media release

Think tank contemplates diseased salmon

December 12, 2011

Laurie Wood, Centre for Coastal Studies, 778.782.5466,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Despite all the recent controversial research headlining media these days about diseases, parasites and viruses depleting B.C. salmon stocks, scientists still don’t have a true picture of what is going on.

Twenty-five scientists from around the world, including Simon Fraser University, came to that conclusion after meeting last week at a two-day invitational scientists’ think tank about pathogens and diseases in Pacific salmon. Sponsored by several interest groups, the session was part of the SFU Centre for Coastal Science and Management's Speaking for the Salmon series.

In a consensus statement issued after the session, the scientists note existing published research doesn’t address how key unexplored factors affect the extent to which salmon succumb to pathogens and diseases. For example, salmon commonly host disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites but remain disease free. Disease organism dynamics are so complex that the emergence and evolution of diseases in fish can’t be readily predicted.

“Critically and unfortunately, there is little information on disease organisms in, and their effects on, wild Pacific salmon,” says the report.

“We urgently need to integrate multiple scientific approaches in order to tackle the current concerns over disease in wild salmon… New technologies are providing means to discover and describe new disease organisms. However, it has proven more difficult to link specific disease organisms to health and disease, and even harder to link particular disease organisms to salmon population dynamics…

“It is time to develop new collaborative and independent infrastructures for addressing these challenges.”

In a separate document released by the think tank’s convenors, recommendations include:

  • A first priority is the establishment of a transparent monitoring program of wild and farmed salmon in B.C. to determine both the presence and prevalence of a broad range of disease organisms and potential disease organisms.
  • Given that most national and international evidence indicates that salmon farms have a significant chance of harming wild salmon, from individuals to populations, we must look to explicitly manage them as a disease risk for Pacific salmon.
  • Canada urgently needs to create a separate entity for facilitating scientific research to provide for better management of wild fish and their habitat. This entity must be thoroughly separated from initiatives that promote economic activity.

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