The infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus has allegedly been found in samples of farmed chinook salmon taken from Clayoquot Sound.

A recent evidentiary hearing at the Cohen Commission in Vancouver heard from the federal Pacific Biological Station’s head of molecular genetics Dr. Kristi Miller. She said the ISA virus, or a variation of it, is present in both wild and farmed salmon in B.C.

The ISA virus has infected Atlantic salmon on Canada’s East Coast, in Norway, Chile, and in Scotland.

Dr. Miller told the commission she tested samples of fish from 1986, and found positive ISA results showing the virus has been around since then.

A document entitled Creative Salmon ISA Test Results was part of the commission’s exhibit list at the December 15 hearing.

Dr. Miller said Creative Salmon is the only aquaculture company on the West Coast willing to provide samples, a statement argued by the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

"No requests for samples for ISA testing have ever been denied," states the BCSFA on their website in response to Dr. Miller’s testimony.

According to Dr. Miller, 25 per cent of fish samples at the fish farm tested positive for ISA, among other viruses.

She said some fish tested positive for the piscine reovirus, which is thought to be causing Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). The research is still in progress, which is why it had not been publicized.

"The news that these viruses are here in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is chilling" said Friends of Clayoquot Sound campaigner Bonny Glambeck in a media release. "This virus puts at risk not only the wild salmon, but the ancient rainforest for which this region is renowned."

Creative Salmon general manager Tim Rundle said the results by Dr. Miller are preliminary and unconfirmed.

"No fish on our farms have ever exhibited signs of these viruses. Because ISA is required to be reported, Creative Salmon’s veterinarian contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) immediately upon receipt of these test results as Dr. Miller had not yet reported her findings. CFIA has now taken the lead," said Rundle.

He said the company has been in discussion regarding the next steps which could include re-running the samples by CFIA and additional onsite testing.

"We work hard to keep our fish healthy. All of this latest information is very speculative. No ISA or HSMI has been found. No virus has been confirmed, so far only fragments of DNA that may or may not be ISAv-like or reovirus, and which may or may not cause disease."

Rundle added that whatever is being found from the work of Dr. Miller is present in wild fish, and wild fish pre-date salmon farming.

"There is a lot more research to be done. Right now conclusions are being drawn from very preliminary work," he said.

Earlier in December, the CFIA collaborated with the province of British Columbia to complete tests to investigate suspected ISA in B.C. waters.

At the time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and CFIA said there were no confirmed cases of the virus in wild or farmed salmon in the province.

The DFO has declined to comment specifically on the recent information provided by Dr. Miller "out of respect for the Cohen Commission, as well as to allow matters that may be relevant to Justice Cohen’s findings to be considered through the commission process."

In an email, a DFO spokesperson told the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News that DFO regularly tests and samples a wide range of fish to monitor whether there is presence of disease.

"In-depth, conclusive tests, using proper and internationally recognized procedures, were conducted at the national reference laboratory at the end of 2011 on all Pacific salmon tissue samples submitted to CFIA for testing, which confirmed there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in B.C. salmon, wild or farmed," said the spokesperson.

"These results reinforce the regular testing conducted by federal and provincial officials. In recent years, over 5,000 fresh, properly collected and stored samples have been tested and there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in British Columbia salmon."

The CFIA announced a new surveillance program for ISA that will be used regularly, and is expected to be set up this spring.

The Cohen Commission is a federal inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. Since November 2009 the inquiry has been laid out in two phases.

During the first phase, the commissioner reviewed and assessed any previous examinations, investigations, or reports that he deemed relevant to the inquiry.

The second phase included investigation into the causes

of the decline of the sockeye salmon, which includes environmental changes, marine conditions, aquaculture and diseases.

This phase also includes the development of recommendations for improving "the future sustainability of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River including, as required, any changes to the policies, practices and procedures of the Department (of Fisheries and Oceans) in relation to the management of the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery."

The commission’s final report is expected to be released by June 30, 2012.