The region as a whole, from Alaska to Northern California, has spent too much time and effort on rebuilding and protecting imperiled wild salmon runs to allow this virus to gain a foothold.
This same virus has killed tens of millions of farm-raised salmon in such far-flung places as Norway, Chile, New Brunswick, Canada and Scotland.
The virus does not pose a threat to human health. But the highly contagious virus poses a threat to a lynchpin in the Pacific Northwest marine ecosystem and the fisheries economy.
“It’s a disease emergency,” said James Winton, who directs the fish health section of the United States Geological Survey’s Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle.
Fish know no boundaries in the ocean or in global commerce. So it’s imperative that fisheries managers and fish health experts beef up testing and monitoring of wild, hatchery and farm-raised salmon in the Pacific Northwest to see if this virus has spread.
“We need an action plan immediately and we need to make sure that we are formulating a rapid response to what to do if we do detect that the virus is spreading,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, said in support of an amendment to a pending appropriations bill in Congress.
The West Coast’s wild salmon are a regional treasure. Fortunately, in this emergency, they are not being held hostage to partisan politics. Democratic and Republican senators from Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have joined forces to garner Senate support for the amendment, which is scheduled for a vote this week.
If approved, and well it should be, the amendment would call on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to assess the threat the virus poses to West Coast salmon stocks. If the threat proves to be founded, fisheries managers and scientists would face the daunting task of trying to corral the spread of the virus.
Several vaccines have been developed to inoculate Atlantic salmon from the virus, but they are not fully effective nor easy to administer on a large scale.
Researchers from Simon Fraser University who detected the virus in two of 48 wild sockeye smolts collected in the province’s Rivers Inlet suggested the virus spread from the B.C. aquaculture industry, which has been importing Atlantic salmon eggs into its fish farms for the past 25 years.
Work is under way in British Columbia to independently verify the researchers’ findings.
The virus has not been detected during tests of British Columbia fish farms. But needless to say, the research poses a serious threat to the salmon farming in the Pacific Northwest, which was already highly controversial before the recent discovery of the virus in young sockeye salmon.
Washington state fish health scientists said some 56,000 hatchery and wild salmon were tested last year for infectious salmon anemia. No cases were discovered.
The ongoing testing for the virus must