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No cases of infectious salmon anemia in B.C., food agency says

A DFO technician takes scale and otoliths samples from dead Sockeye Salmon in the Adams River October 26, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Tests on 48 wild salmon samples have found no cases of infectious salmon anemia in B.C., a Canadian Food Inspection Agency official says.

Con Kiley, director of the agency's national aquatic animal health program, said Tuesday the tests the Fisheries Department did were verified by an independent lab in Norway.

The samples were tested after a laboratory at the University of Prince Edward Island discovered what it suspected was the highly infectious salmon anemia in juvenile sockeye from Rivers Inlet on B.C.'s Central Coast.

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Paul Kitching, the chief veterinary officer for B.C., said anyone who says the virus is present in the province based on the PEI results, which involve a small sample size, is misrepresenting the science.

"I can also say that as editor-in-chief of an international veterinary journal, this would be considered poor science and not likely publishable."

The ongoing Cohen Commission, which is studying what caused the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run in 2009, will hold two days of hearings next month to put details of the virus on record.

Fred Kibenge, the PEI scientist who made the findings, has not commented on them and has repeatedly referred calls to the food inspection agency.

Rick Routledge, a Simon Fraser University researcher based in Burnaby, B.C., said he sent the PEI lab the 48 samples from Rivers Inlet.

However, he said the testing done in Norway leaves some questions.

"He got one positive test result he couldn't repeat," likely because the samples were of poor quality, Prof. Routledge said.

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"I feel that what is needed more than anything else is that more fresh samples be collected under rigorous protocols," he said, adding he didn't freeze his samples in ideal conditions because the temperature wasn't cold enough.

Opponents of B.C.'s aquaculture industry have said the presence of infectious salmon anemia could be the "smoking gun" to 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.

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