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Morton blogs the Cohen Commission

Biologist and wild-salmon advocate Alexandra Morton is attending the new series of hearings by the Cohen Commission inquiring into the collapse of the 2009 sockeye run. These hearings will focus on aquaculture and fish diseases, and Morton is posting summaries of the hearings on her blog.

Today, day one of these hearings, Morton wrote:

Today four people took the stand:

Dr. Michael Kent, who worked in Fish Health for DFO at the Pacific Biological Station from 1988 - 1999, and became the Head of the unit from 1997. This was during the rapid expansion phase of salmon farming and the spread of Plasmacytoid Leukemia through the farms. Dr. Kent did much of the research on this disease. Today, Kent is a professor at Oregon State University.

Dr. Craig Stephens, who wrote his PhD thesis on Plasmacytoid Leukemia in 1995 and is a professor at University of Calgary.

Dr. Christine MacWilliams, Fish Health Veterinarian for the DFO Salmonid Enhancement Program since 2005, wrote her PhD thesis on the exotic virus Infectious Salmon Anaemia that has been spread across the North Atlantic and into Chile in salmon farms.

Dr. Stewart Johnson is head of Aquatic Animal Health Section, DFO and monitors disease in wild salmon.

Morton summarized part of their testimony:

While the panel included scientists who were working with two of the pathogens of greatest concern, Plasmacytoid Leukemia - which Dr. [Kristi] Miller suggests might be weakening and killing the majority of Fraser sockeye and Infectious Salmon Anemia which is following the salmon farming industry around the world - none seemed concerned about these diseases.

Dr. MacWilliams, who presumably has access to the fish farm disease records, said she has seen no evidence of the exotic Infectious Salmon Anemia virus in B.C. MacWilliams did research that found rainbow trout could be lethally infected with this exotic virus, but went on to say that Pacific salmon were relatively resistant to ISAv.

Dr. Kent, whose own research showed the Plasmacytoid Leukemia was widespread in salmon farms and 100% of the sockeye exposed became infected, said Plasmacytoid Leukemia (PL) was not a high risk to sockeye.

Kent never completed his research to figure out exactly what this disease is; an intracellular parasite, or a virus. Kent was very vague today, saying they found some pretty good evidence it was a virus, a retrovirus, but that retroviruses are very common in animals and don't always cause disease.

He said they could find PL with other inflammatory diseases, it could be a presentation of cells, might be caused by more than one agent, later more commonly associated with a parasite, a very convoluted story, complicated etiology, proliferated cells can be caused by many things.... Then he took a long drink of water.

Dr. Kristi Miller is scheduled to testify on August 24 and 25. Morton herself will testify on September 7 and 8.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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