A 2018 file photo shows a fish farm in the Clio Channel, northwest of Campbell River.

Virus found among Atlantic salmon ‘poses minimal risk’ to Fraser River sockeye – DFO

Findings released after judge overturns DFO policy allowing transfer of fish without PRV screening

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says that a virus found among farmed Atlantic salmon in the Discovery Islands “poses minimal risk” to Fraser River sockeye salmon, even though much uncertainty remains about the pathogen and how it spreads.

Members of an expert committee briefed reporters on Thursday about piscine orthoreovirus, or PRV. The pathogen made headlines earlier this week when a Federal Court judge overturned a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) policy allowing young salmon to enter open-net pens without first being screened for the virus.

But scientists on Thursday’s conference call described the risks posed by PRV to Fraser River sockeye as very low.

“There is currently no evidence to suggest that PRV-1 causes disease and mortality in sockeye salmon,” said Gilles Olivier, one of the co-chairs of the peer-review committee.

READ MORE: Alexandra Morton, ‘Namgis First Nation win Federal Court ruling

PRV comes from Norway, and has caused disease there for a number of years, but the virus in B.C. has “lower genetic variability” and is less harmful in B.C.’s farmed Atlantic salmon, he said.

“It doesn’t seem to have the same effect in our Atlantic salmon here in B.C., on the West Coast, (as) it does in Norway,” said Olivier, a former DFO aquatic health official who is now retired.

Research shows that even high viral loads of the B.C. strain of PRV in juvenile Atlantic and sockeye salmon don’t cause mortality, he said.

Data from the review also shows the virus is highly prevalent among Atlantic salmon in net-pen farms and among chinook salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“It has a wide geographic distribution among wild Pacific salmon in B.C., Alaska and Washington, but a lower prevalence than (among) farmed salmon,” Olivier said.

He said virus can’t be cultured, meaning scientists rely on special molecular tools and methods to detect it.

READ MORE: Cermaq says experimental ‘closed-containment’ fish farm coming to Canadian waters

“It’s not easy to work with this virus,” he said.

Much remains unknown about how the virus behaves in B.C. coastal waters, said Dr. Craig Stephen, another co-chair of the review committee.

A high level of uncertainty remains due to “data gaps around things like what’s the concentration of the virus in the water… how well does the virus survive,” he said. “The usual exposure models couldn’t be done.”

Stephen is CEO of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and a professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

The 33-person peer-review committee included 15 participants from DFO. Other members came from environmental and Indigenous groups, academia and the aquaculture industry, along with other government departments, according to a DFO news release.

READ MORE: Federal officials showcase ‘health audit’ at fish farm northeast of Campbell River

The committee met for three days in Vancouver last month to review evidence related to the spread of PRV from farmed Atlantic salmon in the Discovery Islands to Fraser River sockeye, said Jay Parsons, a senior DFO official.

No data from the review process was released to reporters. DFO said that “a full report on the peer-review findings” will be published on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat’s website in late spring, following a final review by committee members.

The PRV review was the sixth in a series of 10 risk assessments about the spread of pathogens from farmed salmon in the Discovery Islands area, Parsons said.

The risk assessments are part of a response to a federal inquiry into declining stocks of Fraser River sockeye salmon led by commissioner Bruce Cohen. The Cohen Commission’s report was released in 2012.

Last year, a DFO-led study found that that PRV causes the cells of wild chinook salmon to burst, leading to “liver and kidney damage, anemia and death,” according to Ecojustice, an environmental law charity.

On Monday, the Federal Court of Canada overturned a policy allowing young salmon to be transferred into ocean-based fish farms without first being screened for the virus. This followed lawsuits by ‘Namgis First Nation and by biologist Alexandra Morton, an outspoken critic of open-net fish farms.

Justice Cecily Strickland found that DFO’s threshold for acceptable harm to wild salmon was too high and that its policy didn’t comply with the precautionary principle. The court also found that DFO breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis First Nation about PRV.

Strickland gave the federal government four months to review the policy. DFO declined to comment about its plans during Thursday’s conference call.


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

‘Priceless’ hat stolen from Indigenous art store in Campbell River during break-in

Ernie Smith, co-owner of Awatin Aboriginal Art, looking for help in recovering stolen hat

BC Hydro increasing flow down Elk Falls to assist steelhead migration and spawning

Water flows within Elk Falls Canyon are increasing today to assist steelhead… Continue reading

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

InspireHealth workshop in Campbell River supports those with cancer

The free event takes place at Berwick by the Sea on Feb. 2

Habitat for Humanity North Island wants to keep momentum going

Organization asks City of Campbell River for more land to build homes for young families

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling

Extended family caregiver pay up 75 per cent to keep kids with relatives

B.C. BUDGET: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

BC Child Opportunity Benefit part of province’s efforts to reduce child poverty

B.C. BUDGET: Carbon tax boosts low-income credits, electric vehicle subsidies

Homeowners can get up to $14,000 for heating, insulation upgrades

B.C. man survives heart attack thanks to Facebook

A Princeton man suffered a heart attack while at an isolated property with no cell service

B.C. man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Most Read