media release

Lethal Atlantic Virus found in Pacific Salmon

European Strain of ISA virus threatens North Pacific salmon and herring

October 17, 2011

Alexandra Morton, 250.974.7086 (cell)
Rick Routledge, 778.782.4478;
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210 (o); 604.209.5770 (c);

The highly contagious marine influenza virus, Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) has for the first time been officially reported after being found in the Pacific on B.C.’s central coast.

Now it threatens both wild salmon and herring, say biologist Alexandra Morton and Simon Fraser University professor Rick Routledge, whose laboratory led to the discovery of ISA in B.C. salmon smolts.

Morton is calling for removal of Atlantic salmon from B.C. salmon farms. “Loosing a virus as lethal and contagious as ISA into the North Pacific is a cataclysmic biological threat to life,” said Morton. “The European strain of ISA virus can only have come from the Atlantic salmon farms. European strain ISA infected Chile via Atlantic salmon eggs in 2007.”

Morton says ISA was first found in Norway in 1984. “Since then, there have been lethal outbreaks in every important salmon-farming region around the globe, with the exception – or so we thought – of B.C. Now we know for sure that it has hit B.C.

“The Cohen Inquiry revealed ISA symptoms have been reported in farm salmon in B.C. since 2006. The Fisheries Ministers have written me repeatedly that B.C. is safe from ISA. Clearly they are not in control of the situation.

“If there is any hope, we have to turn off the source: Atlantic salmon have to be immediately removed.”

The virus was found in two of 48 sockeye smolts collected as part of a long-term study, led by Routledge, on the collapse of Rivers Inlet sockeye populations.

Dr. Fred Kibenge of the ISA reference laboratory at the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I. made the diagnosis and notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of the positive results for the European strain of ISA virus.

Says Routledge: “ISA is a deadly exotic disease which could have devastating impacts on wild salmon and the many species that depend on them throughout much of British Columbia and beyond.

“The combined impacts of this influenza-like virus and the recently identified parvovirus that can suppress the immune system could be particularly deadly.”

Morton adds: “The New York Times reported from Chile that the Chilean aquaculture industry suffered more than $2 billion in losses, saw its production of Atlantic salmon fall by half, and jobs were lost.”

“A scientific study concluded that salmon eggs shipped from Norway to Chile are the ‘likely reason’ for the outbreak of the virus in Chile in 2007. And nearly 40 million Atlantic salmon eggs have been imported into B.C. since 1986.”

“This is devastating news and something I worked hard to prevent. This has international implications throughout the North Pacific.”

Routledge concurs that the only plausible source for the European strain of ISA virus that he found on B.C.’s Central Coast is the Atlantic salmon farms.

Rivers Inlet is on the B.C. Central Coast in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest – 100km north of a cluster of Norwegian-owned Atlantic salmon feedlots off Port Hardy and 140km south of Marine Harvest’s feedlots near Klemtu.

“The potential impact of ISA cannot be taken lightly,” said Routledge. “There must be an immediate response to assess the extent of the outbreak, determine its source, and to eliminate all controllable sources of the virus – even though no country has ever eradicated it once it has arrived.”

Routledge is a fish-population statistician who was a founding member of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. Morton received an honorary degree from SFU for her work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago, which has sparked international attention.

The two researchers said that the federal Cohen Commission on the decline of sockeye salmon runs in the Fraser River was told that more than 1,000 cases of ISA-type lesions have been reported on B.C. salmon farms since 2006 – yet no suspect cases or diagnoses of ISA were reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or to the World Organization for Animal Health (known as OiE, from its former name of Office International des Epizooties).

Morton, who long ago urged the federal government to close the border to Atlantic salmon eggs as the virus spread in fish farms around the world, says the fact that ISA was found in smolts suggests it has been loose in the Pacific for several years.

“Government and industry are clearly not testing effectively. There needs to be an international volunteer epidemiological team formed right now. No one party can own the data. We have to use everything we know to try and contain this.”

The researchers say if there is any hope of controlling this disease it must be addressed at the source. The virus is also prone to mutating into increasingly virulent forms.

Backgrounder – ISAV and B.C. salmon farms

  • ISA has only appeared where salmon are raised in aquaculture and has spread worldwide since first being reported in Norway in 1984.
  • ISA can infect herring, as well as, salmon. ISA was first reported in Eastern Canada in 1996 and continues to cause problems there.
  • In 2007, ISA began in a non-lethal form in Chile and became a virulent epidemic killing 70 per cent of the farm salmon. Chile does not have wild salmon.
  • In January 2009, a group of Canadian scientists, including David Suzuki, signed a letter warning the Canadian Fisheries Minister of the risks of introducing ISA into B.C.
    Ex-minister Gale Shea refused to acknowledge that ISA reached Chile in eggs, although Cermaq, a state-controlled Norwegian aquaculture company that has become one of the principal exporters of salmon from Chile, endorsed a scientific study concluding that salmon eggs shipped from Norway to Chile were the ‘likely reason’ for the outbreak of the virus in Chile in 2007.
  • ISA is known to exist in a non-lethal state, causing low mortalities on salmon farms and then mutate into highly virulent strains when contained in salmon farms.
  • Forty million Atlantic salmon eggs have been introduced into BC since 1986 The Fish Health Certificate that must be signed by the foreign hatcheries does not specifically request ISAV reporting (Manual of Compliance, Ottawa 2004, page 51).
    Fisheries and Oceans did not require reporting of ISA virus on salmon farms, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency intervened in January 2011 and made ISAV a reportable disease See “Regulatory Impact Statement” 2/3 down the site.
  • As a participant of the Cohen Inquiry, Alexandra Morton read the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands disease reports and found over 1,100 reports of “classic” ISAV lesions in farm salmon.
    Justice Cohen was petitioned by her lawyer, Greg McDade, to allow her to report these to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but the CFIA appear to have merely called the fish farmers and asked if they had ISAV; no testing was done.
  • In 2004, Dr. Laura Richards, Director General of DFO Science, Pacific Region, successfully petitioned on behalf of the fish farm industry to waive the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations to allow Atlantic salmon eggs from a hatchery that does not meet Canadian regulations ( Exhibit #1683).
    Since then all Atlantic salmon eggs have come from this hatchery. In 2005 an entire shipment was destroyed due to viral concerns ( Exhibit #1684). There is no record of testing the eggs that arrived in B.C. from the same hatchery the previous month ( Exhibit #1683).

Notes to Editors

ISA in the Aquatic Animal Health Code of the World Organization for Animal Health:

Map locating BC salmon farms:


The governments of Canada and British Columbia should immediately remove all salmon farms from the waters and demand a total clean-up of the sites. They were all over the bird flu, killing innocent free-range birds and unaffected species such as emus, and demanded killing and removal of cattle with BSE and even hoof and mouth disease, but this virus floating free in the ocean is OK, because salmon farms (all owned by overseas corporations) say it is?
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Shame on you Norway.....Shame on you Canada.....and what the heck were you thinking Dr. Laura Richards???....waiving health regulations when this disease has been brought in around the world through farmed eggs...WTF???...I think you should go to jail for all this!.....and to top it off, at the Cohen commission we saw your reply to Dr Kristi Miller that if she were to approach the fish farms for testing, that you would advise them not to hand over any of their fish to her....I think YOU KNEW!!!
And with fish farms bringing in their millions of $$$'s more proof of the 1% sitting thousands of miles away, making up their own stupid environmental decisions about how best to destroy our oceans just so they can make more $$$.....this is disgusting, immoral, unethical and downright criminal.....time to get these filthy farms out of our waters and time for some accountability for this criminal activity.
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Why are there only two positives in 48 samples, how were the samples collected in June from alleged out migrating smolts at a time when Rivers Inlet spawners would be returning to the inlet, why is Morton connected to this study suddenly and why are there no longer any samples to be retested ? Sorry story doesn't hold water as it's timing is very suspicious. And who funded this study please ? .
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It's a real shame that SFU has to stoop this low and join activists in their crusade. No link has been made to salmon farming, yet this SFU release states as much.

And to top of the nonsense, the positive tests in 2 fish that hadn't even entered the ocean yet cannot be verified because they destroyed the samples.

Fishy all right.
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Dear Harold and Heather,

These tests were done by the worlds leading expert in ISA who works at one of two OIE approved labs. (one in Norway, one in PEI). Are you suggesting that this expert in PEI is dishonest?? Yes, the tissue samples were used up, that is what happens in testing. The first test confirmed the virus and the second test determined the genotype and they would have gone on to other tests perhaps if the fish were bigger! The detailed technical results have been passed on to other involved organizations, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The OIE is an intergovernmental organisation created by the International Agreement of 25 January 1924, signed by 28 countries.
It's mandate is to:
* To ensure transparency in the global animal disease situation
* To collect, analyse and disseminate veterinary scientific information
* To provide expertise and encourage international solidarity in the control of animal diseases
* Within its mandate under the WTO SPS Agreement, to safeguard world trade by publishing health standards for international trade in animals and animal products
* To improve the legal framework and resources of national Veterinary Services

This should not be about trashing Alexandra Morton or a great university perhaps because you don't like the results! It's of no surprise that she would be involved. DFO and industry certainly aren't collecting samples in wild stocks!
Seriously, EVERYONE should be sitting down in solidarity, together, to immediately figure out the next step. This shouldn't be an "us and them" issue. You too should want that to happen.
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The tests were not conclusive nor were they done properly. Both parties doing the tests stated so themselves and Fred Kibenge stated that the results he got were not for public release by Morton and Routledge. Testing since completed showed false positives. Hence there never was nor is there now ISA.
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@Gael - The expert in PEI does not agree with the assumptions and hype around the test results. His comments are widely available for review. Samples being completely used up is not par for the course. Using all of a sample does not allow for verification of results, especially results as controversial as these, is a cornerstone of scientific methods. I will reserve judgement until the CFIA verifies the information. As for attacking Alexandra Morton and SFU, I don't feel that Harold and Heather did that. This press release is extremely inflammatory and one-sided and I am still baffled as to why Ms. Morton is involved in any press release regarding this issue as it is not her work that is being publicized. Regardless of the test results, the way SFU has handled this issue puts the university in an extremely poor light.
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Gael: No I do not discredit the university because I know that it is one of two in the world qualified to do testing for ISA. What I discredit is the news release put out by Morton who had nothing to do with the study and Rick Routledge who is not even a fish biologist but a statistician. Dr. Fred Kibenge credited with the discovery by Morton and Routledge has released to Seattle Weekly the findings have been blown out of proportion. PhD. David Gorman Head of Dept. at Atlantic Veterinary University has said in an interview on The results did not isolate the ISA virus. As the people responsible for the results I consider their opinion substantially more believable than a statistician's and an anti farm activist's premature and cloudy release of a report that they had no business reporting to the media. Sensationalism at it's best. The CFIA is the agency responsible for such releases and they say the study wasn't specific enough and they will be conducting their own tests.
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hmmm.. Something tells me "Harold", "Heather", and "David" might work for the fish farming industry.

"What if it's all a hoax and we change the world for the better for no reason!"

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hmmm.. Something tells me "Harold", "Heather", and "David" might work for the fish farming industry.

"What if it's all a hoax and we change the world for the better for no reason!"

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What impact does this mean for human health? in the case that somebody eats an infected salmon, the question is - what impact could this potentially have?
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At Shereen,
The biggest impact for human health is that this is a disease that is transmissable to our pacific salmon. Which has huge implications commercially, ecologically, and for subsistence users. Even if it doesn't completely wipe out wild runs, its not a good idea to eat diseased meat.

Wildlife science is not easy, we are often lucky to find the clues that we do, and replicating findings can be extraordinarily difficult. We don't have extensive histories on these animals like your doctor, or your pets veterinarian does, and that makes things really tough. So give them time, and respect their findings. The scientists probably didn't really expect to find this disease, so they only collected standard samples. Which were unfortunately used up in the tests. When results are positive, sampling protocol changes, and Im sure that they are collecting much more extensively now.

No one is proclaiming the apocalypse just yet, but is instead saying that we should be concerned.

We should be aware of the state of our food supply. When something has the potential to threaten it, no matter how trivial it may seem at first, we should all take notice.
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Rick Routledge, Y U NO ANTIVIRUS?
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Thanks for posting the information; although it is to no avail for some people (Heather, Harold and David)... I see no reason why they defend salmon farming with such tenacity when it has been shown that these farms are perfect breeding grounds for sea lice and now for ISA, which in turn, carry disease over to wild salmon.

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Perhaps people employed in the industry are in a better position to know what is hype and what is not. ISA kills Atlantic salmon end of story. They are not dying. Why is Morton immediately involved in an anti salmon farm release spouting false information about wild salmon in BC ? Why is a statistitian studying salmon and doing ISA tests ? Routledge is not a marine biologist or any kind of biologist for that matter. Now the whole world thinks BC salmon have ISA thanks to this erroneous news release. Thanks Alex. Not only do you attempt to destroy farmed salmon 's reputation you have now destroyed our wild salmon's too.
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I don't know why the government scientists are so biased towards industry at any costs. Oh wait, any government scientist speaking out against industry seems to either lose their job or lose their funding. What ever happened to the government working for the greater good and for the people they are supposed to serve? The general population welfare is no match to the powerful industry lobby. There is nothing good about the salmon feedlots that are in our oceans. These feed lots should never have been allowed to operate as open containment because they put too much of a strain on the existing NATURAL ecosystems.

Some of the reasons why open containment fish farms pose a risk are:
1) the regular use of antibiotics to combat the inevitable spread of disease because the farmed fish are in such close proximity to each other in the pens not only subjects the natural environment to regular doses of antibiotics and other drugs but also the exposes it to different introduced diseases- such as the ISA virus which is currently a threat that should require every Atlantic farmed salmon facility to be tested and the development of drug resistant sea lice.

2) intensive feeding of the penned salmon - of commercially obtained pellets containing by catch (puts species that naturally feed on these organisms at risk because of diminishing supply) and other ingredients that saturate the area with the excess.

3) farming Atlantic salmon in a place where they do not naturally exist risks the introduction of a foreign potentially invasive species into the environment when escapes are allowed to occur.

4)the level of excrement that this method of fish farming imposes on the natural environment is huge- even the flushing ability of the ocean is no match for the constant barrage of sewage that these facilities spew out each day

5)catching other natural species at the time of harvest of this foreign species (which is frequent due to the accelerated forced feeding methods)

6)the increased incidence of sea lice infestation and now ISA of the young wild sockeye particularly for those runs which typically must migrate past existing fish farm facilities(the number of facilities is extreme- occupying most migration routes)

7)evidence of collapse of wild species in other countries primarily attributed to the proliferation of fish farms

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I would like an international team of volunteer epidemiological team formed to look into this situation asap. Im still wondering if it can affect humans and have stopped eating my favourite, wild sockeye salmon until I know more.
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Based on analysis conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), in close collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Province of British Columbia and the Atlantic Veterinary College, there have been no confirmed cases of infectious salmon anaemia in wild or farmed salmon in BC. In the interest of not spreading inaccurate information, you may want to update your information -
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For the native indians along the west coast...
Did it cause annorism pr stroke?
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ISA poses no health threat to the public.
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