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Salmon farm quarantined after virus confirmed

May 19 2012
Infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus may also be present at a farm with coho salmon, which are unaffected by the disease but can carry it. 

Infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus may also be present at a farm with coho salmon, which are unaffected by the disease but can carry it.

Photograph by: Postmedia News , timescolonist.com (May 2012)

A Clayoquot Sound salmon farm is under a quarantine order and 570,000 salmon are being euthanized following confirmation of a fatal virus.

Infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus was found in Atlantic salmon on Mainstream Canada's Dixon Bay farm and "depopulation" and quarantine started before the order was made by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"Fish removed from the site will be euthanized and transported to a composting facility for disposal. Strict biosecurity protocols will be followed during all stages of this process," said a statement from Mainstream, which has 14 farm sites in Clayoquot Sound.

IHN, which does not affect human health, is carried by Pacific salmon and herring, but does not make them ill as they have developed a natural resistance. However, it is fatal to Atlantic salmon.

"From the Atlantic salmon farmers' point of view, this is extremely serious," said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

The virus last appeared in east coast Vancouver Island farms in 2002-03.

"We suffered some terrible damage to stock and learned some difficult lessons," Walling said.

Those lessons are helping salmon farmers cope with the latest outbreak.

"We found when you have a positive finding, you need to cull those fish immediately, so the company isolated themselves and locked everything down immediately because the disease can travel on boats," Walling said.

All movement around the farm must now be authorized by the CFIA.

Mainstream is checking other sites, but is not anticipating that the cull will result in job losses.

All salmon farming companies are sharing information on the outbreak and taking strong preventative measures, Walling said.

The only other company with farm sites in Clayoquot Sound is Creative Salmon, which raises chinook salmon, thought to be naturally immune.

However, Grieg Seafood spokesman Stewart Hawthorn said Friday that a low positive result for IHN has been found in coho salmon from the company's Ahlstrom Point farm in Jervis Inlet.

The virus was found during routine audit tests by Fisheries and Oceans, Hawthorn said.

"This test result does not confirm presence of the virus, and additional tests will be conducted next week to determine whether or not the virus is present," he said.

The farm is in voluntary isolation, but the fish are showing no signs of disease, Hawthorn said.

"Coho are a local wild salmon, so this test result is not entirely unexpected as this virus occurs naturally in wild salmon. As a result, we don't expect any health problems in this population."

It is not yet known why the virus has struck the Mainstream farm, Walling said.

"We are hearing there is a high level of virus load on returning sockeye and there are a lot of sockeye coming in on the west coast of Vancouver Island right now," she said.

The farm fish are small, so more vulnerable, Walling said. "I think, maybe, the farm was just in the right place at the right time."

Friends of Clayoquot Sound said salmon farms amplify diseases, something denied by salmon farmers.

FOCS campaigner Bonny Glambeck said Clayoquot salmon runs are in dramatic decline.

"Mainstream has applied for a new salmon feedlot to be located at Plover Point, along the shore of Meares Island," Glambeck said.

"[With] these deadly viruses present here in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, this is not the time to be expanding this industry."

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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