Saturday, October 22, 2011

US Officials Investigate Salmon Virus

US lawmakers called on Thursday (October 20) for more investigation of a contagious and lethal fish virus (to FISH only) recently detected for the first time in wild Pacific salmon. The infectious salmon anemia virus, previously limited to Atlantic salmon, including an outbreak that ravaged Chile's farm-raised salmon industry in 2007 and 2008, has been found in two out of 48 young sockeye salmon sampled from a British Columbia river inlet.

The findings were announced by Simon Fraser University. They said that research suggests that the virus in Canada originated from imports of Atlantic salmon and eggs into the Pacific Northwest, though no direct link has been confirmed.

Although highly deadly to salmon, the virus CANNOT infect humans, bears or other warm-blooded animals that consume the fish. However, any sharp decline in salmon populations would diminish a key food source for wildlife that prey on them, which could have environmental ramifications.

COMMENT: Randy Ericksen, an expert at the Wild Salmon Center in Portland, Oregon, a nonprofit group that monitors and makes recommendations to protect Pacific salmon, called the findings "very alarming." While the data is preliminary, he said, "the fact that they've found this virus in the wild Pacific salmon raises the question about how far this has really spread."

The infectious salmon anemia (ISA), a fish influenza first discovered in Norway in 1984, was blamed for the loss of 6,000 jobs when it struck Chile, ranked as the world's No. 2 salmon producer, with devastating effect several years ago.

Much is at stake in the North Pacific, as well. Sockeye alone account for 12% of a $3 billion Pacific salmon commercial fishing industry that encompasses the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Alaska, Russia and Japan, according to a report from the Wild Salmon Center.

Alaska's two US senators, Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich, joined Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state in calling for a federal task force to evaluate the threat posed by the virus. They offered an amendment to an appropriations bill directing the panel to report to Congress on its findings. Their concern obviously is to preserve the large number of jobs in the fishing industry. It will take at least a year for independent researchers to determine how widespread the virus may be among wild Pacific salmon and determine what steps should be taken.

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