Technology & Science

Salmon virus findings can't be confirmed, agency says

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it cannot confirm a private lab's findings that salmon bought in B.C. has tested positive for a serious fish virus.

Infectious salmon anemia harmless to humans but has affected fisheries worldwide

Conservation groups are calling on the province to designate salmon B.C.'s official fish.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it cannot confirm that salmon bought at a B.C. supermarket chain has tested positive for a virus on the agency’s reportable diseases list.

Alexandra Morton, a prominent anti-fish-farming activist and biologist from B.C., collected 29 Atlantic salmon heads that were bought at different outlets of a B.C. chain, and 16 wild salmon from a B.C. river. It is not certain the Atlantic salmon were from farms in B.C.

Five fish from the supermarket chain and one from a B.C. river tested positive for infectious salmon anemia, Morton said on her website. They were tested at a private lab in P.E.I. run by the World Organization for Animal Health.

The lab then passed the results on to the Canada Food Inspection Agency. However, the agency said the fish samples were too degraded to confirm the private lab's findings.

The CFIA said it will work with the private lab to send samples for testing at the National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory System, or NAAHLS, which is run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"However, due to the poor quality of the samples it is unlikely that the NAAHLS laboratory will be able to verify the result," the agency said in a news release. "There are additional concerns with the sampling and testing methods used."

The positive results are not confirmation of the virus, and the fish-farming industry maintains it has never found a confirmed case of infectious salmon anemia.

"Of course, those need to be followed up and appropriately, and I'm very confident that CFIA will do great job of that," said Stewart Hawthorn, a spokesman for Greig Seafood, one of B.C.'s largest fish farm operations.

The inspection agency said that with the help of the B.C. government, it has tested more than 5,000 salmon in recent years, none of which has tested positive for the virus.

But in December the CFIA also said it was unable to confirm the presence of the potentially lethal fish virus in B.C. salmon, after it was reportedly detected in tests organized by Simon Fraser University Prof. Rick Routledge.