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CONTRIBUTION · 13th April 2012
Alexandra Morton
HSMI - salmon heart disease

Test results report 44 out of 45 farm salmon purchased from the Superstore and T&T markets throughout Vancouver tested positive for a newly identified Norwegian virus. The piscine reovirus weakens the fish’s heart causing Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). HSMI is considered a “major challenge” in Norway infecting over 400 farms since it’s symptoms first appeared in 1999. It has also spread to the U.K. The lab reports the virus appears to be the same as found in Norway.

Because scientists only recently identified the virus causing this disease, no screening was possible for the 30 million Atlantic farm salmon eggs imported into BC prior to 2011. When detected for the first time in Chile last year, Sernapesca, the fisheries regulator, responded with “intensified preventative measures.” Reports of HSMI in Chile drove industry share values down.

The virus reportedly spreads easily to wild fish near the pens like “wildfire”. It is known to infect 100% of the fish in a farm, killing up to 20%, causing them to stop feeding and become weak and lethargic. While farm salmon can recover, these behaviours are likely lethal to wild salmon.

The Provincial farm salmon health records released by the Cohen Commission did not report HSMI. The Cohen Commission Technical Report on Disease and Parasites did not consider HSMI impact on Fraser sockeye. Author, Dr. Michael Kent, testified if HSMI appears in BC it would come from the wild fish (Aug. 23, 2012). Dr. Miller, from the DFO Genomic Lab testified on Dec. 15 that she is detecting the virus in wild sockeye. Because these fish were purchased from a supermarket, their originals are unknown.

“If these fish are not from BC, we have a breach in food security protocol as this virus is going down drains into the ocean as people prepare them for cooking. If the fish were raised in BC, why didn’t anyone in government or industry acknowledge HSMI during the Cohen Inquiry?” says biologist Alexandra Morton, “there is something very wrong when four women with shopping carts find this, but none of the regulatory agencies seem aware of it. I don’t see how Cohen can ignore the potential for HSMI impact Fraser sockeye. Weakening the heart of a fish that has to travel 100s of km against the Fraser River seems a bad idea.”

“This hurts,” says Anissa Reed, co-founder of the, “even with everything I heard at Cohen, I was still hoping the industry, Christy Clark and Stephen Harper were being a little more careful with wild salmon. I want to know what DFO’s response is to this.”

Morton and Reed hope the Province of BC will report which lease these fish came from. BC grants the licenses of occupation for each salmon farm and so is responsible for the fact the farms are sited in BC’s most important wild salmon habitat. “We need to know, so we can go there and have a look at how the wild salmon are doing with this disease. Someone has to be testing the wild salmon for this.”

In the 1991, Pat Chamut, Director General DFO Pacific Region said: “Continued large-scale introductions from areas of the world including Washington State, Scotland, Norway and even eastern Canada would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in BC could be both biologically damaging to the resource and economically devastating to its user groups” (Chamut former ADM, DFO, to Sarna, Director of Pacific Rim & Trade, Policy Division, International Directories, DFO, 1990). It would appear he was right.

Further testing is underway to determine where the fish were raised and the origins of the virus. The lab sequenced the virus in many samples and found it 99% identical to Norwegian strains of Piscine reovirus.
Comment by Michael Bruce on 14th April 2012
So, we are all concerned about our wild salmon stocks. And we should be!

But what about the fish in pens? Is this not the sickest abuse of a species? They belong in a special ecosystem that works for them and they work for it.
Now they are on the other side of the continent, stuffed into tight little enclosures, fed pellets like feedlot cattle nad then, exposed to disease that propogates in crowded squallid conditions.

I just realized that maybe we should also be advocating for the welfare of these poor entities that are just raised for "food". What a crappy existence!

Did they want to live their lives in a pen, getting diseases that made them the pathetic individuals they are. An Atlantic Salmon belongs in the Atlantic godammit!
Oh great.
Comment by MaggieJo Johnson on 14th April 2012
Great. Just great. There go meatless Fridays.
Some other Planet?
Comment by Michael Bruce on 14th April 2012
Those are some weird looking fish. Sick, sick, sick. Wouldn't feed them to my family!