By JARED SHELLY, senior editor/web editor of Risk & Insurance®
The multibillion dollar aquaculture industry may experience major losses from a deadly and highly contagious virus affecting wild salmon and herring in the Pacific Northwest. Infectious salmon anemia, a marine influenza virus may have come from fish farms, according to researchers Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist, and Rick Routledge, a professor at Simon Fraser University.
Morton issued a written statement calling for the removal of Atlantic salmon from salmon farms in British Columbia, saying that if "a virus as lethal and contagious as ISA" gets loose in the North Pacific, it "is a cataclysmic biological threat to life."
"If there is any hope, we have to turn off the source: Atlantic salmon have to be immediately removed," she said.
In today's health-conscious world, salmon has been celebrated as a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and wild salmon is typically more desirable. Fish farms, meanwhile, have been warned for years not to raise salmon too close together, as that could cause sickness.
The infectious salmon anemia virus was first found in Norway in 1984, Morton said, noting that since then there have been lethal outbreaks "in every important salmon-farming region around the globe."
In 2007, infectious salmon anemia devastated fish farms in Chile, costing the industry $2 billion as well as steep job losses. The industry had seen almost two decades of double-digit growth before the incident, but the outbreak forced more than half the country's salmon farms to close.
The current virus was found in two of 48 sockeye salmon by the researchers who were studying the collapse of sockeye populations in Rivers Inlet British Columbia Central Coast in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Routledge called infectious salmon anemia "a deadly exotic disease" and said that it "could have devastating impacts on wild salmon and the many species that depend on them throughout much of British Columbia and beyond. The combined impacts of this influenza-like virus and the recently identified parvovirus that can suppress the immune system could be particularly deadly."
Morton, who has been urging governments to close the border to Atlantic salmon eggs as the virus spreads in fish farms around the world, said the fact that the virus was found in salmon smolts -- an early stage of salmon development -- suggests it has been loose in the Pacific for several years.
"Government and industry are clearly not testing effectively. There needs to be an international volunteer epidemiological team formed right now. No one party can own the data. We have to use everything we know to try and contain this," Morton said.
November 1, 2011
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