VANCOUVER — New research finds that the same strain of virus exists in both Atlantic and Pacific open net-pen farmed salmon and is “highly likely” to infect wild Pacific salmon.
“This research confirms our worries that migrating juvenile wild Pacific salmon are vulnerable to diseases transmitted from open net-pen fish farms. Disease transmission could be the additional stressor that tips the scales for some wild salmon populations,” David Suzuki Foundation director-general for B.C. and Western Canada Jay Ritchlin said.
Researcher Kristi Miller, head of salmon genetics for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, found that farmed Chinook salmon with the highly-contagious piscine reovirus developed jaundice anemia which can lead to organ failure. The same virus can cause heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in Atlantic salmon. The PRV strain has been linked to a surge in disease outbreaks in Pacific salmon in Canada, Norway, Chile and Japan.
The research also raises concerns that escaped farmed salmon, which are most often infected with PRV, could transmit it to wild fish that enter rivers.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s 2018 outlook predicts a continuing Pacific salmon population decline. “Many threats to wild salmon are difficult to control. We need definitive action from governments to protect them, but we’re not seeing an urgency to act,” Ritchlin said.
The urgency to act also applies to wildlife that depend on threatened Pacific salmon to survive. The 76 remaining southern resident orcas are showing signs of malnutrition. Their favored prey, Chinook salmon, are also declining. “It’s a dire situation that requires immediate, decisive action for both species,” Ritchlin said.
Pressure is mounting to transition open net-pen farms to land or ocean-based closed containment. Washington state is set to phase out marine farming of Atlantic salmon. Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not monitoring wild fish health, raising concerns about aquaculture management. The Foundation, along with B.C.’s top chefs, is calling on the B.C. government not to renew 20 tenures for open net-pen fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. Those licences expire in June.
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