The most recent report from the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca) of Chile says that multi-national Cooke Aquaculture’s Chilean subsidiary Salmones Cupquelan accounts form more than 35% of the current salmon farming sites classified as “suspected of containing the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus”. The number of total suspicious sites has increased from 12 to 14 since March. The catastrophic ISA virus outbreak in Chile in 2007-2009 resulted in the near-collapse of the industry as millions of infected salmon were slaughtered and more than 7,500 Chilean aquaculture workers lost their jobs overnight.
In a recent story in an industry trade journal, senior Cooke executive Nell Halse boasted about the fact that Cooke had exemplary biosecurity controls in place to avoid infections on their farms. Halse did not mention to the reporter the exaggerated ISA infection suspicion rates on Cooke-owned farms in the region, as well as five other firms.
ISA in Canada?
British Columbia-based researcher Alexandra Morton has recently raised concerns with federal officials about a possible ISA outbreak in salmon farms in BC. “I am writing to put you on notice that someone in Ottawa has left the door propped open to one of the deadliest salmon viruses spreading across the planet with salmon feedlots and if you don’t close it and take further action, you will damage British Columbia like the cod collapse damaged eastern Canada”, Morton wrote.
Non-virulent ISAV is the strain that travels via eggs, most of which are grown in and shipped from Norway, says Morton, then it mutates and once it goes virulent there is no recalling it. There have been ISA outbreaks in Scotland, New Brunswick, Norway, Faroe Islands and Chile. There is currently no requirement by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) for foreign hatcheries to report ISA virus, something Morton feels puts the entire farmed salmon population at risk.
Transmission of the virus has been demonstrated to occur by contact with infected fish or their secretions. Contact with equipment or people who have handled infected fish also transmits the virus. The virus can survive in seawater and, not surprisingly, a major risk factor for any uninfected farm is its proximity to an already infected farm.
More recently the sea louse, a small crustacean parasite that attacks the protective mucous, scales and skin of the salmon has been shown to carry the virus passively on its surface and in its digestive tract.
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