Thursday, December 1, 2011

Washington Senator Cantwell Criticizes BC Salmon Virus Coverup - Will Begich and Murkowski Weigh In?

BC salmon rearing pens - filled with antibiotics
In British Columbia there has been a lot of concern about the possible impact of Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus passing from farmed Atlantic Salmon to wild stocks.  Media outlets and politicians in Washington State have been paying more attention to the host of issues related to revelations coming out on this than have been ours here in Alaska.

Back in August, I wrote a post that brought up the Cohen Commission inquiry, which was constituted mostly to investigate declines in Fraser River Sockeye returns.  This week, media attention has turned toward new revelations:
A decade before this fall's salmon-virus scare, a Canadian government researcher said she found a similar virus in more than 100 wild fish from Alaska to Vancouver Island.

Canadian officials never told the public or scientists in the United States about those tests -- not even after evidence of the virus discovered in October was treated as an international emergency, according to documents and emails obtained by The Seattle Times.

The researcher's work surfaced only this week after she sought and was denied permission by a Canadian official to try to have her old data published in a scientific journal.
Scientists and wild-fish advocates long have feared the arrival of infectious salmon anemia, or ISA virus, a pathogen linked to aquaculture that has killed millions of farmed salmon in Europe and Chile. 

They say it could mutate and devastate wild fish stocks.

The virus never has been confirmed on the West Coast by follow-up tests, but word of the earlier research raises new questions about the Canadian agency charged with assessing the risk.

Environmentalists in Canada and some U.S. politicians worry that Fisheries and Oceans Canada may be ill-equipped to deal aggressively with the risk because it's responsible both for protecting the country's wild fish and for promoting British Columbia's salmon farms.
Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell has already voiced her concern on the ISA issue:
Sen. Maria Cantwell is calling for stronger communication between American and Canadian officials following the disclosure that Canada failed to reveal the results of tests that appear to show the presence of a potentially deadly salmon virus nearly a decade before a salmon-virus scare this fall.

A Canadian researcher's work surfaced this week after she sought and was denied permission by a Canadian official to try to have her old data published.

Researchers with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia announced in October they had detected infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, in two wild juvenile Pacific salmon collected from the province's central coast, prompting fears the influenza-like virus could wreck the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry.

U.S. scientists say they're disappointed the Canadians never mentioned the researcher's earlier, 2002 work.
The proximity of the Fraser River, which enters salt water just below Vancouver, BC, to Washington fisheries is important to fishers down there.  However, the  relationships between wild Southeastern Alaska salmon stocks and those of BC on the high seas, and inflow toward spawning areas, are very important too.

Let's hope that Alaska's salmon scientists and politicians get involved in the quest for truth on how this has been handled, and on how serious this problem actually might be.

One thing that is quite obvious from the way Dr. Kibenge's 2002-2003 findings were handled internally is that when agencies are charged both with policing and promoting an industry - in this case salmon farming - scientific truth and transparency is often the first victim.  We've seen probable evidence of this in Alaska, with the hounding and vilification of Drs. Charles Monnett and Jeffrey Gleason by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the US Justice Department and the Department of the Interior.

The Alaska media has been notably silent on important aspects of these issues.

1 comment:

Gary said...

That's crazy. I honestly had no idea that they Alaska salmon were affected by such a scary virus. Can you tell me a little bit more about this? How did it get started? How did it effect the commercial salmon fishing industry? Should I be worried about eating salmon? Sorry for so many questions, I just want to know all of these things.