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Official tests find no evidence of salmon virus

Dec 03 2011

No verified cases of a potentially deadly virus have been found in B.C. salmon tested by federal and provincial scientists.

"The government of Canada, in collaboration with the province of British Columbia, has completed testing all samples related to the suspected infectious salmon anemia investigation in B.C," said Con Kiley, Canadian Food Inspection Agency national aquatic animal health program director, at a news conference. "Based on the final results, there are no confirmed cases of the disease in wild or farmed salmon in B.C."

Tests were carried out on at DFO's national reference laboratory in New Brunswick and none were positive, said Stephen Stephen, DFO aquatic animal health science director.

There were 48 tissue samples, many collected by Simon Fraser University researchers, originally tested at the Atlantic Veterinary College on Prince Edward Island. Those tests came up with three positive ISA showings. Later tests at a laboratory in Norway also came up with weak positives.

However, none of the positive tests were repeatable, meaning they lack scientific credibility, Kiley said. "One of the cornerstones of diagnostic testing is that . . . if you get a result you should be able to repeat that result," he said.

In addition to the original samples, tests were conducted on 299 recently collected salmon smolts. All were negative, Stephen said.

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said in a statement that the results show Canada's fishprotection procedures are working.

Canada's reputation has needlessly been put at risk because of speculation and unfounded science, Ashfield said.

CFIA is now leading a plan to increase monitoring of West Coast salmon, something that has historically been done by fish farms, the province and DFO.

The increased surveillance will include farm and wild salmon and, after consultations, is likely to start next spring, Kiley said.

The virus, which must be reported internationally, has devastated fish farms in Chile and Europe. There are fears that, if it spreads to the North Pacific, wild stocks could be affected.

Alarm about ISA increased this week after it was revealed in an unpublished scientific paper that a researcher found 117 ISA positives out of 500 salmon samples tested between 2002 and 2003.

Those results were also unconfirmed. "We did a thorough investigation of the findings and were unable to reproduce any of the results. There was no presence of ISA in her samples," Kiley said.

B.C. Salmon Farmers Association executive director Mary Ellen Walling welcomed the findings and said salmon farmers have been seriously affected by misleading information presented "by irresponsible activists who continually seek to damage the reputation of our responsible farming community."

Initial tests were prone to false positives, which is why follow-up testing is vital, Walling said.

"This is certainly an example of people with a clear agenda manipulating the scientific process to create unsubstantiated fear about our industry," she said.

But others say questions remain. "I am absolutely puzzled [about the conflicting laboratory results]," said John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation aquatic habitat specialist. Although there is no confirmation of the disease, more information is needed about whether there are signs of the virus, which can rapidly mutate, and what testing is being done on fish farms, he said. "There seems to be a head-in-the-sand approach here," said Werring.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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