Evidence of a deadly virus that has caused severe damage to the Atlantic salmon farming industry has been discovered in some farmed and wild B.C. salmon, according to a new study.

Biologist Alexandra Morton of the Raincoast Research Society worked with statistician Richard Routledge of Simon Fraser University and other researchers to test for the virus in more than 1,000 farmed and wild salmon of varying species.

The study published Jan. 6 in the peer-reviewed Virology Journal, found genetic matches for the European variant of the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) virus in 79 cases.

'Pieces' of disease found

"We never found the whole virus, we just found pieces of it, but the pieces of the virus can't exist by themselves, so it's concerning, because this is a member of the influenza family," Morton told On the Coast host Stephen Quinn.

The farmed fish used in the study were collected from markets, which Morton said is a limitation.

"We couldn't actually go to the fish farms and get the weaker, more diseased fish for testing," she said.

Morton said the virus was dominant in Chile's farmed Atlantic salmon stocks for years, until a mutation appeared in 2007 and "ripped through the industry and caused over $2 billion in damages."

Morton said wild salmon on B.C.'s coast are passing through areas where salmon are heavily farmed, and she worries what the virus may do to the wild fish.

"I'm hoping this work could be an early warning .. and we can get a handle on this before it mutates and does something," she said.

Salmon farmers dispute study

ISA was previously suspected to be in the province in 2011, but at that time the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not find any cases.

Jeremy Dunn, the executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, criticized the methods used in the study published in Virology Journal, calling the results "false positives."

"The CFIA has been very definitive saying that ISA does not exist in British Columbia, and I can confirm that farm-raised salmon in British Columbia have never and are not showing any signs of sickness from this virus," he said.
 


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Evidence of a deadly salmon virus found in B.C. waters, study suggests