Salmon virus testing ban suggested

A federal manager suggested a ban on testing for an infectious salmon virus by independent Canadian labs after the virus was detected in wild B.C. sockeye salmon by a P.E.I. lab, a public inquiry heard Monday.

A federal manager suggested that independent Canadian labs not be allowed to test for an infectious salmon virus that was detected in wild B.C. sockeye salmon by a P.E.I. lab, a public inquiry heard Monday.

When Kim Klotins, acting national manager for disease control contingency planning at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was asked why she made the suggestion, she responded, "It was an option I put forward basically because we could not confirm chain of custody."

The Cohen Commission has been looking into the decline of B.C.'s Fraser River sockeye salmon. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
Klotins said the government wanted to oversee the testing, and did not believe work by other labs was valid because the government could not know what happened to the fish prior to the tests in other labs.

"We already knew we were going to come out with a surveillance plan," she added during her testimony on the last day of the inquiry in Vancouver, B.C..

However, she acknowledged that the government is not presently sampling salmon to test for the virus and the plan won't be in place until later next year.

DNA from the salmon anemia virus, an infectious disease that has ravaged fish farms around the world, was first detected in two of 48 B.C. salmon smolts tested in October by the P.E.I.-based reference lab for infectious salmon anemia. The lab is part of a network affiliated with the OIE, the World Animal Health Organization. The samples of juvenile fish caught 100 kilometres from the nearest fish farm, had been sent to the P.E.I. lab by Rick Routledge, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

The OIE lab, run by Fred Kibenge, alerted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about the results of its tests.

Managers contradicted DFO scientists' results

DFO scientists retested the samples weeks later, but deemed the results inconclusive because the samples were too degraded at that point.

Nevertheless, the government publicly announced that its tests for the virus gave negative results. It suggested the earlier positive results from other labs were not credible because they could not be duplicated.

Klotins said Monday even though the government labs testing for the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISA) in B.C. sockeye salmon may say something about what they've found, it's the managers' job to interpret the results. In this case, the managers decided to interpret them as negative.

The inquiry also heard that staff for Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield dictated the content of a letter they wanted department officials to write in order to convince the U.S. Congress and Senate that the ISA virus doesn't exist in Canadian fish.

Government investigating OIE lab's methods

During cross-examination of government officials at the inquiry, lawyer Greg McDade accused the government of going after Kibenge's lab and trying to take away its OIE certification as punishment for the positive test results.

Klotins acknowledged that the methodology used by the lab is being investigated.

However, Stephen Stephen, director of the biotechnology and aquatic animal health sciences branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the government has no authority over the lab's OIE certification.

The Cohen commission is looking into the 2009 collapse of B.C.'s Fraser River sockeye salmon.

The inquiry, which began 21 months ago, originally heard closing arguments in November, but reconvened for three more days of hearings after the OIE lab announced the detection of the ISA virus and the government subsequently announced that it was unable to reproduce the results.

The inquiry's final report is due by the end of June.