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Update: Suspect Findings Of ISA In BC

CANADA - On Monday 17 October, the British Columbia (BC) Salmon Famers Association learned from a press release that two Sockeye salmon smolts from Rivers' Inlet had tested positive for Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISA), a highly contagious virus that is usually lethal to Atlantic salmon but poses no threat to human health.

The reports have not yet been confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) even though the publicised results made international headlines. Until these two test results were released, ISA has never been found in British Columbia waters.

CFIA issued a statement 21 October that says: "In line with federal aquatic animal health standards, further analysis is underway at the National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory in Moncton, New Brunswick. Results should be available within weeks."

BC's salmon farmers are concerned about the results publicised on Monday. While studies to date show that Pacific salmon are not harmed by the virus[i], Atlantic salmon are very susceptible. Because ISA can be harmful to our salmon, our farmers have participated in a sampling program for many years - providing nearly 5,000 samples that have been tested by our regulators. ISA has never been found in any of those samples.

In addition to that sampling programme, fish health professionals have also tested mortalities from our farms that show any symptoms of this disease. Over 1,000 fish have been tested this way, and ISA has never been found.

Those sampling programs continue. In the meantime, our farmers are seeing no unusual fish health events on our farms. Given the significant impact ISA is known to have on farmed Atlantic salmon, the continued good health on our farms is another indication that if the virus is present, it has not spread to aquaculture operations in BC.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association urges the CFIA to conclude their investigation into these results as soon as possible, and encourages DFO to conduct any additional sampling of wild fish to determine if ISA is here, its prevalence, and whether it causes disease. These will all be important in protecting our important business in the province - now one of BC's fisheries under the federal Fisheries Act.

We are also disappointed that the release of these results was not handled in a more professional manner. The unconfirmed results and inflammatory press release from Simon Fraser University gave the impression of significant conclusions; however, that impression is not supported by the facts.

There are many important pieces of information that are still missing: such as whether this strain of the virus causes disease, whether it's widespread, whether it's endemic in some populations of wild salmon, what the effects might be on farmed salmon and if it was introduced to BC waters, how it came here.

While anti-salmon farm groups have immediately tried to connect the finding to salmon aquaculture in BC, we continue to look to the fish health experts who have tested our fish and regulated the import of any salmon eggs[ii] for many years to protect from the introduction of ISAv. They have not seen anything in our operations of concern regarding this virus.

The risk, however, if this result is confirmed is certainly a concern for the BCSFA. BC's salmon farming industry employs 6,000 people directly and indirectly - largely in coastal communities that have been challenged by downturns in other industries. Many First Nations have partnerships with farming companies that provide employment and other opportunities to their communities.

For the official Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) statement, please follow the link below.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

the Fish Site Editor

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