Category Archives: Fisheries

First Nation blockades water intake construction over salmon impacts

First Nation blockades water intake construction over salmon impacts

First Nation blockades water intake construction in Lillooet, BC
Cayoose Creek, where construction of a municipal water intake may be harming salmon habitat (Jim Upton)

LILLOOET, B.C. – Members of a First Nation in Lillooet, B.C., have set up a blockade near that Fraser River district to protest work they believe is destroying fish habitat on disputed land.

Sekw’el’was Chief Michelle Edwards says the blockade on Cayoose Creek (a.k.a Seton River), on Lillooet’s southern outskirts, began at 7 a.m. Friday.

There’s no indication when it could be removed, but Edwards says traffic on nearby Highway 99 is not affected and members are only halting hired contractors at the work site.

construction-cayoose creek
Early construction of a water intake on Cayoose Creek Thursday (Michelle Edwards)

She says the District of Lillooet has fast-tracked construction of a water intake on land claimed by the Sekw’el’was, although it knows the project will be appealed to the provincial Environmental Appeal Board.

Edwards says damage is not yet irreversible, but warns the work has the potential to wipe out spawning beds and incubating eggs in a section of Cayoose Creek used by coho, steelhead, chinook, pink, sockeye and bull trout.

She says many First Nations along the Seton and Fraser rivers rely on those salmon runs and, as caretakers of the watershed, the Sekw’el’was must protect the fish.


Harper guts more fish protections-NEB takes over habitat along pipelines

Harper guts more fish protections: NEB takes over habitat along pipelines


National Energy Board takes over fish protection along pipelines

It’s the latest in a long line of efforts by the Harper Government to dismantle Canada’s environmental laws in order to facilitate energy development. In a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Energy Board – quietly released just before Christmas – DFO relinquished much of its oversight of fish habitat in pipeline corridors.

The decision means that Enbridge and Kinder Morgan – which formally filed its own pipeline application on December 16, the same day the NEB memo was made public – will no longer need to obtain permits from DFO to alter habitat for their projects. “Fish and fish habitat along those pipelines is now the responsibility of the Alberta-based, energy friendly National Energy Board,” notes Robin Rowland of Northwest Energy News, who broke the story yesterday.

NEB takes point on fisheries, species at risk

Under the terms of the agreement, the NEB becomes the lead agency in determining issues that relate to the Species at Risk Act or the Fisheries Act and, only involving DFO should they deem it necessary:

[quote]The NEB will assess a project application and determine if mitigation strategies are needed to reduce or prevent impacts to fish or fish habitat. If the project could result in serious harm for fish then the NEB will inform DFO that a Fisheries Act authorization under paragraph 35(2)(b)  is likely to be required. DFO will review and issue an authorization when appropriate, prior to project construction. Authorizations issued by DFO would relate to those watercourses impacted, not the entire project.

This MOU better integrates the Government of Canada’s initiative to streamline application processes by eliminating the requirement for duplicate reviews.[/quote]

Asks Rowland, “Just how much expertise, if any, in fisheries and fish habitat can be found in the Calgary offices of the National Energy Board?”

First Nations consultation impacted

The memo – particularly the following passage – is likely also to provoke legal challenges from First Nations over the dimishing of their constitutional rights to consultation and accommodation:

[quote]When the Crown contemplates conduct that may adversely affect established or potential Aboriginal and treaty rights in relation to the issuance of authorizations under the Fisheries Act, and/or permits under SARA, the NEB application assessment process will be relied upon by DFO to the extent possible, to ensure Aboriginal groups are consulted as required, and where appropriate accommodated[/quote]

The move hardly comes as a surprise, given the gutting of the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, and many other longstanding Canadian environmental laws in order to push forward the Conservative energy policy. Yet it is sure to provoke a serious backlash amongst British Columbians and First Nations as the ramifications of this quiet deal sink in.

New plan expected for blocking Asian Carp invasion of Great Lakes

New plan expected for blocking Asian Carp invasion of Great Lakes

New plan expected for blocking Asian Carp invasion of Great Lakes
Asian carp have overtaken the Mississippi basin. Plans are afoot to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

by John Flesher, The Associated Press

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to release a long-anticipated study Monday listing options for shielding the Great Lakes from an attack by ravenous Asian carp.

The corps has spent years examining ways to block aquatic pathways that invasive species could use to migrate between the lakes and the Mississippi River basin.

Bighead and silver carp that were imported from Asia and have infested the Mississippi and its tributaries are the biggest concern. Scientists also have identified about three dozen other aquatic invaders that could move from one watershed to the other.

Physically separating the two basins where they connect in the Chicago area is expected to be among options in the report.

Some in Congress favour that. But local business groups say it would hurt the economy.

Motorized boats stir up problems for BC's salmon rivers

Motorized boats stir up problems for BC’s salmon rivers


Motorized boats stir up problems for BC's salmon rivers

by Will Dubitsky and Jean Clark

Two distinct pieces of federal legislation govern activities in and on our rivers, lakes and coastal waters: 1) The Canada Shipping Act, concerning the waterway surface and the protection navigation rights; 2) The Fisheries Act, pertaining to protection of the marine habitat, below the surface of these same waters.  But while they apply to the same waters, on and below the surface respectively, the two Acts do not connect.   In other words, under the current legislative framework, one cannot impose restrictions on certain types of motorized boats based on their impacts on the marine habitat.

In effect, regardless of the variances in environmental and community challenges from one waterway to another, the legislative challenges are the same, leaving communities across Canada without the means to protect their respective local environments and community interests.

BC’s ecologically sensitive salmon rivers left unprotected

Over the past 3 decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of recreational boaters on BC’s waterways.  Gone are the days when the only boat one would see was the occasional fisherman in his “tinny” with a small outboard motor.

Across the province, lakes and rivers, big and small, are now accessed by an increasing number of bigger, faster and much more powerful boats.  Recreation in BC is big business.  While the increased congestion on BC’s large lakes creates numerous safety concerns, it is on the smaller lakes and rivers that the harmful environmental effects are most evident.

Studies dating back to the 1950’s (Lagler et al) identified the harmful effects of boat-caused erosion and sedimentation on aquatic plants and animals.  Lagler found that prolonged use of an outboard in 75 centimetre deep water, and a propeller 35 centimetres from the bottom, removed all plants and silt from a swath 1.5 metres wide.  In the ensuing six decades, study after study in the US and Canada have indicated that operating a boat in water less than 2 metres deep damages the aquatic ecosystem.

The erosive effects of boat wakes are also well-documented.  In studies too numerous to mention, boat wakes have been shown to cause shoreline erosion and disturbance to aquatic mammals and nesting waterfowl while boat noise chases waterfowl from their nests.  These disturbances devour the birds’ scarce resources and can lead to a serious long-term decline in waterfowl.

BC is blessed with hundreds of salmon-bearing rivers and streams.  Hundreds of thousands of salmon fry live suspended in these shallow waters before making their way to the Pacific Ocean.  With the advent of jet boat technology, high-powered aluminium hulled boats can travel at high speeds in these extremely shallow and ecologically sensitive marine environments.

wake boat
Powerful, modern “wake boats” are kicking up waves and protest

One BC boat manufacturer has a model called “Extreme Shallow” designed for “skinny water” fun and boasts it can operate in just 5 inches of water.  The impellers of these jet boats can pump as much as 3000 to 4000 gallons of water a minute.

The result?  Salmon fry, and the aquatic insects that are their food supply, are crushed or washed ashore by these powerful forces.  Similar impacts are associated with other types of motorized watercraft that generate wakes in these highly environmentally fragile salmon-bearing rivers. Nevertheless, though all this evidence in studies dates back more than 60 years, communities remain powerless to do something about this in the absence of a modern legislative framework.

While Transport Canada’s safe boating guide states that a 10 kph speed should be observed if less than 30 metres from shore, these common-sense guidelines do not apply to our rivers, where the 30 metre rule would effectively restrict boats to a no-wake speed on most inland rivers and streams.

Legislative framework hinders constructive solutions

The Canada Shipping Act, administered by Transport Canada, ensures that there are no impediments to navigation and that marine transportation is conducted in a safe manner.  Not only is the Act ill-suited and not intended for protection of the environment, but also Transport Canada requires that all non-regulatory options be explored before a municipality can proceed with a request for a regulatory solution.  In this regard, Transport Canada strongly encourages communities to adopt a voluntary code of conduct with near 100% adherence.  This latter requirement is a source of irresolvable conflicts across Canada because few communities can achieve the necessary level of voluntary support for the code of conduct to be effective.

Accordingly, municipal governments and community organizations across Canada have been unable or unwilling to tackle this issue, anticipating a complicated and potentially controversial process that can take years while, all too often, pitting neighbour against neighbour in what may seem like a never ending ordeal.

The second piece of legislation, the Fisheries Act, administered by Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was created in 1867 and remains one of Canada’s oldest existing pieces of legislation. While its mandate is to conserve and protect fisheries resources in all Canadian waterways by protecting the marine habitat, the current government has rendered the Act an empty shell, at the request of the pipeline industry.

Moreover, recent DFO enforcement changes include the reduction of DFO staffing to levels last seen in the 1980’s and the removal of the term “Habitat Management Program” from their organization and offices.  DFO offices are being closed across the country and habitat protection staff are being laid off.  The confluence of massive new industrial development and severe cuts to staff, can and will surely, harm habitat and fisheries of the future.  There is no will presently within DFO to take the action required to protect our waterways from harm caused by recreational boats.

Suffice to say that: 1) neither of the two Acts were designed to address the current pressures that recreational boating poses for communities across the country; 2)  the Fisheries Act is now so weakened that it has to be re-written, practically starting from the equivalent of a blank page; and 3) the two Acts must be linked in order to protect the marine habitat via restrictions on certain types of boating activity.

Will Dubitsky is a Quebec-based contributor to The Common Sense Canadian. Jean Clark is the Director of the Lower Shuswap Stewardship Society. Both are co-founders of the newly-formed Coalition for Responsible and Sustainable Navigation, which will work with communities across Canada to drive legislative protections for waterways from motorized boating.

Despite Fukushima radiation, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe

Despite Fukushima radiation, scientists say West Coast fish is safe


Despite Fukushima radiation, scientists say eating West Coast fish is safe

Following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, fear spread about risks of leaked radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – for the health of those living in or near Fukushima or involved in cleanup efforts, and for the planet and the potential impacts on our complex marine food web.

Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters radioactive water has likely been leaking into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster hit. It’s the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed, according to one report. With 300 tonnes of contaminated water pouring into the sea every day, Japan’s government finally acknowledged the urgency of the situation in September.

[quote]I’m taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.[/quote]

Social media is now abuzz with people swearing off fish from the Pacific Ocean. Given the lack of information around containment efforts, some may find this reasonable. But preliminary research shows fish caught off Canada’s Pacific Coast are safe to eat.

Fish testing shows low radiation levels so far

It will take about three years from the time of the incident for Fukushima’s radiation plume to reach the West Coast, which would be early next year. Recent testing of migratory fish, including tissue samples collected from Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the California coast, assessed radiation levels and potential effects on marine food webs far away from Japan. Trace amounts of radioisotopes from the Fukushima plant were found, although the best available science puts them at levels below those naturally occurring in the environment around us. Natural, or background radiation, is found in many sources, including food items, medical treatments and air travel.

The most comprehensive health assessment, by the World Health Organization, concludes radioactive particles that make their way to North America’s waters will have a limited effect on human health, with concentrations predicted to be below WHO safety levels.

More reports are in the works. The UN agency charged with assessing global levels and consequences of ionizing radiation will present its findings to the UN General Assembly this month. This is where we may find answers about the amount of radioactive material released, how it was dispersed and any repercussions for the environment and food sources.

Fukushima radiation diluted by currents

The ocean is vast and dynamic with many complexities we don’t fully understand. It appears two currents off Japan’s coast — the Kuroshio Current and Kurushio Extension — diluted radioactive material to below WHO safety levels within the first four months of the disaster. Eddies and giant whirlpools, some tens of kilometres wide, continue the dilution and will direct radioactive particles to coastal areas for at least two decades.

Fish from the water near the crippled plant are not faring so well. High levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly, were found in fish samples there. Radiation levels in the sea around Japan have been holding steady and not falling as expected, further demonstrating that radiation leakage is not under control. At least 42 fish species from the immediate area are considered unsafe for consumption, and fisheries there remain closed.

New concerns from continued leaks

New concerns continue to arise. While the initial leak contained cesium isotopes, water flowing into the ocean from the plant now appears to be higher in strontium-90, a radioactive substance that is absorbed differently. While cesium tends to go in and out of the body quickly, strontium heads for the bones.

A huge accumulation of radioactive water at the plant must be dealt with immediately. Determining the full effects of years of exposure to lower levels of radioactive contamination leaking into the ocean will take time and require continued monitoring and assessment. While Health Canada monitors radionuclide levels in food sold in Canada, and one of its studies incorporates samples from Vancouver, we need to remain vigilant and demand timely monitoring results.

Any amount of leaked radiation is harmful to the planet and the health of all species, including humans. A major release of radioactivity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge concern, with unknowns remaining around long-term health risks such as cancers.

That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat all fish caught on the Pacific West Coast. I’m taking a precautionary approach: fish will stay part of my diet, as long as they’re caught locally and sustainably, and will remain so until new research gives me pause to reconsider.

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Theresa Beer.



Morton: Salmon Virus Lab Stripped of World Body Certification


Republished from Alexandra Morton’s blog.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), our global first line of defence against farm animal epidemics, just stacked the odds against stopping ISA virus from spreading in British Columbia. They stripped the lab I am using to track ISA virus of its international certification.

Farm animal epidemics are considered one of the greatest threats to human food security and health. The OIE expects member countries to report diseases of global significance. One of these “reportable” diseases is the influenza family Infectious Salmon Anemia virus, ISAv.

The OIE designates “reference” labs for each reportable disease. Being a reference lab is a perilous responsibility, because calling a new region “positive” for a reportable virus will cause economic hardship to large, powerful agri-businesses. They don’t like that. We, the public, depend on these labs to stand up to this pressure and not take the easier course of action.

I became concerned ISA virus could be spreading into the North Pacific from the Atlantic salmon feedlots when I read the BC government’s many reports of the “classic lesions associated with ISA virus infection” in the Atlantic salmon being reared in BC.

A small team of us have now sampled farm salmon from supermarkets across Canada and wild salmon throughout BC and I sent them to the closest ISA virus reference lab, Dr. Kibenge’s lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College. This was the lab that diagnosed ISA virus in Chile, just before the virus went epidemic causing $2 billion in damages. No one in Chile recognized they had ISA until Kibenge diagnosed it, but by then it was too late. The virus had come from Norway in farm salmon eggs and raged through the country killing salmon.

British Columbia is currently rated as an ISA-free region by the OIE and this brings considerable value to the BC farm salmon product. The USA has stated they do not want ISA virus contaminated salmon, so being ISA-free is critical to accessing the enormous US market, to the survival of the Norwegian salmon feedlot industry using BC to grow its fish.

The CFIA testified at the federal Cohen Commission into the collapse of the Fraser sockeye salmon that if ISA virus is “confirmed” BC farm salmon trade will grind to a halt (see film above). These are big agribusinesses with Norway heavily invested.

The Kibenge lab found pieces of RNA sequence, in my samples. When virologists detect sequences of RNA, they run them through databases that look for matches, like police run fingerprints. These RNA sequences matched European ISA virus, known to infect Atlantic salmon.

Canada refuses to accept these matches as “confirmation” of the ISA virus, because they are only pieces of the virus. Canada does not even see these results as “suspect” for ISA virus. Canada requires the entire viral sequence or “virus isolation,” before reporting to the OIE. However, no one has found the whole ISA virus in salmon which are simply carriers of the virus. The fish has to be dying of the virus for “virus isolation” to be successful. To get a fresh dying Atlantic salmon, you have to have access to salmon in the farm.

This rule sets the bar so high, it prevents any kind of an early warning. It means the virus can be seeping out of the feedlots into the wild and no response is required. No lab studying ISA virus has ever faced the kind of samples I sent to the Kibenge lab, because nobody has ever gone looking for ISA BEFORE it goes epidemic. Most ISA virus researchers have access to dying farm salmon, we only have access to farm salmon in supermarkets. I have been highly criticized for testing the farm salmon in markets – but this is the only way I could ground-truth the BC vet’s reporting that farm salmon in BC only look like they ISA virus, but not to worry that the virus is not actually present.

Seven labs other labs testified at the Cohen Commission that they too found ISA virus sequence, but they have all gone silent since they were questioned under oath. Kibenge’s lab is the only independent lab in Canada running samples provided by an independent biologist.

In November, 2012, the CFIA recommended to the OIE that the Kibenge lab lose its “reference lab” status.

In June, 2013, the OIE removed their reference lab status from the Kibenge lab.

A few days later the CFIA announced they could not find ISA virus in 4,175 wild salmon in BC using “virus isolation.” This test has never worked on wild salmon, everyone involved knows this and the CFIA refuses to test the Atlantic farm salmon, for this Atlantic virus.

I wrote to the Director General of the OIE to ask why they abandoned the Kibenge lab, but he won’t say.

In 2010, China closed its border to Canadian pork during the H1N1 influenza outbreak. In a strange government press release, Canada reopened the pork border to China through successful negotiation of “supplementary certification requirements,” from the OIE and immediately following this Canada gave the OIE $2 million. “The OIE has played a central role in developing international consensus that recognizes Canada’s effective measures to deal with BSE, H1N1, and avian influenza.” Download Canada OIE.png (406.5K)

To remove the “reference lab” status 178 OIE delegates had to vote – international consensus – decided the one lab free to work on ISA virus in BC should lose its credibility. Note all the delegates appear to be government bureaucrats.

Each time the Kibenge Lab gets an ISA virus positive result, the CFIA takes the sample away from the lab with the understanding that they were retesting it. There have been many headlines to this affect.

In April 2012, the OIE wrote me saying the CFIA was investigating the Kibenge Lab positive results:

The OIE is aware that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been investigating reports of ISAV in wild salmon in British Columbia[My samples sent to Kibenge’s lab]. I am informed that testing of samples by the CFIA national reference laboratory for the national aquatic animal health programme, using the methods recommended in the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals, were negative.Download OIE Reply_ISA_Ms Morton.pdf (474.2K)

So apparently the OIE thought the CFIA was investigating the BC ISA virus positive results by retesting them using approved methods. The CFIA said they were going to “send the samples for testing…

On November 5, 2012, the CFIA talks about “disparate and non-repeatable results” from the Kibenge lab and recommends stripping the lab of its status.

On March 11, 2013 I ask the CFIA about their follow-up testing and the CFIA responded they are not doing any follow-up testing on my samples at all!

So to confirm, we are not doing any diagnostic testing and will not be doing any diagnostic testing for ISA whatsoever. No PCR testing, no virus isolation, no further diagnostic testing because such testing will be of no value to the CFIA at this time. (email, Gary Kruger, CFIA, March 22, 2013).

Shortly after writing this, Gary Kruger’s CFIA email started bouncing.

A few days after the OIE removed its authority and protection from the Kibenge lab the CFIA announced they sampled 4,175 wild salmon and could not find ISA virus. They used “virus isolation,” on wild salmon, a test that has never been demonstrated to work, and did not test any of the millions of Atlantic salmon in net pens in BC waters for this Atlantic virus. This means, the virus could be the farms and entering wild salmon and it will never be detected by the CFIA, even though fragments of the virus have been found in wild salmon by seven labs, most of them working for the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans.

An internal CFIA email produced by the Cohen Commission discussed winning the ISA public relations “war”? Download won the war DFO-599910[1] copy.pdf (199.8K)

“One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war, also.” (email Nov. 9. 2011, Joseph Beres CFIA).

Well, the CFIA did indeed “nail the surveillance piece.” They are using a test that has never worked on wild salmon. They are winning this “war”, by using a test that has never worked on wild salmon, they won’t retest the positive results by a leading lab and they won’t test the Atlantic salmon for this Atlantic virus. When I ask too many questions, emails start returning undelivered.

In response, to the OIE decertification of Dr. Kibenge’s lab several First Nations have written to the CFIA and the OIE stating they have samples of fish they have rights and title to in Dr. Kibenge’s lab and they expect the ISA virus testing to be carried out uninterrupted. Many First Nation fishermen worked with me to allow me to sample their catches these samples of Fraser River salmon are in Dr. Kibenge’s lab.

I am going to make a prediction here, based on current trends. The work I am doing with Dr. Kibenge is going to be shut down and only the CFIA will be allowed to report on ISA virus in BC. ISA virus will be successfully denied for some period of time and then there will be outbreaks, like Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are facing right now and we the public will pay to clean it up, we will have to reimburse the farmers if they are ordered to cull their diseased fish, we will eat these diseased fish as they will be sold in the markets and we will live the great experiment on impact of a ferocious Atlantic salmon virus on Pacific wild salmon. The companies will be covered and the price of farm salmon will go up in Chile, if all their BC farm salmon die. It’s a win win for them, loose, loose for the rest of us.

Before my work with the Kibenge lab, look at how Fisheries and Ocean Canada handled ISA virus positive test results in 100% of the most endangered Fraser River sockeye stock, the Cultus Lake sockeye. They hid them from the Cohen Commission, with absolutely no consequence to that lab. The Simon Jones/Garth Traxler lab have their names on a draft report on ISA virus detection in BC’s most endangered wild sockeye, a stock of salmon that caused entire fisheries closures at enormous losses to British Columbians, and they never went back to retest the fish, nor provided the document to the Cohen Commission despite specific orders to provide exactly this kind of information. One has to ask if this was done to protect the salmon feedlot industry from trade disruption.


Piscine Reovirus Pt. 2: Evolution of a New Salmon Virus


Read part 1 of this story here

Strange things can happen when salmon eat chickens. Such a diet is unprecedented and bizarre, a violation of the biological order that has occurred over millions of years of evolutionary history. Nature, it seems, does the unusual when human ingenuity tampers with its traditions. And the consequences can be dire. But this is a complex subject that requires some context — an understanding of details first requires an understanding of principles.

Evolution is not as simple as we thought. Darwin’s theory of natural selection only describes the slow “vertical” transfer of genetic material from parent to offspring used by large animals and plants. But the microbial world of bacteria and viruses also does a “horizontal” transfer of genetic material between similar and different organisms by a non-sexual means. This microbial capability — operating since early life on our planet billions of years ago — is a genetic free-for-all in which DNA is exchanged like goods at a swap-meet. These opportunistic organisms use this genetic process to optimize change in their individual traits and thereby accelerate evolution. Their only requirement is that they be brought together in close proximity.

We’ve already experienced the consequences. Many of our common human diseases have come to us from farmed animals through the horizontal transfer of novel genetic material — thanks to globalization and industrial agriculture, at least 30 have occurred since 1970. So the crowded conditions in poultry or salmon farms provide the perfect combination of density and stress that allows viruses to exchange genetic material with each other. The result can increase their virulence, allow them to infect a new species, or even create an entirely novel version of themselves — in taxonomy, a new genus. Which brings us to salmon and viruses.

The fish in the salmon farm in Norway that first began to exhibit strange symptoms in 1999 were infected with a new disease later identified as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI). The symptoms were a pale and soft heart muscle, yellowish liver, swollen spleen and other swellings. Infection rates in pens were as high as 20%, with morbidity close to 100%. HSMI was extremely infectious, soon spreading to 417 other salmon farms in Norway, then to facilities in the United Kingdom. Indeed, HSMI was discovered to be so infectious that it threatened wild fish that came in contact with the farms or with infected fish that escaped from them. Tests indicate HSMI has arrived in British Columbia.

PLOS One published a scientific article on July 9, 2010, entitled “Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation of Farmed Salmon is Associated with Infection with Novel Reovirus” (Gustavo Palacios, W. Ian Lipkin, et al.), linking HSMI with this “novel” piscine reovirus (PRV). The article’s Abstract claims to “provide evidence that HSMI is associated with infection with piscine reovirus”, presumably the way AIDS is associated with HIV — one is a full-blown version of the other. The article claims that “PRV is a novel reovirus identified by unbiased high throughput DNA sequencing”, that “PRV is the causative agent for HSMI”, and that “measures must be taken to control PRV not only because it threatens domestic salmon production but also due to the potential for transmission to wild salmon populations.” Indeed, as Veterinary Research (4.06, Apr. 9/12) finds, “PRV is almost ubiquitously present in Atlantic salmon marine farms, and detection of PRV alone does not establish an HSMI diagnosis.”

If PRV is so prevalent and it does develop into HSMI as research suggests, this is a problem for salmon farming. But it strikes terror in those concerned about the health of wild salmon and the ecologies than depend on them. Indeed, PRV and HSMI may already be doing enough damage to be imperilling BC’s wild salmon runs.

The clue to the origin and virulence of the PRV/HSMI virus and disease comes from the PLOS One article and the word “novel”. Two general kinds of the family of “Reoviridae” virus occur in the fauna community. One is an orthoreovirus, which includes both a mammalian and an avian strain. The other is an aquareovirus which is exclusive to aquatic animals. An analysis of the genetic material of the piscine reovirus identifies it as distinctly different from the two general groups, but situates it exactly between them, embodying half the attributes of the avian orthoreovirus and half the attributes of the aquareovirus. In other words, PRV is a new genus, designated GU994015 PRV, that has combined the traits of a bird virus and an aquatic virus. This probably explains why it is so infectious. But how did it become so “novel”?

The answer may be found in the chicken wastes that the salmon farming industry has been adding to its salmon feed — just the conditions that would provide viruses with the perfect opportunity to transfer genetic material horizontally. This would explain how the aquareovirus was able to exchange useful DNA with the avian orthoreovirus to develop a new virulent version of itself to infect fish, manifesting as the novel piscine reovirus and then with the clinical symptoms of HSMI. This suspicion is confirmed by a related article in PubMed (May, 2013) entitled “Piscine reovirus encodes a cytotoxic, non-fusogenic, integral membrane protein and previously unrecognized virion outer-capsid proteins”. According to the article, “Recent sequence-based evidence suggests that PRV is about equally related to members of the genera Orthoreovirus and Aquareovirus.” In other words, PRV seems to be a unique or “novel” virus created by combining the genetic material from two distinctly different viruses, one related to birds and the other related to aquatic animals — the first such amalgamation that has occurred since the divergence of the virus 49 to 52 million years ago (Journal of General Virology, Aug. 2002, vol. 83, no. 8, 1941-1951).

The discoverers of this virus, Gustavo Palacios, W. Ian Lipkin et al., are so confident of the causative relationship between PRV and HSMI that they have applied for a patent on the “immunogenic compositions and methods for inducing an immune response against Piscine reoviruses” (Pub. No.: US 2013/0058968 A1, March 7, 2013).

This preventative option might provide some hope for farmed salmon, but how exactly wild salmon would be immunized is a mystery. And a worrisome sentence occurs in another PLOS One article (June 5/12) entitled, “Atlantic Salmon Reovirus Infection Causes a CD8 T Cell Myocarditis in Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar L.). “The etiology of myocarditis (cause of heart inflammation) in humans remains unknown in most cases but an association with a viral infection has attracted a lot of attention over the years.”

For other related information on piscine reovirus, please go to


How Cohen Recommendations, Termination Clause and BCNDP Can End Risk to Wild Salmon Economy


Independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton has worked tirelessly and endlessly to raise awareness about the threat open net pen salmon farms presents to our coast.

For decades now, this frequently published scientist has worked to understand the impacts of this industry on wild salmon. She has also clearly demonstrated that the entirety of the wild salmon economy far and away exceeds the importance of this one industry alone.

The Wild Salmon economy dwarfs, by any measure, the economic benefit of fish farming and it makes no sense to continue putting the health of our wild salmon at risk as a result. This was covered in Damien Gillis’ recent article in The Common Sense Canadian – which notes the staggering disparity between the sport fishing and salmon-dependent tourism economy and the paltry jobs and economic value provided by salmon farms.

The video below is from a recent screening of Salmon Confidential, a stunning documentary which has taken BC by storm, generating 115,000 views online and packed halls around the province since its release last month.

This short clip includes Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, Alexandra Morton and a Provincial Candidate for the BCNDP, Gary Holman. Highlighted in the video is the current position of the BCNDP.

For the past few months the NDP has claimed that the Provincial Government has no jurisdiction or capacity to move on the information Alexandra has provided on viruses affecting wild and farmed salmon and bring an end to the threat to the Wild Salmon economy and deeply entrenched coastal culture of this great province.

However, the NDP has committed to “adopting the Cohen Commission recommendations“, which include a focus on applying the “Precautionary Principle” when dealing with the future of this industry and removing salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by 2020, unless DFO can prove they are having “less than minimal impact.”

This is a very welcome development. It means the NDP has committed to exercising this important Precautionary Principle when establishing policy related to this industry.

With that knowledge, let’s turn to the notion that BC has no jurisdiction as a result of a recent lawsuit which saw the Federal Government assume much of the oversight of the industry.

While this is essentially true, there is in fact a little known clause that exists in the agreements the Province holds with each and every fish farm.

It is an exit clause in their tenures which can be exercised within 60 days – with no compensation – that revokes the license for them to operate, if it is in the public interest. (See the full occupation license here)

Here is the exact text from Section 5, Subsection 8

8.1(g) (Termination) states that Marine Harvest agrees with the Province that “if we require the Land for our own use or, in our opinion, it is in the public interest to cancel this Agreement and we have given you 60 days’ written notice of such requirement or opinion, this Agreement will, at our option and with or without entry, terminate your right to use and occupy the Land.”

s. 8.3(a) goes further, and states, “You agree with us that (a) you will make no claim for compensation, in damages or otherwise, upon the lawful termination of this Agreement under section 8.1.” (emphasis added)

Given the NDP has adopted the Cohen Commission recommendation of exercising the Precautionary Principle, and there is ample evidence that our wild salmon are at risk, it is time we encourage the NDP to focus on these licenses, and engage this industry in a proactive fashion in a bid to eliminate this unacceptable risk to the economy and long established culture that healthy wild salmon supports.

Let’s all encourage those NDP candidates seeking your vote to honor their commitment to adopt the Precautionary Principle as recommended by the Cohen Commission.

And let’s press each and every one of them to act on these license agreements, with a focus on resolving this clear and indisputable threat, by asking them to execute the termination clause for fish farms licensed to operate on wild salmon migration routes.

If the NDP wants to be seen as credible on their claim of adopting Cohen’s recommendations and do whats right for the economy, then they must act now and follow though on their commitment while supporting the growth of the Wild Salmon economy – already more than ten times bigger than the salmon farming industry.


Salmon Confidential


Anyone who has been following the sorry saga of inexplicable diseases and unusual mortality in BC’s wild salmon will not be surprised that the information in Twyla Roscovich’s documentary, Salmon Confidential, links the source of this trouble to the salmon farming industry. The surprise, however, is the impact of such information when its complexity is condensed to an intense 70 minutes.

The documentary, of course, is guided by its own perspective. But this perspective is supported by such compelling and powerful circumstantial evidence that it incriminates the salmon farming industry and the government agencies so obviously accommodating and protecting it. If the health of wild salmon are at risk, these are prime suspects.

Twyla Roscovich, with her keen filming and editing skills, presents a convincing case. But the highest accolades go to Alexandra Morton, the indefatigable BC biologist whose worries about the safety of wild salmon and the entire ecology they support have become her life’s concern. Her research and investigations have brought the public’s attention to the alien diseases threatening native Pacific salmon. It was ostensibly her work that resulted in the reconvening of the Cohen Commission to hear new evidence on previously undisclosed viral infections in wild fish. This testimony subsequently led to the incriminating recommendations in Justice Cohen’s Report, which clearly question the environmental safety of salmon farms.

Morton’s evidence linking salmon farms to diseases in wild salmon has now initiated “the world’s largest study of salmon health” headed by the genetics expert, Dr. Kristi Miller, the same researcher who refused to be silenced by the ministerial pressures of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans where she is still employed. This 5-year study, involving DFO, Genome BC and the Pacific Salmon Foundation will use state-of-the-art technology developed by Dr. Miller to examine salmon diseases from farmed, hatchery and wild sources.

Yet another consequence of Morton’s heroic efforts, belatedly announced on March 23rd by the BC government, is a moratorium until 2020 on any further expansion of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area, that narrow cluster of passages where many wild fish are compelled to migrate on their journey from and back to their nascent rivers.

This situation, the film contends, is a death trap. One of the most searing images in Salmon Confidential is of a single surviving salmon swimming upstream past the white corpses of thousands of dead and unspawned fish. Something alien, unusual and traumatic is happening to BC’s wild salmon, testament to an unfolding ecological tragedy. Norway has confronted this same problem by banning salmon farms from the migration routes of wild fish. Why then, according to evidence given by one DFO official at the Cohen Commission’s reconvened hearings, has no such application ever been refused on BC’s coast?

A memorable and revealing moment occurs in Salmon Confidential when Dr. Kristi Miller testifies that DFO warned her not to do any testing if she didn’t know what the ramifications would be. In other words, this government agency has an unofficial agenda that could be compromised by an inconvenient scientific discovery. Placing ignorance ahead of knowledge is the perfect formula for environmental catastrophe.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, seems to have a similar unofficial agenda. Infectious salmon anemia is designated a reportable disease of global health concern. If the CFIA should find ISA in BC farmed salmon, international protocol would require that all exports stop. So the solution to this problem, according to Salmon Confidential, is to not find the disease. The documentary explores the complex ends to which the CFIA has gone in order to hide evidence — complete with a threatened government Bill 37 (2012) that would forbid any individual from revealing the existence of such diseases as ISA. The reality is that at least two other new diseases in wild salmon, piscine reovirus and salmon alphavirus, have also been linked to salmon farms.

Despite the serious tone of Salmon Confidential, the documentary does have moments of levity. When salmon farmers refused to give Morton any samples of their fish for testing, she and her fellow investigators found an ingenious solution. They simply bought farmed salmon from a local supermarket — of the 11 fish carefully dated and identified with the name of the grower, 3 tested positive for ISA. And when Morton decided that testing dying fish from a salmon farm would be the definitive evidence, she was even denied “mortes”. As the researchers plotted how to surreptitiously recover a sample, an eagle picked up one of the carcasses and unceremoniously delivered some crucially important body parts to a nearby rock.

But Salmon Confidential is much more serious than it is entertaining. For anyone who cares about the future of wild salmon in British Columbia, this is a film that must be seen. It identifies Twyla Roscovich as a skilled documentarian and places Alexandra Morton in the pantheon of heroic environmentalists — not to mention a competent scientist and a gifted detective. Both these women have the insight, perseverance and fortitude to help save BC’s ecological future as they shake the edifice of deception and duplicity that they characterize as the history of salmon farming in British Columbia.

By coincidence, Salmon Confidential was finished in time for the upcoming provincial election in May. Both Roscovich and Morton hope its timely arrival makes the protection of wild salmon a part of the political conversation. Indeed it should, given the crucial importance of these iconic fish to BC’s identity and ecology. The film is now touring the province and will be shown around the province over the next several months. See showing details here.


Of Frogs and Fishes: Farms Spawn Lethal Diseases


A lethal fungus has spread around the world, killing frogs at a rate 40,000 times faster than at any time since these amphibian species formed some 360 million years ago. Habitat loss is a factor, too, as wetlands are drained and forests are cut. But the most lethal and uncontainable enemy of frogs — and salamanders, too — is a single-celled fungus called Batrachochytrium dentrobatidis (Bd), a very strange killer since it belongs to a family of fungi that has long co-existed with frogs and has been relatively harmless. What happened to make it lethal is a mystery biologists set out to explain (NewScientist, July 7/12).

At first they suspected that climate change might be creating the ideal conditions for the fungus to flourish. Another candidate was pollutants. But the definitive answer came when researchers sequenced the genome and discovered that samples of the lethal Bd collected from everywhere in the world were essentially identical.

Dr. Matthew Fisher, an epidemiologist from Imperial College London, calls this variant “the global panzootic lineage”. Since it doesn’t survive in salt water and it has no airborne stage, it had to be getting from continent to continent with the help of people.

Two species of frogs have been traded internationally for decades. One is the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis), used for research purposes, and the other is the North America bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), used for meat. Both species are relatively resistant to Bd so they could carry it undetected to wild frogs — this vector was confirmed when the first two outbreaks of Bd in wild frogs were detected in a site downstream from a bullfrog farm in the Philippines and in a newly established bullfrog population in a lake in the United Kingdom.

The other factor contributing to Bd’s virulence is the crowded conditions in which captive frogs are bred. In a wild environment, “natural selection tends to make diseases less virulent, because pathogens that rapidly kill their hosts have less chance of spreading. In crowded conditions, however, evolution favours the nasty” (Ibid.).

Somewhere in a frog farm, two related species of Bd combined to form a new and lethal variant. It was then distributed around the world with the farmed frogs. In other words, the Bd that is killing hapless wild frogs everywhere on Earth is “our own Frankenstein monster” (Ibid.).

This scenario should be familiar because it corresponds exactly to net-pen salmon farming in BC’s West Coast where viruses have been brewing for years in crowded “feedlot” conditions. The prospect that these farms could import and then breed a lethal variant virus which could subsequently escape to wild salmon has been haunting independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton since her studies first found the same viral diseases in both farmed Atlantic salmon and native salmon stocks.

Morton worries that all the conditions are in place for a wild salmon catastrophe. Eggs that salmon farms import from around the world arrive with exotic diseases. Viruses flourish amid the hundreds of thousands of fish that are confined in individual net-pens, a threat accentuated by the fact that viral diseases are known to exchange genetic material to create new strains.

Pesticides, parasites, feces and diseases pass unobstructed through the net-pens into the surrounding marine ecosystem. And the industry has further increased the risk by choosing to locate many of their salmon farms along the migration routes of the wild fish.

Morton’s concerns are credible. Although motivated by a passion to protect wild salmon and the entire West Coast ecology they support, she nonetheless thinks like a scientist. Her arguments are rational, her studies are empirical, her gathering of data is rigorous, and her fears are justified. They are also shared by almost everyone who is free from the economic leverage purveyed by the salmon farming industry.

As Morton points out in her electronic newsletter, when the salmon farming industry first wanted to import Atlantic salmon eggs to the West Coast in the 1980s, the proposal was widely opposed by “the Steelhead Society of British Columbia, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, BC Ministry of Environment, even members of the federal fisheries salmon transplant committee, and the Director General of Fisheries and Oceans, Pacific Region… They all cited concern that exotic diseases would accompany these shipments.”

For this reason, in 1986, Dr. Dave Narver, Director of the BC Ministry of Environment, warned that the “introduction of exotic races of salmonids into British Columbia is probably the most critical issue ever to face the maintenance of wild salmon stocks.” In 1990, Pat Chamut, Director General of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, warned that the “continued large-scale introductions [of salmon eggs] from areas of the world including Washington State, Scotland, Norway and even eastern Canada would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in B.C. could be both biologically damaging to the resources and economically devastating to its user groups.”

Morton believes that the salmon farming industry, in conjunction with sympathetic government agencies, have set in place the conditions that could unleash a viral catastrophe in BC’s wild salmon populations. For her, the ingredients for crisis are in place and the waiting is agonizing.

The crisis of frogs and fishes is analogous. History repeatedly reminds us that our ignorance has a propensity to combine with our venality to create disasters. Frogs all over the planet are dying in massive numbers because we were instrumental in concocting a Bd “monster”. The possibility exists that we are about to inflict the same fate on our beloved wild salmon.