Deadly Fish Virus Spreads to Washington State

B. McPherson

Chile faces disaster from its open net fish farming methods. Will BC follow suit?

The deadly fish virus found in an open net fish farm north of Tofino on Vancouver Island has spread to more fish farms and into the US. Washington State has destroyed more than one million pounds of farmed salmon.
The virus outbreak first showed up on the west coast of the island and has spread to an operation on the Sunshine Coast(west coast of the BC mainland). The virus is lethal to Atlantic salmon, the breed favoured by the industrial operations. It is unknown how the resident wild salmon will fare when exposed to billions of infective particles.

Fish farming on the BC coast uses open nets in the ocean. The BC government sells leases to the publicly owned ocean. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the “farming” of alien species in the BC waters. Because the fish are very crowded in the open nets, disease is an ongoing problem and many fish are well dosed with antibiotics. The fish waste simply drops through the net bottom to foul the ocean. Food not eaten drifts into the formerly clean waters. The farmed salmon eat prepared fish food, garnered by fishing “trash” fish and depriving people and other marine denizens of food.

Parasites attracted to the captive fish also swarm the young wild salmon fingerlings as they venture down their spawning rivers to the ocean. Fish lice have been blamed for destroying whole runs of salmon. While the fish farm proponents deny any connection, when the farms are temporarily shut down, the sea lice problem abates.

Most of the fish industrial operations are foreign owned. While they do provide some employment, most of the profits leave the country.

To date, there are three fish farms quarantined in BC and one in Washington State. All the millions of fish have been destroyed. That is not the end of the diseased fish which we are assured pose no threat to humans who may consume them. One may well ask what happened to those fish shipped out from neighbouring nets earlier. The open nature of this industry predicates that no quarantine is possible. The nets and equipment may have been cleaned, but where did the dirty water go? Where did the dead fish go? Were they buried? How deep? Or were they sold to an organic fish fertilizer manufacturer?

Not only are our resident marine inhabitants being threatened by this questionable industry, now there are noises being made that the taxpayers should compensate the owners of the diseased fish for their losses.

Any farmer knows that if you raise animals in dirty, crowded conditions you will get diseased animals. This was pointed out to the fish farming industry years ago by a Finnish investigator who followed the industry for 23 years. His study concluded that fish farming makes disease organisms more virulent than they would be in nature. Also the liberal use of antibiotics in the crowded fish raising environment selects for antibiotic resistance in the more lethal forms of bacterial and viral infections.

If you still eat these ‘feed lot’ salmon you should be aware that many of them contract diseases. A reference Diseases and Parasites in FarmedSalmon might turn you into a vegetarian.

Always ask if your fish is wild caught. If the store doesn’t label it “wild” or the restaurant doesn’t brag about it, it is likely from a salmon feed lot.

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