Risk of viral transfer from B.C. fish farms to wild sockeye is low: study

New research released by the federal government says there are minimal risks of farmed Atlantic salmon from B.C.'s Discovery Islands transferring a deadly viral disease to wild sockeye making their way to the Fraser River.

DFO report finds strong fish management practices help decrease the likelihood of IHNV transfer

A new report says the risk is minimal that one specific fish virus could transfer from farmed Atlantic salmon in the Discovery Islands to wild sockeye. (Getty Images)

New research released by the federal government Wednesday says there are minimal risks of farmed Atlantic salmon from B.C.'s Discovery Islands transferring a deadly viral disease to wild sockeye making their way to the Fraser River.

This report looked specifically at one virus called Infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV), a disease that affects fish raised in fresh and saltwater.

Fisheries and Ocean Canada research scientist Kyle Garver says the virus occurs naturally in the north Pacific and occasionally spills over to Atlantic farmed salmon. 

But the findings show there is little chance of the virus transferring from farmed to wild fish.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be looking into nine different pathogens that have been found in farmed Atlantic salmon in the Discovery Islands to assess the risk of transfer to wild fish. (The Canadian Press/Jonathon Hayward)

"We found that the risk is minimal mostly based on the fact that there are strong fish management practices, such as vaccination, that help decrease the likelihood of IHNV outbreaks on an Atlantic salmon farm," said Garver.

More pathogens to be examined

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the findings are the first in a series of investigations to assess the risk of pathogen transfer associated with aquaculture activities to wild fish in the islands, which are near Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Garver says DFO is looking at nine different pathogens that have been found on farmed salmon in the Discovery Islands.

"Because these diseases have been found on the farms there is potential for interaction with wild fish so these nine pathogens ... they will be the next to be investigated in the series of risk assessments," Garver said. 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada research scientist Kyle Garver says the report into IHNV is the first time an assessment has been made to evaluate the potential for disease to be transferred to wild populations. (The Canadian Press)

Garver says this initial report is important because it is the first time an assessment has been made to evaluate the potential for disease to be transferred to wild populations.

The area around the Broughton Archipelago has been the site of ongoing protests at Atlantic salmon farms this year by Indigenous people who say they fear the loss of wild salmon populations.

With files from the Canadian Press