The federal government quietly paid $4.1 million in compensation to two Norway-headquartered aquaculture companies operating in B.C. that had to destroy fish hit by the deadly ISA virus in 2012, according to a story Wednesday in the Vancouver Sun.
The payments came from a program that has paid out $94 million since 2011 — mostly to East Coast fish farmers — to cover losses from exposure to disease. New Brunswick multi-national Cooke Aquaculture is the biggest beneficiary of the federal payouts, with massive fish culls from infectious salmon anemai (ISA) in Shelburne, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
The B.C. payments of $2.8 million to Cermaq Canada and $1.3 million to Grieg Seafoods are outlined in federal documents about the culls after fish farm exposure to infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus, also known as IHNv.
A government critic said Friday the disease outbreak, and the payments, should ring an alarm about the Harper government’s recently-announced steps to expand the B.C. industry after years of stalled growth due to environmental concerns.
“It’s another reason why expansion of the industry is reckless. If there are (more farms) Canadians can expect to pay more in compensations, too,” said Stan Proboszcz, a fisheries biologist at Watershed Watch.
Industry officials said the outbreaks were limited to three farms, of which two were compensated, and were isolated incidents involving a virus that is no danger to humans.
The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said the industry has a legitimate claim to compensation.
“These funds are designed to help cushion all farmers (fish, chicken, pig, produce etc.) from that difficult impact, to encourage responsible management choices for the broader farming community, and to help provide security to the country’s food supply,” executive director Jeremy Dunn stated in an email.
The compensation is intended to cover the investment in the salmon up to the point of the cull, and not the full market value, he said.
It was the first outbreak of the disease in B.C. in nine years and there hasn’t been one since, according to the association.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said compensation is intended to be an incentive to ensure farmers in all sectors report disease outbreaks.
“Immediate disease reporting is critical for disease control and market access,” said Lisa Murphy. “The compensation program encourages producers to promptly report animal diseases by mitigating the economic impact when animals are ordered destroyed.”
The industry announced in the summer of 2012 that viral outbreaks at Cermaq’s (then known as Mainstream Canada) farm at Millar Point, north of Tofino, and Grieg’s Culloden Point farm at Jervis Inlet.
An earlier outbreak in May of that year, at Cermaq’s Dixon Bay farm on the west coast of Vancouver Island, wasn’t compensated because the company emptied its site without receiving a Food Inspection Agency destruction order.
The virus, according to the federal Fisheries department, is present in Europe, Japan and along the B.C. and Alaskan coasts.
While the virus “occurs naturally” among wild Pacific salmon and rarely leads to disease among adult fish, it can lead to “acute outbreaks” affecting fry and juvenile fish under certain conditions.
“In addition, Atlantic salmon are also particularly susceptible to the virus and, since the introduction of farming Atlantic salmon in B.C. and Washington state, several outbreaks have occurred in the marine open-net pen farms,” the department says on its website.
The federal government’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo is studying the virus, which got scant attention in the 2012 federal inquiry by Justice Bruce Cohen into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye fishery.