Nfld. & Labrador

ISA virus prompts salmon harvest on Newfoundland's south coast

Thousands of farmed salmon at an aquaculture site near Gaultois are being harvested after tests showed infectious salmon anemia in some samples.

Provincial fisheries minister Gerry Byrne says no risk to human health

This incident marks the first discovery of ISA since 2013 in the province. (Aqua Maof Group/Submitted)

Thousands of farmed salmon at an aquaculture site on Newfoundland's south coast are being harvested after tests showed infectious salmon anemia in some samples.

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne confirmed Tuesday that five of 35 fish tested in one of six open-pen cages near the community of Gaultois, and operated by Cooke Aquaculture, had the infection.

He said it's the first time since 2013 that the infection known as ISA has been discovered in the province's aquaculture industry.

Byrne said the infection is naturally occurring, is not harmful to humans, and may have been spread from wild salmon in the area.

"As soon as it was identified, we issued a quarantine order to that site," Byrne said.

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne says infectious salmon anemia does not pose any threat to human health. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

He said the company has decided to harvest all the fish at the site — beginning with the 50,000 in the cage where ISA was found.

Byrne said ISA has not been identified in the remaining cages.

ISA labels not needed

The minister called it a marketing and precautionary move by the company. He explained that the fish can still be sold to consumers because there are no health risks to humans, and added the fish will not need to be labelled as coming from a site infected with ISA.

"There's no labelling required," said Byrne, who noted the affected fish were of marketable size.

An ISA-infected Atlantic salmon displaying hemorrhaging on its skin and fin. (Univeristy of Maine)

Mel Hall, who is with Cooke Aquaculture, said ISA doesn't really go away. "It's in the natural environment," he told CBC News."

The discovery comes at a critical time for the industry, which is mired in controversy over plans to develop a massive open-pen aquaculture operation in Placentia Bay proposed by Grieg Seafarms.

The provincial government has been championing growth in the industry — which has brought renewed economic life to much of the province's south coast — after a serious outbreak of the infection in 2013 left the sector reeling.