Deadly virus in salmon detected in new area of British Columbia

By:  Mark Yuasa, The Seattle Times

Seattle Times staff reporter Craig Welch reports that more wild salmon British Columbia have been detected with a deadly virus.

Three weeks after a potentially deadly virus was found for the first time in two juvenile wild sockeye on the Pacific Coast, it has been found again -- this time in other wild salmon from British Columbia's Fraser River.

At the same time, salmon farmers on both sides of the international border have been highlighting the work of a Norwegian expert who got slightly different results when he tested for the virus, infectious salmon anemia (ISA), in the first two young sockeye.

So, is there a fish crisis, or isn't there?

In a word: maybe.

Researchers, salmon farmers and wild-salmon advocates have been on alert since mid-October, when laboratory results in Canada showed that two young sockeye from Rivers Inlet in northern B.C. were carrying trace amounts of a European strain of ISA.

The reasons for the anxiety are clear. While ISA poses no harm to humans, a related strain of the virus cost billions of dollars and killed tens of millions of farmed Atlantic salmon in Chile in 2007 and 2008.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., toured a U.S. Geological Survey laboratory in Seattle that specializes in fish diseases to highlight the efforts of state and federal agencies to establish rapid-response plans in the event more evidence of ISA surfaces.

"In the past it has moved through salmon populations with devastating quickness, causing the chain reaction of dying stocks," Cantwell said.