Feds must take threat [of ISA] seriously

The Daily News, 24 October 2011 By Walter Cordery

It wasn't until Alaskan and Washington state politicians raised the alarm about a potentially devastating salmon virus that has been detected in wild West Coast salmon stocks that Ottawa started to investigate the findings of a study by Simon Fraser University fisheries statistician Rick Routledge.

Initially, the Harper government described the study as "inconclusive."

New Democratic fisheries critic Fin Donnelly drew attention to concerns raised Thursday by three American senators who have made a bipartisan appeal to U.S. government officials to probe the possible spread of infectious salmon anemia.

The senators are calling on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to analyze the risk of it spreading.

"We need to act now to protect the Pacific Northwest's coastal economy and jobs," Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell said.

"Infectious salmon anemia could pose a serious threat to Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the thousands of Washington State jobs that rely on them."

Donnelly said Ottawa wasn't taking the SFU report seriously.

This shouldn't comes as a surprise. When it comes to aquaculture, both the Harper Conservatives and the Chretien/ Martin Liberals have thrown the "precautionary principle" out the window. That principle stems from the UN's Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It states: "In decision making, the precautionary principle is considered when possibly dangerous, irreversible, or catastrophic events are identified, but scientific evaluation of the potential damage is not sufficiently certain."

The precautionary principle implies an emphasis on the need to prevent such adverse effects. Canada was a signatory of the summit's final communiqué.

The ISA virus, previously limited to Atlantic salmon - including an outbreak that ravaged Chile's farm-raised salmon industry in 2007 and 2008 - was found in two out of 48 young sockeye salmon sampled from B.C. The findings were announced Monday in Vancouver by Routledge, who said the European strain of the virus they detected had only been identified before in farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

The research suggested that the virus in Canada originated from imports of Atlantic salmon and eggs into the Pacific Northwest, though no direct link has been confirmed.

When Donnelly pointed out ISA devastated corporate fish farms in Chile and with the pressure from West Coast American senators, the Harper government relented somewhat and agreed to look into the matter.

Federal officials are working to confirm reports that ISA has been detected in B.C. wild salmon stocks.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is investigating recent reports that infectious salmon anaemia has been detected in wild sockeye salmon in British Columbia." said a statement issued Friday.

They said they are now working closely with the Atlantic Veterinary College, which conducted initial testing for Routledge, to confirm the results.

It seems to me that if Ottawa really believed in the precautionary principle, it would halt the importation of Atlantic salmon eggs to B.C. and destroy any infected fish farms to stop the spread of this virus.

When Republican senators from Alaska echo the warnings of peer-reviewed scientists like Alexandra Morton that this finding poses a threat to B.C. salmon, it's time Ottawa took this matter seriously and do more than just study the findings.

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