Virulent Fish Disease Strikes Nootka Sound Fish Farms
Disease Infects 3 BC Salmon Farms—Puts Wild Salmon at Risk
For Immediate release: June 22, 2016
SOINTULA, BC: A highly virulent fish disease has infected three salmon farms in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, near Gold River, just before wild salmon begin their migration back into the area to spawn. Nootka Sound is home to a popular and lucrative sport fishery for five species of salmon, including Chinook or spring salmon—the primary food of Orca whales.
Grieg Seafood BC has posted on their website a ‘media release’ that does not appear to have been picked up by any media, to the effect that furunculosis has broken out on three farms in Nootka Sound. In the release, Grieg claims the disease does not impact wild salmon; however, a recent $37 million federal inquiry—the Cohen Commission—concluded this disease is of high risk to wild salmon.
Furunculosis can spread between farmed and wild fish and has caused severe losses of farmed and wild salmon internationally. While this disease is endemic to B.C., the densely stocked fish farms amplify pathogen loads to dangerous levels and cause pathogens to mutate to higher levels of virulence.
According to company reports, over 15,000 fish have been removed from the farms to date.
“Given the evidence that this highly virulent disease affects all species of salmon, we simply cannot understand how Grieg can justify their claim that this disease does not impact wild salmon,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director of Living Oceans Society. “This is one of the most studied diseases of fish and there is clear scientific consensus that it affects wild salmonids.”
Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist who has been researching impact of salmon farms for more than two decades, said, “In response to concerns from workers I took a helicopter overflight of the affected farms. We saw rotting salmon being pumped into large dumpsters on a barge. There was a slick of rotting fish oil flowing out of the farm. After the massive furunculosis outbreaks in the 1990s the Kingcome Inlet Chinook vanished and all the lodges pulled out of the area. I thought they had this disease under control with vaccinations. I guess not.”
A 2015 Federal Court ruling prohibits transfer of diseased farmed salmon into sea pens without ministerial permission.
Morton and Living Oceans were unable to determine the cause of the farmed salmon deaths until Greig posted information on its website. Nothing related to the event appears on the DFO website, where the most recent Fish Health Audit and Surveillance report is dated in 2013.
In July 2015, a federal Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans called for a national database that would offer the public access to information about each and every aquaculture operator in the country and what was happening on their farms. The committee determined that such transparency was needed if this industry wanted to obtain the social licence to operate in Canada’s waters.
Alexandra Morton 250-974-7086
Karen Wristen 604-788-5634