Salmon anemia – threat to NW resource

By:  Joel Connelly, SeattlePI.com
Source: Seattle PI

A pair of sockeye salmon smolts in British Columbia have tested positive for salmon anemia, a disease that has spread rapidly and decimated salmon farming operations in Chile at the south end of the Western Hemisphere.

The test has spread alarm through the sport and commercial fishing industry of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

"Infectious salmon anemia could pose a serous threat to Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them,"  Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Thursday.

Cantwell and Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are seeking an emergency research effort to evaluate risk to fish in Alaska and the Northwest states.

"We have to get a coordinated game plan in place to protect our salmon and to stop the threat of this deadly virus," Cantwell added.

British Columbia has promoted the development of a large salmon farming industry in the fjords of Vancouver Island’s west coast, and in such areas as the Broughton Archipelago between Knight and Kingcome Inlets on the B.C. Coast.

A prominent wild salmon researcher, Alexandra Morton, has argued that sea lice released from salmon pens may have caused pink salmon runs in the area to crash.

Canada’s Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans has been suspect in its role as both regulator and advocate of the salmon farming industry.  Salmon runs along several major West Coast-B.C. rivers have gone into sharp decline.

In a letter to Canada’s fisheries minister Keith Ashfield, Morton said the salmon anemia virus "most likely came from the 30 million Atlantic salmon imported into B.C." for fish farms.

She called for an immediate ban on importing more Atlantic salmon, and that fish farms be prohibited from dumping "blood water" into the province’s marine environment.  She asked Ashfield to commit "emergency funding for a testing program."

"May I suggest that the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans not waste time trying to defend past statements and behavior and more on quickly to do everything possible to prevent a North Pacific pandemic," Morton wrote.

Tim Bristol of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska project applauded the proposal by Cantwell, Begich and Murkowski.

"This situation is extremely serious given the critical role salmon play in the economy," Bristol said.