Infectious Salmon Anemia in BC? Rules keep fish findings under wraps


From the Times-Colonist – May 5, 2011

by Judith Lavoie

Too many fishy secrets, buried in documents filed with the Cohen
Commission of Inquiry, are being kept under wraps even though they
could affect the health of wild salmon, according to the biologist and
anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton.

Morton, like other
participants in the inquiry looking into the decline of Fraser River
sockeye, has signed a legal undertaking not to disclose the contents of
395,000 documents filed with the commission until they become exhibits
and part of the public record.

The rules were expanded last
month and are being interpreted by the commission’s lawyers as
including all applications, correspondence and legal material filed by

That means no information about applications made
to a public inquiry can be made public — including a letter this week
asking that Morton be released from her secrecy undertaking to allow
her to report information to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency about
an infectious salmon virus. Information about the virus was gleaned
from the business records of salmon farms which are among stacks of
documents filed with the commission.

“The level of secrecy is
ramping up and, by not reporting things that are reportable by law, we
have a problem,” said Morton, who could not talk about her concerns
because of the secrecy undertaking.

“It’s a terrible situation. I am at my wits end.”

Greg McDade, Morton’s lawyer, said the commission’s work should be public.

currently, the rules preclude me from telling you what’s in the
letter, they preclude me from telling you what the issue is and they
preclude me from telling you what the ruling is,” McDade said. “Hence
our concern … All I can tell you is that I can’t comment.”

a meeting of lawyers Tuesday, some are hoping the secrecy dispute will
now go to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, who is heading the

Sources say that records indicate that infectious salmon
anemia may have been found in fish from a salmon farm tested in
provincial laboratories and there are also suggestions that symptoms
were seen in Pacific salmon, which could indicate a new virus, similar
to ISA, is spreading among wild salmon in the northeast Pacific.

is a disease that affects Atlantic and coho salmon and has wiped out
fish farm stock in Norway, Scotland and Chile. An outbreak in New
Brunswick in the late 1990s resulted in almost 10 million farmed salmon
having to be killed.

Although most Pacific salmon are believed
to be resistant to ISA, the virus can mutate and evolve. For years,
activists such as Morton have said it could threaten wild Pacific
salmon runs.

Carla Shore, spokeswoman for the Cohen Commission,
confirmed that Morton has written to Commission counsel asking to be
released from the secrecy undertaking.

“But I can’t share the
letter from Ms. Morton’s lawyer or the response because they are
covered by the undertaking of confidentiality,” she said.

undertaking of confidentiality is very common in the legal process.
Participants have the opportunity to review all the documents and
participants can request that any documents be entered as an exhibit.”

a document makes it through the process and is entered as an exhibit
it becomes public, but aquaculture will not be examined by the
commission for some time, meaning none of the filed documents relating
to salmon farms can yet be made public.

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.