U.S. lawmakers call for ISA investigation

Published on
October 23, 2011

An amendment filed last week by three U.S. lawmakers calling for a U.S. government investigation into infectious salmon anemia (ISA) being found in two juvenile sockeye salmon caught off the coast of British Columbia has been approved.

The amendment, launched by U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), was allowed to be added to the pending appropriations bill. It calls on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate the risk of ISA spreading into Washington or Alaskan waters. The lawmakers want an inter-agency group of scientists to provide Congress a report in six months that details surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations and recommendations for management.

This comes on the heels of Canadian officials urging caution about jumping to conclusions about ISA in salmon. The test results, reported widely by the Canadian press, including the Vancouver Sun, have not been verified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and may not be correct, said officials.  The tests were conducted by Simon Fraser University fisheries statistician Rick Routledge at the suggestion of wild salmon activist Alexandra Morton.

“After initial investigations, we are concerned that proper protocols may not have been followed in the testing and reporting of these findings,” according to a joint statement from Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “CFIA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are working to assess the results through scientifically sound and internationally recognized procedures, which must include additional testing to verify the presence or absence of ISA virus in these samples,” added the officials.

The two agencies have acquired additional testing tissue samples from the 48 sample fish, and the ISA reference laboratory in Moncton, New Brunswick, will analyze the samples. The tests could take four or five weeks to complete, said the officials.

Meanwhile, farmed salmon producer Marine Harvest has extensive tissue sampling conducted every year, and no ISA has been found, according to Clare Backman, biologist and director of sustainable programs for Marine Harvest Canada.

“We have continued to confirm that there are negative tests for ISA on farmed salmon. We have done this testing of our fish at our farms and we are confident that we cannot locate it,” said Backman.

Additionally, the ISA strain discovered by Simon Fraser researchers appears to be non-pathogenic, noted Backman, but more testing is needed. “ISA has very little to no effect on Pacific fish. So it if is pathogenic, it is far more likely a problem for our [farmed] fish. If it is a non-pathogenic form, everyone is in good shape,” said Backman.

Consumers should not be concerned at this point about eating wild or farmed salmon from British Columbia, said Backman. “We have full confidence in the regulators and testers. We hope the consumers will continue to have confidence in our product and we see no reason for them to have less confidence in wild product at this point,” he explained.

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