By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist July 17, 2009
The virus that has crippled Chile’s farmed salmon industry is extremely unlikely to appear at B.C.’s fish farms, says Clare Backman, environmental relations director for Marine Harvest Canada, the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in B.C.
Infectious salmon anemia is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal to Atlantic salmon and coho, but cannot be transmitted to humans.
The outbreak in Chile has resulted in the closure of farms and processing plants — including those owned by Marine Harvest — restructuring of the industry and strict new government regulations.
It was surprising when the virus appeared in Chile, as it was formerly believed to be confined to the Atlantic Ocean. There is speculation it could be a new strain or may have reached Chile through the transfer of eggs or fry, Backman said.
“We don’t bring in eggs or smolts in B.C. We produce all our own fish from our own brood and have done that for many generations,” he said.
The only exception is a minor importation of eggs from Iceland, which is the only country with certified disease-free eggs, Backman said.
“The numbers of those are very small and they are mainly for experimental purposes,” he said.
Backman added that if ISA was accidentally brought to B.C. — probably by someone outside the salmon farming industry — the virus would be identified as soon as it reached the farms. “One of the things which came out of the 1990s and the Salmon Aquaculture Review was development of a Fish Health Management Plan,” he said. He added that all companies are required to adhere to it.
“That document is very unique and important as a way to avoid the sort of things that happened in Chile. The frequency of testing for viruses and bacteria is very high.”
It is believed if Chile had had a similar plan to B.C., they would not now be facing the problems, which will keep farms out of production for at least another two years, Backman said.
However, B.C.’s rigorous rules also mean that Marine Harvest is not in a position to pick up market share now available because of Chile’s problems. Approvals for a new site takes several years, Backman said.
“Our company doesn’t have any application on the books right now,” he said.
“We are trying to take our 43 sites and maximize their efficiency. Some of them were developed years ago and there’s a chance to increase production on existing sites.”
The company would like to grow by five or six per cent a year to meet the market opportunity, Backman said.
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