Cantwell, Key Agencies Highlight Progress in Responding to Salmon Virus Threat

NOAA Initiates Salmon Virus Response Plan, Due by End of November Cantwell, Officials Outline Existing Regional Capability, What’s Needed to Protect Pacific Northwest Salmon and Jobs from Deadly Salmon Virus

SEATTLE, WA – Speaking from a top fish research lab today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined officials to provide an update on heightened interagency coordination to deal with the deadly virus that may threaten Pacific Northwest salmon. Cantwell and officials highlighted existing research and surveillance and discussed the next steps needed to stay ahead of the virus, including standardizing the methodologies for testing for the salmon virus, known as Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA).

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began developing a response plan for the salmon virus. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco directed NOAA Fisheries to assemble a report – due by the end of November – that will outline steps needed on surveillance, research and response, including contingency plans for handling the potential spread of the virus.

Previous outbreaks of ISA in Chile and Norway did significant damage to their fishing industries. The virus may pose a threat to the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry and the coastal economies that rely on it. Thousands of Washington state jobs depend on healthy, sustainable salmon populations. A 2010 Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife Study found that commercial fisheries, after processing and distributing their stocks, contributed $1.6 billion to the local economy.

“Washington’s coastal economy, and the thousands of jobs they support, deserves a rapid response to this potential threat,” said Cantwell. “We need to act now with an aggressive action plan to protect these Washington state jobs. Fortunately, Washington is home to some of the most cutting-edge tools, like the lab we’re at today, for dealing with this virus. I’ve called on key Senate Appropriators to support a comprehensive plan immediately.”

On Wednesday, November 2nd, Cantwell, along with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Mark Begich (D-AK), sent a letter to key Senate Appropriators calling for the federal government to independently test samples of a recently detected salmon virus. The Senators urged appropriators to prioritize the resources and coordination necessary to address this emerging salmon virus threat.

On Tuesday, November 1st, Cantwell’s bipartisan amendment to investigate and develop a rapid respond plan to prevent the spread of ISA passed the Senate by a vote of 69 to 30. The amendment was included in the minibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2112). The next step will be a conference of the House and Senate. It calls on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate the risk the virus could have on wild salmon off West Coast and Alaskan waters, ensure adequate monitoring of wild salmon populations, and to develop a plan to address this emerging threat.

The task force works cross-jurisdictionally with several agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The task force brings together federal, state, local, and tribal government. Senator Cantwell’s amendment requires the Task Force to prioritize Infectious Salmon Anemia research, surveillance and response. In addition, Senator Cantwell is calling on the Task Force to make recommendations for management, evaluate mitigation techniques, and ensure the nation has the needed tools to adequately detect and respond to infectious salmon anemia.

Specifically, Cantwell’s amendment requires a report be delivered to Congress within six months which outlines surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge, and recommendations for management. The amendment does not have a cost but rather streamlines existing research goals and surveillance efforts, highlights research needs and forges important collaborations necessary to assess this potentially devastating risk to wild salmon and the coastal economies which rely on them.

The amendment was introduced on October 19th to the minibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) and was approved on October 21st. Cantwell spoke on the Senate floor about her amendment during the early morning hours of October 21st. Watch a video of her delivering her remarks here.