Catastrophic ISA Disease Found on BC Coast


Here is the story from salmon biologist Alexandra Morton:

Infectious Salmon Anemia virus has been found in two young sockeye salmon. Sheer reckless, negligent behaviour has loosed a highly infectious fish farm influenza virus into the North Pacific. I have been told over and over by industry and government that this could not happen, but they were wrong. No one has any idea what Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV) will do in the North Pacific. We were told that it could not infect Pacific salmon, that enough tests had been done to assure us that it was not here and would not get here. Well here it is in two young sockeye. Are they the only 2 salmon in the North Pacific with ISA virus, or are they among 100s, or millions? No one knows yet. Government and the salmon farming industry are at best dangerously incompetent. Humanity is well aware that moving viruses around has caused enormous misery and death. We make horror movies about this, and yet there is no sign of a learning curve here. We have put a highly infectious marine influenza virus into the ocean we depend on. So incredibly foolish.

Just so we know what we’re dealing with here, Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV) is endemic to Atlantic salmon and the only Atlantic Salmon on the west coast of the Americas reside in fish farms who have denied vigorously that any of their salmon, or the eggs they import, have any ISAV and, alternatively, if they did have this pernicious disease it could not spread to any species of Pacific salmon.

Ms. Morton has been warning for some time that this might just not be so but the fish farmers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stoutly denied it, especially to the Cohen Commission.

Back to Alexandra Morton.

In May, Dr. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University noticed the Rivers Inlet sockeye smolt out-migration was an exceptionally small run. Rick has been studying these sockeye to figure out why the Rivers Inlet sockeye, once Canada’s second most prolific sockeye salmon run, has declined to an average over the last 5 years of less than 1% of its historic abundance. When we talked this spring I suggested testing for ISA virus, just to rule it out.

The results came back last week: 2 out of 48 smolts were infected with the EUROPEAN STRAIN OF INFECTIOUS SALMON ANEMIA VIRUS (ISAV). The shock of this diagnosis remains.

The test was done by Dr. Fred Kibenge of the lab designated as the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) reference lab for ISAV.

The ISA virus has appeared everywhere that industrial Atlantic salmon farming has moved in. It killed 70% of the farm salmon in Chile in 2007, but there are no natural wild salmon in Chile. It was found in 1984 in Norway and is now in Scotland, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Eastern Canada, and Chile. No country has ever gotten rid of it, probably because they never turn off the source. This is the first time ISA virus has been set loose into wild Pacific salmon populations. That it was found in a Rivers Inlet sockeye smolt 100km away from the nearest salmon farm is ominous. Is it everywhere? Is it in herring, does it infect oolichans? No one knows.

Let me re-state a statement Damien Gillis and I have made throughout this ongoing debate: large corporations care nothing about the environment only shareholder profits. Why should they? Their mandate is the company bottom line.


This is a deadly serious problem in the literal sense – now that this pernicious disease is in out waters it’s likely here top stay. More and more of our wild salmon will die and likely in large bunches.
Let’s call this what it is: deceit on the part of the company and the three government departments involves – the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and the federal Departments of Fisheries and Oceans and The Environment. These three government watchdogs have been irresponsible and perhaps even criminally irresponsible, although one can hardly expect Stephen Harper’s Minister of Justice to lay charges. In any kind of responsible government, both federal ministers would resign.
Allow me to add another important ingredient into this mess: The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has also got the mandate to promote fish farms!
Yes, you read that correctly – the same department that has the mandate to protect our wild fish also is charged with promoting the cause of this terrible tragedy. Former federal minister Gail Shea went to fish farm conventions to urge them to come to BC! And no, I’m not making this up.
This finding by Dr. Fred Kibenge places a very heavy burden of Mr. Justice Bruce Cohen as he makes his findings, for how can be believe any contentious point made by governments and fish farms when they’ve been caught lying?
Credibility is what court cases and hearings are all about. Mr. Justice Cohen has now heard the clock strike 13 – how can he ever trust the clock again!
What should happen is obvious. As happened a few years ago with mad cow disease, all farmed fish must promptly be destroyed. Why should farmed fish be treated any differently than farmed salmon?
I must end with a note about Alexandra Morton. I know Alex and I can tell you that the abuse she has been subject to beggar’s description. Vilified by governments and industry, threatened with jail short of funding, she has stayed the course. She is a remarkable woman who is owed a huge debt of gratitude by all who care about the soul of British Columbia – the Pacific Salmon.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

13 thoughts on “Catastrophic ISA Disease Found on BC Coast

  1. I was just hunting for this information for a while.
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  2. This is a 5 billion dollar industry that they have destroyed. Its economic impact is massive. It was once the second largest industry in the province. Now its a shadow of what it was. At 5 billion dollars a year it was worth 100 times what the fancy new boats for the military are worth. It created jobs for commercial fishermen and it is an important resource for natives.

    The roll of the federal government is one thing. They dropped the ball on this. But who introduced it? It was the BC liberals. They were the ones who first promoted the fish farms and allowed them in the first place. They were the ones who persued it. We cannot forget their involvement. These governments ignored the opinions of the DFO’s own scientists who spoke out very loudly against fish farms in the first place if memory serves me correct.

    We can’t trust the government for anything. Not even to protect the economy. THey destroy everything they touch. We need recall and referendum legislation so that we can force them to do the right thing and possibly reverse some of the damage that they have done.

  3. When Norway was approached about their dirty diseased fish farms. They said, I have bad news for you, we are not removing our fish farms.

    Norway also illegally, diverted rivers to their dirty tar sands project.

    Norway has not, one lick of respect for our eco systems. The s.o.b’s should be kicked out of our country.

  4. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. Once again it looks like the big business trumps both the environment and the will of the voting public. These fools either don’t care or don’t care to know the outcome of thier foolish acts. The whole notion of having any non-native species introduced into any environment almost always has dire consequences, this has been proven over and over again.Those 2 smelts could be just the tip of the iceberg, we could have an entire ocean of diseased fish if this type of influenza is cross communicable. And what of the other effects throughout the food chain? Did anybody take that into account when they were concerned about ” thier return on investment” ? The government agencies that allowed this type of occurence to happen should be taken to task ,the respective Ministers should be “man enough” to take the flak and step down for letting this happen under thier watch. I know that I am probably dreaming, as it seems more and more that government and accountability are mutually exclusive propositions.

  5. There is no sense in complaining about it until we vote out our government. Lets all hope that the price of oil reaches triple digits and then they will price themselves out of the market to export.

  6. I wonder if this has something to do with a Monsanto like situation with crop production? The same is being done purposely by large multi-national corporatists who wish to destroy the competition (wild food) and control food production. There is more and more stories like this around the world to the point it is hard to believe its an accident or being chalked up to recklessness.

    Gordon Campbell is a Bilderberger and his government under Christy Clark is tasked to make sure BC is controlled by outside interests. BC Rail, HST, BC Hydro, BC Gas, BC Wood is all being controlled by outside interests by design. Its time to take back, not Wall Street, its time to take back our province.

  7. I’m not an environmentalist. I don’t believe in most of the global warming BS that is out there. But this. This is infuriating. These companies and our governments have betrayed us. They are supposed to be protecting our resources. Instead they have commited acts that have destroyed it.

    If any of you treasonous little weasels are reading this. I am going to quote John A Macdonald here. “YOU HAVE RUINED OUR TRADE”

  8. This is more than sad ISA has never been eradicated from any location it has been found. I am sure that DFO has been aware of the risks all along from what has happened previously in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Chile. DFO was willing to put our wild salmon at risk and also put our tax dollars into salmon farms and into promoting farms but seem to have little interest in protecting wild salmon. There have been countless numbers of farmed salmon that have escaped from the farms and DFO was not interested when someone I know tried to report to them that they had seen loads of fish farm morts being dumped off the west coast of Vancouver Island, who knows what they died of. The salmon farmers will profit from the loss of our wild salmon, a superior product on the market, but WHY IS DFO SUPPORTING SALMON FARMS? Salmon farms have been bad for the economy of BC, money made by commercial fishermen on wild stocks was spent locally, while profits from foreign owned farms leave the country and the devastation to our whole coastal ecosystem from the loss of our wild salmon is incomprehensible. I would like to see DFO held accountable.

  9. “Canadians when polled strongly support the protection of wild salmon, but fisheries policy and regulation isn’t a level playing field where what the majority of citizens desire is possible. An entrenched industry with decades of sunk costs, investors and employees is a protected species in our present governance and almost impervious to enforced systemic change such as getting the pens out of the water or constrained to areas where they would not effect wild salmon.”

    “This reminded me of the key lesson I’d learned as a forest activist in the 90s: governments are bound and fettered down policy paths formed decades ago and increasingly by the Golden Straitjacket of enforced deregulation and governmental downsizing in the war to stay competitive in the global economy. Established industries such as B.C.’s forest or salmon farming or coal industries with sunk costs and dependent communities are now a protected species impervious from all but cosmetic regulatory efforts by governments.”

  10. Find us a lawyer who will do a class action suit on behalf of the people of BC and name the fish farms and the BC government!

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