Canada must control all potential sources of harmful virus to protect wild salmon

VANCOUVER — Bloody waste water spewing from a fish-processing plant near the Discovery Islands poses a significant threat to B.C. wild salmon. High concentrations of piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) in this water puts fish moving along one of the world’s largest wild salmon migration routes at risk of infection.

The unacceptable situation at the processing plant, as seen in a recently released video, is a symptom of a broader problem related to fish farms. It is a result of processing salmon from PRV-infected fish farms and draining the virus-containing blood into the waters near Campbell River. Wild Pacific salmon already face numerous threats to their survival.

“Canada must take pathogen control seriously and make every effort to protect wild salmon,” said David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy adviser for Western Canada John Werring. “It’s bad enough that wild salmon could contract PRV, along with other viruses, parasites and bacteria, when swimming past infected salmon farms. If processing plants are discharging bloody waste water with high concentrations of live pathogens directly to the environment in areas away from salmon farms, they are adding more contamination and new hot spots to the existing problem.”

Conservation groups are urging government to find better ways to enforce strict ecosystem protection and waste-discharge standards for fish-processing plants. That includes making testing for all strains of virus, including PRV, mandatory at hatcheries, farms and fish-processing plants.

“The first instance of infected waste water from processing plants was a wake-up call for governments and industry to act,” Werring said. “It’s been two years since this issue was brought to light, and nothing has changed. That the exact same problem still exists borders on negligence for wild salmon. There is no excuse for allowing wild salmon to be exposed to processing water containing live virus.”

Open net-pen salmon farms are overwhelmingly located in waters that support wild B.C. salmon. The aquaculture industry is growing 85,000 tonnes of salmon per year in open net-pens, and that level of production is projected to increase substantially. Industry has already acknowledged that virtually 100 per cent of the fish on these fish farms will be infected with viruses like PRV. It’s time for government to act with this information in mind.

“There is really no way to stop these giant farms from infecting wild salmon, short of preventing contact between farmed and wild fish,” Werring said. “The Canadian government needs to keep its promise to move them to closed-containment. Closed-containment farming and strict controls on waste discharge are the best methods to remedy the spread of PRV and other pathogens to wild salmon.”

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: 

Olga Shuvalova, 514-569-6496,