton, U.S. Geological Survey-Western Fisheries Research Center, 206-526-6587

Dr. Fred Kibenge, Atlantic Veterinary College-University of Prince Edward Island, 902-566-0967

For Immediate Release: Friday, October 28, 2011

Wild Fish Conservancy Learns of ISAv Detection in B.C. Coho Salmon

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has released a report detailing another detection of Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv) in British Columbia, this time isolated from an adult coho salmon. The “situation report - internal” was sent to members of the Cohen Commission (and apparently some officials from NOAA and the USFWS) on October 24th by Dr. Cornelius Kiley and discusses samples analyzed by the laboratory of Dr. Fred Kibenge, which serves as the World Organization for Animal Health‟s ISAv reference laboratory in the western hemisphere. The report claims Dr. Kibenge‟s findings of samples “interpreted as positive” remain “unconfirmed”, but does not specify how they intend to confirm the result or any further plans to test wild and net pen salmon in B.C.

Until recently, ISAv infection in the western hemisphere was thought to be limited to Atlantic salmon on the east coast of North America, where it was introduced via the importation of infected eggs from northern Europe. However, a devastating Norwegian-strain ISAv outbreak among net pen reared coho salmon occurred in Chile in 2007, and on October 15th the European strain of the virus was detected in juvenile sockeye salmon from Rivers Inlet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, B.C. There was no information on the geographic origin of the ISAv strain detected in this newest CFIA report. The presence of either strain of ISAv in the Pacific Northwest poses a serious threat to native salmon species that are already in decline or endangered.

The B.C. salmon aquaculture industry denies that there is a problem. Although they reported over 1000 cases of ISAv – like symptoms among farmed Atlantic salmon, they now suggest that these were from an avirulent strain of ISAv and do not pose a threat, though the fish were dying of an infection when the samples were taken. A recent article from the Journal of General Virology acknowledges the threat:

Arguably the most important question for fish-health managers regards the risk that the presence of low pathogenic ISAV-HPR0 presents for the development of highly pathogenic ISAV and ISA disease. ISAV-HPR0 has been proposed to be the ancestor of highly pathogenic ISAV that is capable of causing disease in Atlantic salmon farms, and probably undergoes an adaptation event in association with intensive aquaculture…The virus is thus well equipped to adapt to the highly selective environment associated with aquaculture, which includes evolutionary pressures such as high host abundance and continuous availability, high rearing densities and exposure of naive hosts to new pathogens. Such factors are known to drive the faster evolution of other fish RNA viruses within aquaculture, such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) (Einer-Jensen et al., 2004). In this case, adaptation of the virus to an alternate „pathogenic‟ lifestyle has occurred several times within aquaculture (Einer-Jensen et al., 2004; Dale et al. 2009). (from Christiansen et al., Volume 92, page 914, 2011)

James Winton, fish health section chief of the U.S. Geological Survey‟s Western Fisheries Research Center, had a similar concern: "Not only is it a mistake to assume any strain of an influenza-like virus cannot become very much more virulent if given a chance, we really do not even have any information about the current and potential extent of the problem in either Atlantic or Pacific salmon on the West Coast."

The response of the B.C. government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has also been sluggish and inadequate. While these detections should be confirmed (preferably by an agency unaffiliated with the CFIA and DFO), the detection of such a dangerous virus by Canada‟s leading ISAv expert, along with the peer- reviewed work of Dr. Kristi Miller, should already have triggered a rapid, widespread sampling effort among net pen and wild salmon throughout the province. Rather than moving rapidly to address the issue, they have focused on downplaying the threat and limiting Dr. Miller‟s ability to discuss her work (see the article in the Vancouver Sun, August 25, 2011: “Fisheries biologist ends testimony but still cannot speak freely with the public”). This approach only fuels suspicion that the B.C. government can no longer be trusted to monitor the salmon aquaculture industry.

“I‟m very concerned that ISAv has now been detected in a second species and in a second life history stage,” said Dr. Todd Sandell, a research biologist at Wild Fish Conservancy. “Even if the infection is by a non-pathogenic strain, the potential exists for the virus to increase its virulence. We need to begin coast-wide testing now so that we know more and can begin to understand what we are up against.” Governmental inaction continues to threaten the region‟s wild salmon stocks, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to protect and restore wild salmon in the last decade; it is irresponsible to continue to spend enormous amounts of money to restore wild salmon while the risk of ISAv introduction goes uninvestigated. Immediate steps need to be taken on a coast-wide level to ensure that the spread of ISAv is contained and to carefully investigate the extent of the threat.

Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the Northwest region’s wild-fish ecosystems, with over 2,500 members. Wild Fish Conservancy’s staff of over 20 professional scientists, advocates, and educators works to promote technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest management to better sustain the region’s wild fish heritage. For more information, visit us at or follow us on Facebook at


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