Lethal European fish virus found in Canada

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 18 2011 07:30 AM | Updated as of Oct 18 2011 10:01 PM

VANCOUVER - A virus as lethal to salmon as bird flu is to poultry has been confirmed for the first time in wild fish in a remote area of Canada's west coast, two scientists said Monday.

Infectious Salmon Anaemia, or ISA, was confirmed in two of 48 young fish taken from an inland lake on the central Pacific coast of British Columbia, marine scientists Rick Routledge and Alexandra Morton told a news conference.

Routledge, a professor at Simon Fraser University, said ISA has an impact on animals similar to influenza, and compared its impact on salmon to the HINI virus that has plagued the global poultry industry.

There is no known threat to humans from the virus, they added.

The finding in Canada of ISA -- a disease researchers believe originated in Europe and which has been commonly spread on commercial Atlantic salmon eggs exported to fish farms elsewhere -- is explosive in the North American aquaculture industry.

"If these results are valid, this could be a threat to our business and the communities that rely on our productive industry," Stewart Hawthorn, of salmon farm operator Grieg Seafood, said in a statement.

Outbreaks of the virus, which wiped out part of Chile's salmon-farming industry in 2007, could devastate salmon farms in an industry worth $800 million (Canadian) yearly in British Columbia alone.

But Routledge said ISA is most potentially dangerous to wild species of salmon and herring in the northern Pacific. "Fish don't respect international boundaries," he told AFP.

He called for more research, and noted while just two diseased fish have been confirmed positive, they were in an extremely remote area and scientists have no idea how many other fish may have died.

The salmon industry, which markets farmed salmon as a healthy and sustainable food, has long fought claims that raising penned domestic Atlantic Salmon harms wild Pacific salmon, by helping spread sea lice.

There was no swift reaction from the Canadian government to the research.

But Morton, a long-time opponent of fish farming and a peer-published researcher on the sea-lice issue, said the finding now requires Canadian authorities to remove all Atlantic farmed salmon from western Canadian waters.

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, also demanded that the federal government remove Atlantic salmon.

"It's time to get the (fish farm) industry out of our waters," said Chamberlin, standing alongside Morton and Routledge.

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association said in a statement it is reviewing the research, and added none its member companies -- which employ some 6,000 people -- have yet found the disease.

"These unconfirmed findings certainly are unexpected, unusual and warrant further investigation," said Clare Backman of the Canadian arm of global seafood giant Marine Harvest in the industry statement.