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Highest Density of Infected Wild Salmon Near Highest Density of Fish Farms.Photo: Alexandra Morton

Federal court rules farmed salmon should be tested for PVR

Click on the flag for more information about Canada CANADA
Thursday, February 07, 2019, 02:50 (GMT + 9)

The Federal Court annulled a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) policy connected to a lethal virus that has the potential to infect wild chinook salmon in British Columbia (B.C.) waters.

The retrovirus Piscine, or PRV, is highly contagious and often found in fish farms off the B.C. coast, many of which are positioned along wild salmon migration routes.

Salmon farming companies would not give Morton access to their fish, so the team of scientists bought 262 farmed salmon and 35 farmed steelhead from supermarkets. Tests found PRV in 95 per cent of the salmon and 69 per cent of the steelhead. Photo: Alexandra Morton

Justice Cecily Strickland ruled that transferring the fish without screening them for PRV presence, “perpetuates a state of wilful blindness on the part of the (Minister of Fisheries) with respect to the extent of PRV infection in hatcheries and fish farms.”

Marine biologist and industry critic Alexandra Morton celebrated this decision, and said that the DFO and provincial scientists have known PRV is affecting chinook salmon for years.

The rule, which deals with lawsuits brought forward by Morton and ‘Namgis First Nation, gives DFO four months to develop a new policy on PRV. It also states that DFO breached its duty to consult ‘Namgis First Nation about PRV policy.

From the DFO, they said that the questioned regulation is being revised.

“We take the duty to consult with Indigenous groups very seriously and our government is engaging in meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to form our policy decisions,” said Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson.

“Strong, science-based approach to regulating the aquaculture industry is essential and that is why we have and will continue to conduct extensive research which informs our policies and regulation,” he added.

In Atlantic populations, PRV causes a disease known as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), a temporary condition that tends to heal if the fish aren’t eaten by predators first.

Among Pacific wild fish, this disease causes the cells of wild chinook salmon to burst, leading to organ failure.

A 2018 study led by a DFO scientist found that PRV is linked to a deadly type of anemia in at least one species of wild B.C. salmon.

Open net-pen fish farms amplify virus populations because there are no natural predators that would cull the infected salmon. The virus then spreads to passing wild populations.

Kegan Pepper-Smith of Ecojustice, who served as legal counsel for Morton, said the court found that DFO’s threshold for acceptable harm to B.C.’s salmon population was too high, and that its policy didn’t comply with the precautionary principle.

The decision is currently being reviewed by the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association. The organization is looking forward to a PRV risk assessment by the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat that’s currently underway, according to Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the group.

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