Voices for Wild Salmon: Played for Fools

My recent research into government regulation has been a shock even to me. No one in government is looking after wild salmon. Even though I have been “assured” repeatedly that measures are in place to protect British Columbia from Infectious Salmon Anemia virus, the most lethal salmon farm virus spreading worldwide, actually there were no such measures.

I went out to Echo Bay a few days ago and examined a bucket of herring caught near the Burdwood salmon farm. One fifth of these herring were bleeding at the base of their fins. There is not one lab in Canada that will take a viral sample from me, because they are afraid of losing work with government and industry and the last samples I shipped to Washington State were left to rot, so there is nothing I can do to figure this out. Read this and consider taking the action listed at the end. I can’t fix this; it is too big, reaching deep into the bowels of government.

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The history of ISAv</p>

Infectious salmon Anemia is a fish influenza virus that originated in the rivers of Norway. Like sea lice, it was benign and did not kill salmon. It was unknown until 1984 when it appeared in Norwegian salmon feedlots. When salmon farmers captured brood stock from Norwegian rivers they transported this virus out of its isolated mountain strongholds and released it around the world.

ISAv became lethal in farm fish because there is no reason for it to live lightly in fish destined for slaughter. ISAv attacked Norway and the industry learned to be careful. But the shareholders demanded more income than 1000 Norwegian feedlots could generate and so the industry spread and ISAv hitched a ride.

The non-lethal form of ISAv is hard to detect and so it slips into countries undetected and then every time it replicates there is a small chance some section of the RNA will be copied imperfectly – and it mutates. Scientists call its change from non-lethal to lethal a “stochastic event” depending only how many times it replicates. Think ticking bomb… all it takes is time for it to “go viral”.

Unfortunately shareholder demand and ISAv were incompatible and so despite research to the contrary (Vike et al., 2009; Nylund et al., 2007) it was important to ignore that the virus was spreading in eggs. Because there are about 92 identifiable strains of ISAv from the different rivers, scientists are tracking ISAv just like we tracked swine flu. They found the same strain of ISAv in farms 1000 km apart in fish from the same parents. This was exceedingly inconvenient. If ISAv was passing from one generation to the next, valuable brood lineages should have been destroyed. So industry decided to ignore this, and governments helped them. As a result, Atlantic salmon eggs are being flown all over the world trying to satisfy those insatiable shareholders.

When ISAv appeared in Marine Harvest farms in Chile in 2007 the myth was that it was less virulent than in Norway and would not become a problem. But two years later and millions of dead fish, with no scientific reporting on wild fish, Marine Harvest’s Chilean CEO wonders whether they could have stopped the epidemic if they had eliminated the first farm with the first infected fish (Intrafish, 2009). Research suggests the Chilean ISA strain is most closely related to a fish farm egg facility in central Norway (Vike et al., 2009), Chilean media points out that most of the epidemic began in and hit hardest in Marine Harvest fish farms. Aquagen confirms ISAv in a Marine Harvest egg facility

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in central Norway. Chileans feel Norwegian salmon farms bring illness and leave them with the problems.1

In 2008 Chile got serious, ending industry self-monitoring and passed Resolution # 2638 – a Sanitary program for controlling ISAv with very strict and real measures that include 48 hour mandatory reporting if a farm even suspects ISAv.

I began writing to the Department of Fisheries – Canada about ISAv in 2008, asking ex-Minister Gail Shea to close the border to Atlantic salmon eggs to protect the North Pacific. ISAv is also known to infect herring and one of the symptoms is bleeding at the base of the fins, though several diseases can also cause this. But who knows? No one! Letting loose a lethal virus into the North Pacific is a very, very bad idea.

In response to me and others the ex-Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea, Member of Parliament Randy Kamp of the Fisheries Committee, Andrew Thomson, Aquaculture Director and DFO Regional Science Director Laura Richards have all responded:

In reference to your concern over the spread of the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAV), I assure you that measures are in place to deal with not only ISAV, but all fish pathogens of concern

Last week I decided to ground-truth their statements and found there are no visible regulations in Canada to prevent ISAv contamination. Was this an oversight? Absolutely not!

The Manual of Compliance is a federal fisheries document written in Ottawa. On the cover page it announces:

Scientific Excellence * Resource Protection and Conservation * Benefits for Canadians

But on page 54 the form that is used to clear a foreign hatchery for egg import into British Columbia has only 3 viruses listed, and the wily globe-trotting, lethal, inconvenient ISAv is not there.

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Is it possible they forgot? No! Two pages later there is another form and ISAv is there.

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There is an explanation for the second form: “…use this Laboratory Report form for fish health certification purposes other than the FHPR, e.g. for OIE-based trade requirements”

So this manual, written in Ottawa, promising excellence, protection and benefits to Canadians does not protect wild fish from ISAv. The form that certifies foreign hatcheries does not request information on ISAv. But the form used to keep international trade flowing does have ISAv on it because the world community demands it. And yet a Member of Parliament, a Minister, the head of fisheries science for BC and the head of aquaculture assured me there were measures in place! No, they are not; and worse, they recognized it should be reported and still omitted it.

Our government is working to protect international trade between corporations that are not based here, not us.

The federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency also got worried about those trade deals and wrote a “Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement” and made ISAv reportable in Jan. 5, 2011. (scroll 2/3 way down page)

Canada’s aquatic resources are vulnerable to devastation by the introduction or spread of diseases and exporters cannot meet foreign export requirements….These Regulations are therefore intended to control aquatic animal disease introduction and spread, thereby meeting international standards.

So as a result of threatened foreign export of farm fish product from Canada the CFIA finally made ISAv reportable Jan. 5, 2011. We don’t know if this is working.

And it gets worse. In 1995, the Province of BC ran the lengthy and expensive Salmon Aquaculture Review (SAR). Recommendation #16 called for transparent fish farm disease reporting open specifically to First Nations and Fishermen.

In response BC drafted a 2002 “Letter of Understanding” signed between Bud Graham, ADM, Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries and Odd Grydeland, BC Salmon Farmers mandating that the fish farmers must report disease to a database so secret not even the Ministry’s compliance officers are allowed to see it and we, the public, paid $70,000 to create a database we are not allowed to see to satisfy a million dollar government process that called for transparency. I feel like I am standing on an M.C. Escher staircase. No one knows which way is up — except those shareholders look like they keep coming out on top. When all the fish in the sea are dead what kind of meal will those shares make? All I can say to the shareholders is remember ISAv appears to be traceable to source.

If You Want Wild Salmon

It just gets clearer and clearer. If you want wild salmon it is up to you. This whole thing is corrupted. The province is currently reviewing a new salmon farm application in Clayoquot Sound. A group of us got together to send a camera down to the site and found far more life than Mainstream said was there.

But it is not just government. The environmental groups of BC are deciding whether or not to support World Wildlife Fund Certification of net pen salmon farms! David Suzuki is even considering this, despite no mention in the certification of real protection from disease. Please contact your environmental organizations. They are trying to survive in a corporate world of funders and really need your guidance. If they support WWF in certifying net pen salmon feedlots BC will further its role as a doormat to corporate schemes. You can oppose the World Wildlife certification of net pens salmon farms here. These companies are following their own laws failing to recognize the biological world they use. ISAv has demonstrated it’s capabilities and for our government to prop the door open to this marine influenza C with a meaningless certification is criminal.

Voices for Wild Salmon

So once again Salmon Are Sacred has thought of a way to help you be heard and we are volunteering again to do the heavy lifting. Just Download our paper fish at the top of the webpage fill it out, get you friends and family to fill them out and when the mail strike is over send them to us at the address on card, or create your own beautiful fish. We have to show government how many of us there are.

If 100,000 of you decide to take a stand for wild salmon we will carry these fish on a migration through government that won’t stop until reason is brought to us.

Visit us at www.salmonaresacred.org so we can continue.

Join our email list, be a voice for wild salmon, show up as we move through this.

Show up for the Cohen Inquiry Aquaculture Hearings set for late August (no time on the water this year); I will update my site when firm dates are set.

It’s a rigged game folks and we have been played for fools.

  1. Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods,” New York Times, 27 March 2008. []

Alexandra Morton is a registered professional biologist who was living in a remote archipelago studying whales when the fish farmers came to her town. Read other articles by Alexandra, or visit Alexandra's website.