Aquaculture experts pan renewed false claims by anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton.
A renewed attempt by anti-fish farm activists to alarm the public that the Piscine orthoreovirus or PRV is endangering wild salmon stocks has been panned by the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS).
“Nothing new here and nothing alarming here,” said Dr. Jim Powell, the CEO of BC CAHS, who has over 30 years’ experience in the areas of fisheries and aquaculture sciences.
“I guess this is how they stay in the news,” Powell told SeaWestNews.com after Alexandra Morton (picture by Sea Shepherd) put out a press release claiming that her tests showed “100 percent (of her samples) were positive for piscine orthoreovirus”.
Piscine orthoreovirus or PRV predates fish farms in BC and has long been present in wild salmon in Pacific Northwest waters, said Dr. Powell, who heads the BC CAHS , which is among the leading global societies known for its excellence in aquatic research services.
Kyle Garver a research scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and a PRV expert had also concluded earlier this year that PRV has been ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest for many decades, and that it isn’t linked to any fish disease or mortality.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) last March also issued a public alert about the exaggerated risks to native salmon being spread by activists like Morton.
Dr. Kenneth Warheit, fish health and genetic specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the activists have failed to find a single study to support the claim that PRV from open-water pens will harm wild fish.
Shawn Hall, a spokesman for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said it would be a surprise if Morton did not find PRV in her tests.
“It is not a surprise PRV was found, nor is it a concern. In fact, it would have been surprising if they had not found the virus, which extensive science tells us is common and almost certainly native to Pacific waters,” said Hall, adding the science indicates the Pacific variety of the virus is not the same as the one found in Europe, and is benign.
The bottom line consensus from the aquaculture scientific community is that PRV is common but the fish on BC salmon farms are not sick. Much like humans, it’s normal that fish are naturally exposed to numerous viruses every day without adverse effect.
Despite the volume of peer reviewed evidence, Morton has renewed her unsubstantiated attack on BC’s sustainable salmon farming industry this week.
Morton states: “A paper published in the journal FACETS2 earlier this year describes how PRV invades and bursts the blood cells of Chinook salmon causing organ failure, severe jaundice and release of the virus into marine habitats.”
This study, has already been savaged by some of the country’s top aquaculture experts. Canada’s Centre for Science Advice (CSA), the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BCCAHS), the University of British Columbia and Dr. Ian Gardner, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology, who is part of the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative have all criticised the study stating the findings are unsubstantiated.
Yet Morton’s press release relies heavily on it to back her claims.
Morton also states: “Most farmed salmon sold in markets is infected with PRV as per research published in PloS One, on December 3rd 2017”
This 2017 pseudo-research similar to an earlier one in 2011 used weak correlational data to make some very strong conclusions regarding the transfer of the piscine orthoreovirus (PRv) from farm-raised salmon to wild salmon.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stated, “Because some have chosen to draw conclusions based on unconfirmed information, this has resulted in British Columbia’s fishing industry and Canada’s reputation being put at risk needlessly.”
Morton, in her press release also attempts to link the recent death of a baby whale orca to BC’s salmon farms.
The Pacific Salmon Foundation has shot down this claim calling it “unethical” stating it is “unconscionable” for groups like Sea Shepherd, which Morton is part of, to exploit the death of the baby whale.
Hall said while claims by the anti-fish farm activists ring untrue it’s important that science continue to be conducted on these matters.
“B.C.’s salmon farmers don’t put diseased fish into the oceans. They test for any germs that can cause disease, and vaccinate against common diseases. That is the right thing to do, by a responsible industry passionate about the health of wild fish,” he said.
“In that spirit a number of batches of smolts heading to ocean pens from B.C. hatcheries were recently tested for PRV, and found not to have it. Three months later they were re-tested, and almost all were found to have the virus. That means they picked it up in the ocean.” said Hall.