Two hundred forty thousand salmon from a quarantined Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm near Coffin Island (Liverpool) in Nova Scotia are being shipped to the firm’s fish plant in Blacks Harbour, N.B. for processing for the consumer market.
Cooke Aquaculture is the first company to process fish with infectious salmon anemia (ISA) under a new set of rules set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
According to the CFIA, ISA poses no threat to humans and are safe to consume.
Nova Scotia Aquaculture and Fisheries minister Sterling Belliveau has said in the past that these massive fish kills due to disease are “just another day” in the fish farming business.
There is no treatment for ISA, which is fatal to fish and easily spreads throughout a population, but the CFIA says it has taken steps to prevent contamination.
There has been a heavy presence of CFIA inspectors at stages throughout the transfer process and also at the Black’s Harbour plant. Plant employees have had to wear special suits to avoid spreading contamination.
“The plant has to be completely disinfected,” said a Cooke executive. “The employees have to change gear and then the ISA fish are brought in and again — this is nothing to do with human health, the fish are perfectly safe to eat.”
The company is obligated to process and market the fish if possible because the government has to compensate salmon growers for fish that are culled because of disease, said the executive.
“There seems to be a pattern here – diseased site after diseased site,” says Sindy Horncastle, of Mayday-Jordan Bay/Shelburne County. “I think you have to ask yourself, if farmed fish are so vulnerable to disease, what kind of business would continue setting itself up for failure ? It is completely irresponsible for government to continue to let this happen and for this industry not to change its practices. They have no right to expropriate our healthy bays and harbours and give us this instead.”
Darrell Tingley, executive with the Medway River Salmon Association has long been opposed to salmon farms being located near any wild salmon runs. “Consumers should remember Maple Leaf and XL Foods and the health problems and deaths emanating from these debacles,” he told SCT. “The only way to protect ones health is to boycott any and all farmed salmon – including fresh, smoked or otherwise – coming from salmon feedlots”.
That would include, adds Tingley, any salmon sold in Atlantic Canada.
An outbreak of ISA at a Cooke facility in Shelburne in February resulted in the company destroying 700,000 fish. Cooke is reported to have received $21 million in federal funds from the incident.
ISA infections have been a recurring problem for salmon farms in Canada, Norway, Scotland and Chile, where a massive infection came close to destroying the rapidly-expanding industry in 2007. The sudden absence of farmed salmon to the USA market created a huge spike in prices for the product.
As Chile’s salmon industry has rebounded in recent years news earlier this month showed prices for salmon dropping dramatically, creating huge losses for some major salmon growers.
The industry in Chile is now voicing objections to the more stringent rules for farms in Chile designed to prevent another collapse of the industry vital to Chile’s economy.
More stories about ISA and salmon farms: