• On July 11, Virology Journal published a scientific paper co-authored by Dr. Fred Kibenge, myself and others reporting that a highly contagious European salmon virus is in BC. It appears piscine reovirus (PRV) arrived in BC waters around 2007. Virology is the first publication to note the occurrence of the virus outside of Norway. The authors show that the virus they found in BC closely matches the same virus in diseased Atlantic farmed salmon in Lofoten, Norway.
There is strong scientific evidence that Atlantic farmed salmon carried an exotic virus into BC. PRV is associated with a serious salmon heart disease. For anyone who takes a look at the science, it’s pretty hard to deny this one. Perhaps that is why Fisheries and Oceans Canada is completely silent.
Will the industry get away with it?
I first reported piscine reovirus in 2012 when I began buying farmed Atlantic salmon in BC supermarkets to test for European viruses. These fish also tested positive for segments of the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) and salmon alpha virus (SAV). These are all European viruses killing massive numbers of farmed salmon in Norway. None of these viruses were previously reported in BC. Most widespread in my samples is PRV.
In 100 Atlantic farmed salmon sampled in BC supermarkets, the PRV infection rate was a staggering 95+%. PRV is a tough, durable virus more easily detected than the fragile ISA virus. Unfortunately, these findings came too late to be included in the Cohen Commission into the decline of the Fraser sockeye, but they would have been important for this reason. Norwegian scientists don’t think a salmon with the heart disease associated with PRV can swim up a river.
Up to 90% of some sockeye runs that make it to the lower Fraser River no longer make it up the river to their spawning grounds. If close to 100% of the BC Atlantic salmon tested in BC supermarkets markets are infected with PRV, it stands to reason, that many, if not most, salmon farms on the Fraser sockeye migration route are also infected; BC wild salmon have to swim past many salmon farms to get to and from the river. One scientist warned that PRV can spread like “wildfire.”
Did this virus really come from Norway? Is it dangerous to wild salmon? Could it be responsible for declines in wild BC salmon? To answer the first question, we can only look at the science. PRV has never been reported outside of Norway. The strain in BC matches the strain in Norway.
Is it dangerous to salmon? Three scientific papers report that PRV appears to be causing Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). Marine Harvest is one of the largest salmon aquaculture companies in the world. The Norwegian company has operations in BC and cites HSMI as the second leading cause of death of their salmon worldwide.
Could it be a factor in BC wild salmon declines? Because we were finding it in wild salmon, filmmaker Twyla Roscovich went to Norway in May to ask the experts, on camera. The scientists were unanimous, emphatically stating that PRV causes HSMI, which damages the salmon’s heart to the point they are unable to pump blood. One scientist warned BC to get PRV- infected Atlantic salmon out of its waters before it’s too late. View the short film Asking Norway About the Piscine Reovirus at SalmonConfidential.ca
The Department of Wild Salmon is asking for the public’s help to stop the spread of this virus. For more info and to get involved, visit SalmonConfidential.ca
Alexandra Morton is an independent biologist in BC working to protect wild salmon. www.alexandramorton.typepad.com