U.S. Senate approves rapid response to fish-killing virus

By:  By Colin Fogarty and Robin Cedar
Source: KPLU

Alarm over a potentially deadly salmon virus has reached the halls of
Congress. The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment that calls for a
rapid federal response. Last week, scientists in British Columbia
announced they've found the fish-killing virus in wild Pacific Salmon
for the first time.

It's the second virus suspected in salmon deaths to be discovered this year.

Salmon Anemia (ISA) is not harmful to humans but has previously proven
fatal to Atlantic salmon, especially those confined in fish farms. Its
effect on wild sockeye is unknown.

The virus found on the two
tested smolts has been identified as the European strain of the virus,
which has been found in Atlantic wild salmon. Canada has imported more
than 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs over the past 25 years from the
U.S. and Europe, according to the Canadian government.

Emerging threat

Washington senator Maria Cantwell told her colleagues that the disease has also decimated salmon stocks in Chile.

"We need answers quickly from the scientific community," Cantwell said. "We need an action plan immediately."

Western Fisheries Research Center lab in Seattle already plans to
investigate the salmon virus. Cantwell's amendment calls for further
response from the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate
the risk the virus could have on salmon off West Coast waters and
Alaskan waters, and to develop a plan to address this emerging threat.

The big unknown

How vulnerable are wild Pacific salmon and herring are to the virus?

could range from relatively severe to maybe not-so-severe depending on
the susceptibility of these stocks," says microbiologist Jim Winton.

wild salmon advocates strongly suspect the disease was introduced to
the North Pacific via farmed Atlantic salmon. They want saltwater salmon
farms in Washington and British Columbia shut down while the outbreak
is investigated.

The B.C. salmon farm industry insists tests on their fish have found no signs of infection.

The other virus threat

is not the first time viruses have threatened B.C. salmon. The Cohen
Commission was tasked with the investigation into the 2009 collapse of
the Fraser River salmon run, and the results of the investigation point
to Salmon Leukemia Virus (SLV), another lethal virus that kills wild
Sockeye salmon.

Dr. Kristi Miller, a scientist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, published an article in the U.S. journal Science last January on SLV and B.C. salmon, though the source of the virus remained inconclusive.

The Cohen Commission and Dr. Miller gained media attention over
the summer, stemming from Dr. Miller's supposed "muzzling" to prevent
her from interviewing with the media until she testified at the
hearings. However, the CBC reports that the commission didn't actually stopped Dr. Miller from publishing any research.