Feds dispute salmon virus results

Studies claiming that a highly contagious fish virus exists in Pacific salmon were denied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Tuesday.

Studies claiming that a highly contagious fish virus exists in Pacific salmon were denied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Tuesday.

“There’s no evidence that ISA virus occurs in fish of the waters of British Columbia,” said Dr. Con Kiley, Director of the National Aquatic Animal Health Program with the agency. “We know that work has to continue throughout this investigation … but at this time, there is no evidence that ISA virus occurs in that part of the world.”

Nearly three weeks ago it was announced that, inside a Simon Fraser University laboratory, tissue samples from two of 48 young sockeye salmon collected on the province’s Central Coast tested positive for infectious salmon anemia.

A week later, more reports said samples of Pacific coho and chinook salmon taken from the Fraser River also tested positive for the virus.

The agency, along with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and British Columbia’s chief veterinary officer, retested those samples and collected and tested hundreds more samples of both wild and farmed fish.

Those tests came back negative for ISA, said Kiley.

All the testing was done in the same way and new samples were taken from the same areas, said Dr. Peter Wright with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The only explanation the scientists could give for the opposing findings was that the samples were severely degraded.

So degraded, in fact, that sharing them with Alaskan biologists hoping to do their own tests would “not be good science,” said Wright. “They’re in poor condition, we received them in poor condition, and moving them anywhere else is not going to help anybody.

“That’s why we call things inconclusive, because the degradation is so bad you can not form an opinion.

“The fact that they come up negative doesn’t really mean anything because they are so badly degraded.”

“Or you get a result that’s positive,” Kiley quickly interrupted.

“That’s a possibility too,” continued Wright. “Nevertheless, that’s why we have to go to confirmatory testing and basically, right now, as we’ve said, nobody’s got any sequencing data on these presumptive positives. So sharing these is really quite pointless.”

The agency and department’s investigation into the possibility that the ISA virus could exist in Pacific fish will continue.

“It is not completed,” said Kiley. “We have more work to do, we have more validation to do on the testing and at the end, we will describe what the entire investigation comes up with.”

But none of that continued investigation will be done in the Yukon, Kiley confirmed, after having to be reminded that the Yukon River is a Canadian body of water, shared with Alaska.

“We’re not anticipating to go there at this point in time. There’s no reason why we would,” he said.

“All of the testing that was done is all negative, so there’s no indicator that there would be any problems with ISA virus. It is not known to occur, to this moment in time, in the North Pacific.”

Kiley did not offer a timeline for when further, or final, findings from this investigation would be announced.

Infectious salmon anemia has no human health risks but it is deadly for fish. It has devastated the fish farming industries in Norway, Chile and on Canada’s Atlantic coast. See related story on page 53.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com