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New Norwegian virus in farmed salmon: Morton

Wild-salmon advocate Alexandra Morton says B.C. supermarkets are now selling farmed salmon that tests positive for a new virus that may also be harming wild salmon.

In a news release also published on her blog, Morton writes:

Test results report 44 out of 45 farm salmon purchased from the Superstore and T&T markets throughout Vancouver tested positive for a newly identified Norwegian virus. The piscine reovirus weakens the fish's heart, causing Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). HSMI is considered a "major challenge" in Norway infecting over 400 farms since its symptoms first appeared in 1999. It has spread to the U.K.

Scientists only recently identified the virus causing this disease making diagnosis possible. Thus no screening was possible for the 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs that entered B.C. for fish farming prior to 2010. Detected for the first time in Chile last year, Sernapesca, the fisheries regulator, responded with intensified preventative measures." Reports of HSMI in Chile drove industry share values down.

The virus reportedly spreads easily to wild fish near the pens like "wildfire." There is no information on how it affects wild Pacific salmon.

The Provincial farm salmon health audits released by the Cohen Commission did not report HSMI. The Cohen Commission Technical Report on Disease and Parasites did not consider HSMI impact on Fraser sockeye. Author, Dr. Michael Kent, testified if HSMI appears in BC it would come from the wild fish (Aug. 23, 2012). Dr. Miller, from the DFO Genomic Lab, testified on Dec. 15 that she is detecting the virus in wild sockeye.

If these fish are not from B.C., we have a breach in .BC.'s food security protocol. People preparing to cook these may wash them, sending the virus into the water system. If the fish were raised in B.C., why didn’t anyone who testified at Cohen know about HSMI? There is something very wrong when four women with shopping carts can find this and the salmon flu virus in Atlantic salmon in B.C. but almost no one else seems to know anything about it. Are the industry and government really unaware of HSMI, or is no one concerned there about wild salmon? I don't see how Cohen can ignore HSMI. Weakening the heart of a fish that has to travel 100s of km against the Fraser River seems a bad idea.

As of mid-afternoon on Friday, the BC Salmon Farmers Association had not yet posted a comment on the issue on its website.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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