NS & NB: Report of suspected virus prompts outcry over fish farms

Keith Doucette
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The Canadian Press

The Ecology Action Centre is urging the provincial government to reconsider the industry's use of open-net pens after an incident at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm in Nova Scotia.

[HALIFAX, NS] — A suspected outbreak of a virus at a Nova Scotia fish farm highlights the risks involved in allowing wide-scale expansion of the aquaculture industry, a conservation group said Monday.

Susanna Fuller of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre said the provincial government should reconsider the industry's use of open-net pens after a seafood company reported a suspected case of infectious salmon anemia.

Cooke Aquaculture, based in New Brunswick, said it killed salmon in two cages after it detected the suspected outbreak on Feb. 10 at one of its nine fish farms in the province. Tests are being conducted to confirm whether the virus is present.

"This particular issue shows this industry is vulnerable," Fuller said in an interview.

Fuller said the government should consider increasing the use of closed containment tanks as a more ecologically sensitive option. She said there are three land-based tanks in the province and expanding their use would mean the end of using the marine environment as a  "toilet" for salmon farms.

"Closed containment basically means the companies have to pay for their environmental impacts," she said. "They have to look at sewage treatment ... and all of the things they would be getting for free from the ocean."

But Brett Loney, a spokesman for the province's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said it was too early to say whether the department would change its policies.

"It's really too early to speculate on any larger implications for the department or for the Nova Scotia aquaculture industry," said Loney. "These are suspect cases at one facility."

Loney said the department was working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to "heighten" surveillance and testing at fish farms across the province since the suspected case of infectious salmon anemia. However, he said officials didn't know how long the suspected virus may have been present before it was reported.

Jonathan Carr, a biologist with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said early detection would be key to containing any potential outbreak of the virus.

"The longer you wait and if the infection does prove positive, then there's the possibility that it could have spread through the water column several kilometres to another cage site," said Carr.

He said generally, divers check farm sites on a regular basis to look for dead or sick fish. He said those found are removed immediately for testing.

Cooke Aquaculture has said it reported the suspected outbreak following routine tests of its stocks.

The company did not return a call Monday to comment.

But the company sent an email saying it delayed an application to expand a fish farm in Shelburne Harbour on the province's southwest shore before the suspected outbreak was detected. No reason was given.

Loney said the department was informed of the company's intention to delay its application at the Middle Head site on Dec. 22.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says infectious salmon anemia is not a human health or food risk, but it can kill up to 90 per cent of infected fish, depending on its strain.

Opponents of the aquaculture industry have expressed concerns that the presence of salmon anemia could link wild salmon decline with fish farms. A European strain of the virus devastated fish farms in Chile, but it's not clear whether the virus affects wild salmon.

The source of the disease remains unknown. Critics of salmon farms blame the industry, but the industry vigorously contests the allegations.

Organizations: Ecology Action Centre, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Atlantic Salmon Federation

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Shelburne Harbour, Chile

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Recent comments

  • DC Reid
    February 22, 2012 - 10:46

    During the Cohen Commission in BC it was revealed by the experts, Miller, Nylund, and Kibenge that ISA is in BC, which is a tragedy as the Pacific has ten species of anadromous salmonids that could carry this disease and be wiped out. This could go as far as the western Pacific down Russia, Japan and so on. Here is a table that shows all the ISA outbreaks around the world since Norwegian fish farms developed the disease in 1984: http://fishfarmnews.blogspot.com/2011/10/isa-infections-world-wide-sine-1984.html. In-ocean open-net fish farms are an outdated form of aquaculture and the problems on the east coast are common in fish farms around the world. They need to be on land. Cohen testimony showed that DFO, the CFIA, their Moncton lab, and the BC provincial testing system all had conflicts of interest or had an issue with identifying ISA. If a company has destroyed their stock, you should be there and pick up some samples and prepare them in the right way for ISA testing. Kibenge is the expert here, but the CFIA has tried to block testing by persons other than the Moncton lab which has been shown to have outdated machinery and use a PCR regime that fails to identify ISA. Nylund is another expert with an open lab., in Norway Don't be fooled by government assurances, the CFIA for instance has as its mandate to keep trade in fish happening at its highest rate. It has no mandate for protecting the sea, other species, nor humans. Oh, and the more usual conversion rate of fish feces to human sewage is 10 fish per person, or, in this case, the sewage caused is the equivalent of 20,000 human beings.

  • Other Side
    February 22, 2012 - 01:07

    What is all the hubb bub about? This is huge loss tot he company and no environmental impact on humans or other living fish, crustations or mollusks in the area. On one so called "credible," so called environmentally conscious sites they said the 200,000 salmon excrete the same amount of fecal matter as 65,000 humans per day! (this was published on a ?????? website in Shelburne) Is this sound and credible from a "Green," source, you do the math, 200,000 fish, 2 years to reach maturity with an average weight of 5 kg at the end of the cycle and a food conversion rate of lets even go to a factor of 2:1 which is high. So in 2 years the fish excrete, 1370 kg per day. Humans, lets say excrete fecal matter of only 400 grams per day, this is 26,000 kg. I think the humans win that race easily. How much other hype and baloney is going around? What is the big deal, do some research, what is the environmental impact, who is it hurting other than the producer?