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Fish health regulations called inadequate

Dec 13 2011

Canada's fish health regulations are not stringent enough to prevent viruses from being imported to West Coast fish farms on Atlantic salmon eggs, says a former high-level provincial government fisheries biologist.

Sally Goldes, fish health unit section head at the B.C. Environment Ministry for 17 years, has submitted a paper to the Cohen Commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye that says iodine treatment of eggs and the testing of overseas providers of salmon eggs — Canada's defence against disease transmission — are inadequate.

Goldes' submission will be made public this week when the commission holds special hearings focusing on the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus.

"The data . . . [inadequate sample sizes, ineffectiveness of iodine disinfection, etc.] suggests that the current Canada Fish Health Protection Rules do not provide a high level of regulatory security against the introduction of ISAV into British Columbia," the paper concludes.

"It is important to remember that iodine disinfection does not kill ISAV present inside the egg and it is unknown whether ISAV is in this location."

Salmon farms in B.C. import Atlantic salmon eggs from such countries as Britain, the U.S. and Iceland.

The virus has devastated fish farms in Chile and Norway and is also present in Atlantic Canada.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced in a news conference this month that no confirmed cases of the disease have been found in wild or farmed salmon in B.C.

Their tests followed others in separate laboratories that found weak positives for ISA.

It was also revealed this month that tests conducted more than a decade ago found the virus in more than 100 B.C. fish.

However, those tests were discounted by officials with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as unconfirmed.

Goldes, who has not worked as a fisheries biologist since 2001, said she has kept up with all the literature and debate around the virus.

She is concerned ISA could be introduced to B.C. waters and spread to already stressed wild salmon populations.

"If you really look closely at the regulations, from a scientific basis, there is not the high degree of protection that the government, and particularly DFO, states that they have," Goldes said. "It's an issue of trust."

Iodine treatment is designed to rid egg surfaces of bacteria.

"It does that job relatively effectively, but ISA is a virus and is a very different beast," Goldes said.

"I have also always had concerns about the testing of source facilities where the eggs come from," she said.

Goldes would not speculate on whether ISA is present in B.C. waters.

"I think DFO and CFIA have a lot more work to do. I think that press conference was entirely premature," she said.

"The problem is that DFO has a dual mandate for aquaculture and wild fish, and the decisions are political."

B.C. Salmon Farmers Association executive director Mary Ellen Walling said she has not seen the paper and cannot speak to it because of an undertaking not to talk about Cohen Commission evidence until it is made public.

"I am respecting the agreement we all made as part of this process," she said.

"It is unfortunate it is being raised in this way as we are unable to respond. It's not the first time this has happened during this process."


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