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'Deadly exotic' virus found in BC salmon

A deadly virus that devastated Chile's aquaculture industry has now been found in young salmon captured off B.C.'s central coast.

Infectious Salmon Anaemia, or ISA, is an influenza-like virus that has only been found where salmon farms exist. It was first identified in Norway in 1984, and in 2007 was responsible for killing 70 per cent of the farmed salmon in Chile.

SFU professor Rick Routledge discovered the virus in two of 48 sockeye smolts collected as part of a long-term study he led on the collapse of Rivers Inlet sockeye populations.

According to Routledge, the only plausible source for the European strain of ISA virus that he found is contaminated eggs transported from Atlantic salmon farms to Pacific farms. Forty million Atlantic salmon eggs have been introduced into B.C. since 1986.

"ISA is a deadly exotic disease which could have devastating impacts on wild salmon and the many species that depend on them throughout much of British Columbia and beyond," stated Routledge in a press release. "The combined impacts of this influenza-like virus and the recently identified parvovirus that can suppress the immune system could be particularly deadly."

"The Cohen Inquiry revealed ISA symptoms have been reported in farm salmon in B.C. since 2006. The Fisheries Ministers have written me repeatedly that B.C. is safe from ISA. Clearly they are not in control of the situation," stated biologist Alexandra Morton, who received an honorary degree from SFU for her work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago. "If there is any hope, we have to turn off the source: Atlantic salmon have to be immediately removed."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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