Salmon Virus Update

The chief pathologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says there is concern over reports that exposure to infectious salmon anemia virus was detected in sockeye salmon in British Columbia, but that people should not overreact.

There’s a good chance of false positives in those test results reported by researchers from Simon Fraser University from two of 48 sockeye salmon smolts in central British Columbia, said ADF&G’s Ted Meyers. Now those initial results are being analyzed through additional testing in a second laboratory to rule out any false positives and Alaska fishery scientists are awaiting results of those tests, he said.

“At this point we are concerned, but do not want to overreact as we await more definitive information from Canada,” he said.

There is some concern that the source of the salmon anemia virus, if indeed the additional tests confirm its presence, same from Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia, which have imported millions of salmon eggs since the mid-1980s.

Meyers noted that regulations in place in Alaska do not allow importation of any fish for aquaculture purposes. The only root of infection could be from strays from British Columbia fish farms and the British Columbia farms have been examined for the past eight years for ISA virus and have been found to be negative, he said.

Still, if the virus is confirmed present in British Columbia migratory Pacific salmon or the Atlantic salmon stocks prevalent in British Columbia fish farms, there is concern over potential impacts to Alaska salmon stocks.

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have introduced legislation directing government scientists to determine the scope and cause of the outbreak of infectious salmon anemia that has devastated salmon farms in Chile and elsewhere, and to recommend steps to protect the health of salmon stocks along the West Coast, Canada and Alaska. The scientists would have six months to complete their report.

Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program, said it was fortunate that fish farms are outlawed in Alaska, but urged Alaska officials to take steps to protect Alaska’s wild salmon stocks and the critical habitat necessary for their sustained production.