Tests Confirm New Salmon Virus in Canadian Farmed Salmon Marketplace


Read this story from The Province on the confirmation of piscine rheovirus in farmed salmon sold in BC supermarkets. (April 14, 2012)

A newly identified Norwegian virus that affects salmon has made its way into Canadian markets, with test results confirming the presence of the virus in 44 out of 45 farmed salmon bought from Vancouver supermarkets.

The piscine reovirus, which causes heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in salmon, was found in fish bought by advocacy group SalmonAreSacred.org. The stores’ seafood departments told the group the fish were B.C.-raised farmed salmon, SalmonAreSacred said in a news release.

Alexandra Morton, the biologist who discovered the infected fish, questioned if that information from store staff was accurate.

The virus is considered a “major challenge” in Norway, infecting more than 400 farms since its first appearance in 1999. Since then, it has also spread to the U.K, and as of last year, Chile.

“If they were imported, that is a huge concern,” said Morton.

The origin of the infected fish, which has yet to be confirmed, will dictate whether the Canadian fish industry is at risk or if imports need a more thorough scanning process. The virus has not yet been found in Canadian farmed or wild fish populations, Morton suggested, but she is fearful it will show up.

Based on the diversity in the shape and size of the fish, Morton’s impression is that they’re coming from different farms.

“I bought these fish from several different stores on several different days and they all are coming up positive with the virus,” she said. “They also looked different — long and skinny in some stores and quite large in others.”

She said the salmon could have come from a number of places, including Norway, Chile and Eastern Canada, although there is no proof of the virus’ existence there.

Morton explained that identifying the source of the salmon, whether imported or not, is “very important,” as the disease itself could live in just an egg.

“These are questions that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Department of Fisheries and Oceans should be answering, and potentially the supermarket.”

She said the solution that the industry should be imposing is to identify the source of the disease, temporarily contain it, then kill off the infected fish — all in a transparent process.