Briefing – First Nations Can Stop Diseased Farmed Salmon

Briefing – First Nations Can Stop Diseased Farmed Salmon

Lawsuit that triggered the announcement

June 2015 – Federal Court struck down conditions of licence permitting Marine Harvest to transfer farmed salmon infected with disease into open net pens. The court ruled this activity was harmful to the protection of fish and unlawful according to the Fisheries Act.
Both DFO and Marine Harvest immediately appealed this decision.
The hearing date was set for May 26, 2016 in Calgary.
One week before the hearing DFO suddenly asked for a five-month adjournment to consider “new information.”
Three days later (May 20, 2016), DFO held a technical briefing to announce that the piscine reovirus appears to cause heart disease in farmed salmon in B.C.


Alexandra Morton fick pris av oss för sina gärningar.

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70-90% of farmed salmon in B.C. appear to be infected with piscine reovirus.
DFO announced piscine reovirus appears to cause disease.
The Federal Court of Canada ruled diseased fish cannot be put in ocean farms.
Therefore, the industry should not put piscine reovirus infected fish in their farms.
Does the salmon farming industry have enough fish that are piscine reovirus-free to legally continue farming salmon in B.C.?
Potential Response

First Nations demand emergency authority to oversee immediate sampling of farmed salmon for piscine reovirus throughout B.C. and require a bill of health for all farmed salmon before transfer into or through their territory.
DFO must halt issuance of the long-term federal licences due to be granted to each farm beginning in the next few weeks, because piscine reovirus is so contagious.
DFO must drop the appeal and not engage in reinstating the industry’s legal right to transfer diseased farmed salmon into ocean net pens.
Assess whether the salmon farming industry in B.C. is capable of farming without contaminating regions around the pens with piscine reovirus and other pathogens and sea lice.

Background – International

In 2001, a new heart disease was identified in farmed salmon in Norway. It was named Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). Salmon suffering from this disease had difficulty swimming, lying exhausted against the nets. In 2010, scientists reported that HSMI is caused by the piscine reovirus. By then the virus had spread across Norway into 400 salmon farms and wild salmon. Marine Harvest reports HSMI is the third most damaging infectious salmon disease in Norway.

Not all salmon infected with piscine reovirus develop heart damage, but the heart damage does not occur without the virus. The higher the levels of the virus in a fish, the more likely it is to have the disease, HSMI.

Below is a 15-minute film where Norwegian scientists talk about how serious piscine reovirus is and that a Norwegian strain of piscine reovirus appears to be in B.C. This is extremely significant.

Background – B.C.

Documents released by the Cohen Commission reveal confidential evidence from the Province of B.C. that HSMI appeared to be in farmed salmon in 2008 (Cohen Commission exhibit 1549-309, case#08-3362). Despite this the disease remained unrecognized in B.C.

I began testing for the piscine reovirus in 2012 and found that 95% of farmed salmon for sale in B.C. markets were infected. We published evidence that the virus we found is from Norway (Kibenge et al., 2013). We have found the piscine reovirus in wild salmon near farms.

Government scientists published three scientific papers with Marine Harvest suggesting the virus has always been in B.C. and is harmless. Now, DFO appears concerned that piscine reovirus is actually harmful. (Marty et al., 2014, Siah et al., 2015, Garver et al., 2016).

In 2014, I received a tip that Marine Harvest was about to transfer piscine reovirus-infected fish from their Sayward hatchery into a farm off Port Hardy. I filed a lawsuit with Ecojustice to get a court to examine if this transfer was legal. While the Harper government had issued transfer licences to the companies which allowed diseased fish to be put into ocean net-pens, the court ruled that this activity was a risk to wild salmon and unlawful under section 56 of the Fisheries Act. DFO and Marine Harvest were about to go to court to fight this decision, when DFO had second thoughts and asked for a five-month adjournment so that they could reconsider their position due to the finding by their own scientist that the piscine reovirus appears to cause heart disease in salmon here, as it does in Norway. This new evidence came from a salmon farm in Johnstone Strait.

Current situation

Because the salmon farming industry appears to be so infected with piscine reovirus and the Federal Court of Canada has ruled infected fish must not be put in marine net pens, the salmon farming industry may not have fish they can legally stock their pens with.

Furthermore, there are currently millions of potentially infected farmed salmon in pens throughout B.C.’s central and south coast shedding this highly contagious virus. DFO reports that sockeye salmon can catch piscine reovirus from Atlantic salmon (Garver et al., 2016). This paper reports both Atlantic salmon and sockeye salmon are immune to the virus, but this conclusion is now in doubt.

Mask carved by Qaamina Hunter
DFO science also reports that Chilko sockeye infected with piscine reovirus are 2.3 times less likely to reach their spawning grounds, than an uninfected salmon (Miller et al., 2014).

Given that wild salmon are vital to First Nations, a legitimate way forward is First Nation supervised testing of every salmon farm with the samples split and sent to two labs; government and non-government.

As a researcher studying piscine reovirus for the past five years in over 1,000 farmed and wild salmon, I am prepared to assist in providing non-government lab results. By splitting the samples to send a second set to the government lab making this discovery, a high level of confidence in the results can be obtained.

Ultimately the decision has to be made: how much risk to wild salmon do First Nations accept, and this decision will be easier if the risk can be evaluated with information that can be trusted.

Alexandra Morton, Gwayum’dzi

“I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye from salmon farms is serious or irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.”

Justice Bruce Cohen


Garver, K.A., Johnson, S.C., Polinski, M.P., Bradshaw, J.C., Marty, G.D., Snyman, H.N., Morrison, D.B., Richard, J., 2016. Piscine Orthoreovirus from Western North America Is Transmissible to Atlantic Salmon and Sockeye Salmon but Fails to Cause Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146229. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146229

Kibenge, M.J.T., Iwamoto, T., Wang, Y., Morton, A., Godoy, M.G., Kibenge, F.S.B., 2013. Whole- genome analysis of piscine reovirus (PRV) shows PRV represents a new genus in family Reoviridae and its genome segment S1 sequences group it into two separate sub-genotypes. Virol J 10: 230- 250. (doi: 10.1186/1743-422X-10-230).

Marty, G.D., Morrison, D.B., Bidulka, J., Joseph, T., Siah, A., 2014. Piscine reovirus in wild and farmed salmonids in British Columbia, Canada: 1974-2013. J Fish Dis 38: 159-164.
(doi: 10.1111/jfd.12285).

Miller, K.M., Teffer, A., Tucker, S., Li, S., Schulze, A.D., Trudel, M., Janes, F., Tabata, A., Kaukinen, K.H., Ginther, N.G., Ming, T.J., Cooke, S.J., Hipfner, J.M., Patterson, D.A., and Hinch, S.G., 2014. Infectious disease, shifting climates, and opportunistic predators: cumulative factors potentially impacting wild salmon declines. Evol Appl 7: 812–855. (doi:10.1111/eva.12164).

Siah, A., Morrison, D.B., Fringuelli, E., Savage, P., Richmond, Z., Johns, R., Purcell, M.K., Johnson, S.C., 2015. Piscine Reovirus: Genomic and Molecular Phylogenetic Analysis from Farmed and Wild Salmonids Collected on the Canada/US Pacific Coast. PLoS One 10: 1-22. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141475).

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