For 2nd time, salmon virus information withheld in Canada

Nov 30, 2011

Sen. Maria Cantwell is calling for stronger communication between American and Canadian officials following the disclosure that Canada failed to reveal the results of tests that appear to show the presence of a potentially deadly salmon virus nearly a decade before a salmon-virus scare this fall.

This is the second time that Canadian officials have been accused of muffling a scientist’s findings concerning viruses and salmon.

A Canadian researcher's work surfaced this week after she sought and was denied permission by a Canadian official to try to have her old data published.

Federal fisheries officials in Canada are dismissing the report's conclusions, according to the Global Edmonton in Canada.

In an emailed statement, fisheries officials said the tests used by Molly Kibenge, one of the report's authors, are highly sensitive and often result in false positives.

"Appropriate followup was done on Dr. Kibenge's work using more thorough testing procedures and, based on the best science available, it was concluded that her results had produced a false positive and there was no presence of ISA in her samples," stated the officials.

Second case of ‘muzzling’ scientists

U.S. scientists say they're disappointed the Canadians never mentioned the researcher's earlier, 2002 work.

This is the second time this year that Canadian scientists had been apparently muzzled when it comes to discussing virus in salmon.

In July, Government officials in Ottawa were getting heat for apparently muzzling a scientist whose study discovered that a viral infection – which has been referred to as "salmon leukemia" – may be the cause of salmon stocks crashing off Canada’s west coast.

The Vancouver Sun reported that the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped the study’s lead scientist “from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.”

The Canadian government told the Postmedia News, which wrote the story, that scientist Kristi Miller has not been permitted to talk about her work because she was expected to testify before a commission looking into the decline of the Frazer River sockeye salmon. Miller did testify saying fish farms may not affect wild salmon.

New infections detected

Researchers with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia announced in October they had detected infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, in two wild juvenile Pacific salmon collected from the province's central coast, prompting fears the influenza-like virus could wreck the Pacific Northwest salmon fishing industry.

Infectious Salmon Anemia is not harmful to humans, but the virus has previously inflicted heavy losses on Atlantic fish farms. The big unknown is how vulnerable wild Pacific salmon and herring are. The Western Fisheries Research Center lab in Seattle plans to investigate quickly

“We need to act now to protect the Pacific Northwest’s coastal economy and jobs,” Sen. Cantwell said in a press release. “There’s no threat to human health, but infectious salmon anemia could pose a serious threat to Pacific Northwest wild salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them. We have to get a coordinated game plan in place to protect our salmon and stop the spread of this deadly virus.”

‘Puzzling and frustrating’

"We had no knowledge of any of this," Jim Winton told The Seattle Times. Winton is a top fish virologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle, who reviewed the researcher's findings this week.

"No one ever revealed that there was a publication that was ready to go to a journal or that the data were as compelling as they appear to be. This is puzzling and very frustrating. It's unfortunate that this information was not available sooner. This should have been followed up years ago," Winton said.

The virus is considered so dangerous that, according to the Times, if its presence is confirmed, Canada is obligated to report it to the World Organization for Animal Health, just as it would foot-and-mouth disease or bird flu. Such a report would be a devastating blow to British Columbia's aquaculture industry.