U.S. senators raise alarm over salmon virus

Postmedia News, 21 October 2011 By Peter O'Neil

The Harper government, which described as "inconclusive" tests showing British Columbia wild sockeye salmon have been infected with a potentially devastating virus, isn't taking the matter as seriously as top politicians in the U.S., the House of Commons was told Thursday.

The New Democratic Party drew attention to a statement issued earlier in the day 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, describing the disease as "the Canadian salmon virus," 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.

Simon Fraser University fisheries statistician Rick Routledge said two infected fish were among 48 smolts sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island at the suggestion of B.C. salmon biologist Alexandra Morton, an outspoken critic of the fish farm industry.

"The U.S. recognizes the urgent need to protect their coastal economy and jobs, but this government is mute," NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly said during question period.

"Don't they understand the scale of this new threat? Will the minister tell Canadians exactly what emergency actions he'll take?"

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield read out a statement saying the disease has "never been found" in B.C. farmed salmon and that his department has tested wild salmon three times this year. All three tests were negative.

Ashfield said the positive results for the two salmon from Rivers Inlet, a popular salmon-fishing area on the central coast, are "far from conclusive."

© The Victoria Times Colonist