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Salmon test negative for infectious salmon anemia, Washington state study finds

A sockeye salmon is reeled in by a fisherman along the shores of the Fraser River near Chilliwack, B.C., Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010.


A new study in Washington State that tested more than 900 salmon has found no sign of infectious salmon anemia – a disease that is the focus of debate and controversy in British Columbia.

Although independent researcher Alexandra Morton and Simon Fraser University have been claiming since 2011 that ISA is present in B.C., no federal or provincial government agency has confirmed those findings.

Now the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, working in conjunction with several other groups, says wide ranging tests for the disease have all come back negative.

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"In Washington State, no signs of the disease or the virus have been documented in farmed, hatchery or wild salmon," the Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Thursday.

The statement says Pacific Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and steelhead, as well as some farm-raised Atlantic salmon were all tested in the first year of a two-year monitoring program.

Testing began after concerns were raised about ISA in B.C.

John Kerwin, fish health program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the study was comprehensive and it looked at fish from three major geographic regions in Washington.

But he said the study isn't complete yet.

"We want to do additional testing, specifically of the Atlantic salmon," he said.

Only 15 Atlantic salmon were tested in the first phase of the study.

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Marry Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, welcomed the results.

Her organization has long challenged the findings of Ms. Morton and SFU, saying federal labs have been unable to replicate the positive ISA results.

"This [Washington] study reinforces the findings of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the results of the provincial government's labs that ISA has not been found in the waters of the Pacific Northwest or in B.C.," said Ms. Walling in a statement.

But Ms. Morton said she stands by her findings and said the Washington study might have been too narrowly focussed.

"If you only use . . . a very precise test, you might miss it," she said.

ISA is a fish disease caused by a highly pathogenic virus. It was first reported in Norway in 1984 and in 2007 it caused an epidemic in fish farms in Chile.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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