Following Cohen - Day 4 Salmon Hearings

Share this post...

Submit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
by Alexandra Morton 08/26/2011
 Picture 3
Dr. Miller was on the stand again at the Cohen hearing on diseases that might be killing the Fraser sockeye. Today we learned that a single salmon farm with 1,000,000 fish can shed 60 billion viral particles per hour during a disease outbreak. Work done by Kyle Garver (DFO virologist) modeled what this might look like in the Discovery Islands. This is highly relevant because the Discovery Islands are the narrowest portion of the Fraser sockeye’s marine migration route.
In this figure, black is water and you can see two white circles which represent salmon farms. The grey patchy areas are the “viral particles” leaving the farms and they completely fill parts of the channels. This means as sockeye travel through this area there would be no opportunity to avoid viral particles during a salmon farm disease outbreak.
Salmon breath by passing water over their gills, so the oxygen in the water comes into contact with their bloodstream. This means as a wild salmon passes through a salmon farmed region, salmon farm-origin pathogens leaving the farm fish’s bodies comes into contact with the bloodstream of the wild salmon.

Dr. Miller elaborated that Harrison sockeye, the one run not found in the Discovery Islands, had no evidence of the unidentified virus in 2008, 2009, 2010. However, Harrison sockeye not only avoid salmon farms, they leave the river before adult sockeye enter the river to spawn. They are unique in this way among sockeye, but they share this behaviour with both pink and chum salmon. While the sockeye, pink and chum salmon that went to sea in 2007 all collapsed, the pink and chum have not been on the same 18-year decline as most of the Fraser sockeye. Is this because they are not exposed to farm salmon pathogens carried into the river by the spawning generation? These are things we must learn about.

Greg McDade pushed to find out exactly how Fisheries and Oceans is responding to Miller's finding that an unidentified virus might be killing 100s of millions of Fraser sockeye. He turned to Dr. Garver.

McDade: When a senior scientist [such as Miller] says there is a potentially devastating impact, what would it take for you to take some action, how far do we have to go for proof.

Garver: I would not recommend action at this time.

McDade: We saw in a memo to management that you made comments to water down the significance of her findings. Why would you try to water this down?

Garver: I gave my opinion and weighed the evidence, that is my job

McDade: Does your department have any guide whatsoever to take action, in the absence of final proof?

Garver: I believe we are doing something

McDade: Miller wanted to test farm fish and you resisted this

Miller: We didn't have a disease agent and it was difficult to get across what a genomic signature is, the battle was that until we have an etiological agent we can't ask industry to let us do tests. So I changed direction, to try and identify the agent [virus].

I went to Genome BC to see if they would let me change direction to identify the virus, they said they were uncomfortable and they said no. (It was not their mandate)

I went to DFO to ID the virus, the fish health experts were not comfortable, but now we have a candidate virus [parvo]. I am hoping things will be different now.

I was approached in February [after the SCIENCE paper was published] by Walling [director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association] she wanted to know more, there was some interest, but a vet with the fish farm industry said DFO advised against the testing. I let that drop at the time.

I went to Laura Richards [ADM of Science, DFO Pacific Region] to ask how to move forward. It was clear the fish health group were still uncomfortable at the time.

I had a second meeting with Thomson [Director of Aquaculture, DFO] he said he would take this to the leaders of the farms, he did discuss this with the CEOs.

This is an approximate record of her words which will be online as a transcript of this day on the Cohen Inquiry website at some point.

The Conservation Coalition Lawyer, Tim Leadem asked Miller about an email Miller wrote to Mark Saunders telling him that Laura Richards did not want her to indicate to the Pacific Salmon Commission that the disease was of "strategic importance" and in particular she was not to speak about the timing of this virus appearing in the sockeye (Exhibit 628).

Leadem: Do you think this strategy backfired?

Miller: I believe things have backfired, yes.

Leadem asked Miller why she was not allowed to present her findings at the Simon Fraser University 2009 Think Tank on the sockeye crash?

Miller: The worry was it would automatically be associated with aquaculture

Next Leadem turned to an email from Dr. Gary Marty the provincial vet who does the reports for the province of BC on the salmon farm health. In it she writes Dr Marty to ask about the farm salmon that die of pathogens that are never identified. She seems angry that he does not believe marine anemia, even exists!

Picture 6 If the one government vet who actually gets to examine farm salmon does not believe in marine anemia how is anyone going to know what is happening with this disease. If it is killing the majority of Fraser sockeye how will we ever know?

Leadem: Looking back have you been under pressure

Miller: Oh, very definitely, yes

Krista Robertson representing the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council of the Broughton, asked Miller about an April 23 informal proposal stating work that needed to be done asking for $18,700 to test Atlantic salmon to see if they carry the same genomic profile as the dying sockeye. If they do, that would be the first step in establishing the scope of this virus and possibly the source.

Miller: No money was given for this.

Miller: In my opinion we may be looking at a major fish health event


Miller: I have no funding to work on sockeye salmon at this time...

Salmon are sacred has decided to raise the $18,700 to take to DFO and insist that Miller test the genomic profile of farm salmon. We cannot allow DFO any excuse to not to test the farm salmon and this must be done before Justice Cohen makes his recommendation to Canada on how to keep the Fraser sockeye alive. If you want to contribute go to and when you donate write For Kristi Miller.

Sockeye lovely




Day 3 Cohen Inquiry Disease Hearings

Dr. Kristi Miller took the stand today to finally explain what she knows about the health of the Fraser sockeye. The court room was filled to over-flowing. It is first time she has been able to speak to the public about what she knows about our fish.

Since 1995, so many Fraser sockeye are reaching the river but failing to spawn that today DFO has to figure out how many are going to die, before they can open a fishery. So in 2005 they tasked their scientist Dr. Miller to use genomic profiling to read the sockeye salmon cells to try and figure out why they are dying. Genomic profiling reads 10,000s of switches that turn on/off in cells in response to starvation, toxic blooms, high water temperature, good feeding etc. When Miller read the cells of the Fraser sockeye she found all the ones that were dying had very similar genomic signatures. This suggested they were dying of the same thing. The cellular switches that were turned on and off were ones that respond to viruses. No one expected this.

Miller's search for what virus this was began at that moment and it is my observation that in doing so she has run afoul of DFO's policy that salmon farms are safe.

Both the physical condition of the sockeye and their "unhealthy" genomic profile led her to a mystery illness that appeared in Chinook salmon farms in 1992 on the Fraser sockeye migration route. While it was given the name "Plasmacytoid Leukemia" by Dr. Kent (who was on the stand yesterday,) and he called it a retrovirus in his many scientific papers written in the 1990s, he told us yesterday that really, he was never actually sure that it was a virus. He never took the final step with his research to actually visualize, culture and sequence it. He did find sockeye could be infected with it and that it was widespread. His colleague Dr. Craig Stephens, also on the stand yesterday wrote in a scientific paper:

“Evidence supporting the hypothesis that marine anemia is a spreading, infectious neopplastic disease could have profound regulatory effects on the salmon farming industry” (Stephens and Ribble 1995). "Marine Anemia" is what the fish farmers call this disease.

Is this why everyone dropped their research into this disease? DFO never responded to examine if this farm salmon disease could be impacting the Fraser sockeye and no one mentioned it again after 1999, until now.

In 2007, faced with evidence that millions of sockeye were dying of a virus, Miller reviewed what was known about the farm salmon epidemic and found it closely resembled what the sockeye are dying of.

Today, she spoke with great clarity that the Fraser sockeye are being heavily affected by a virus. "It could be the smoking gun," said Miller, "but we have work to do."

When lawyer Greg McDade put up two versions of the same DFO briefing document, we saw that the paragraph that referenced a potential link with salmon farms had been removed in the second version. Miller told us, she and other DFO scientists had not been allowed to attend the Simon Fraser University invitational think tank held on the 2009 sockeye crash, even though it was closed to the public and the media. I was there and we never heard there was evidence that a virus could be killing the majority of Fraser sockeye, even from her non-DFO co-authors and ex-DFO participant Dr. Riddell.

We learned today that although strong similarities exist between the farm salmon disease and the condition of the sockeye, Miller has been unable to test farm salmon. But, she said, a couple of weeks ago the salmon farming industry decided to cooperate! No, she has still not been able to speak to the farm vets and begin the process of setting up the protocol. That was not going to happen until after the Inquiry.

If 100,000,000s of sockeye are dying of what appears to be a virus, how is it possible we are paying $25 million for an inquiry into what happened to them and the salmon farming industry can stall an investigation into whether this is coming from their fish until after the inquiry is over? Yesterday we saw emails from Miller asking her colleagues at DFO why they would not authorize testing, Drs. Johnson and MacWilliams said Miller was mistaken, they never said that.

How is it Dr. Kent could be tasked by the Inquiry to write a technical report into diseases that could be affecting the Fraser sockeye and he never reviewed the farm salmon disease records? Where are things at with this mystery farm salmon disease today? Has anyone looked at the farm salmon records to see if it is still out there?

In 1990, Dr. Kent wrote a paper on the farm salmon disease saying he found ocular tumors and submitted them to the Smithsonian "Registry of Tumours in Lower Animals." It was as a result of this work that Miller decided to look at the sockeye's brains and as she told us today – Low and behold...when we opened the optic lobes in the sockeye brains we saw mass growths with blood vessels connected. She took pictures, they looked like tumours, ..we brought fish health staff up to see if this looked like Plasmacytoid Leukemia , but no one knew what PL tumours looked like.

So she sent samples to Dr. Kent because he was the expert in the farm salmon disease, he must have seen the tumours because he reported he sent them to the tumour registry, but Miller said it was revealed to her that Kent had never actually looked at the tumours. In his testimony Kent suggested there never were tumours, only inflammation.

What did he send to the Smithsonian Registry then? Someone should look in to that.

Miller went on to say that she has not ruled out Plasmacytoid Leukemia in the sockeye, but that she is at a loss as how to move forward, because all the PL experts seemed to be backtracking.

However, Miller did not let this stop her.... she began her own search in the sockeye and reported to Cohen that she has just found evidence of a Parvo virus in the sockeye. This virus has never been reported in salmon, though it can be deadly to dogs and is found in many other species; snakes, birds, shrimp, insects etc....

Miller is a " broad thinker" in her own words and she found interesting similarities between Parvo virus and the farm salmon disease abandoned by Kent, Stephens and the others. She noted there are a "plethora of studies on Parvo and Leukemia."

The only Fraser sockeye she could not find Parvo in was the Harrison sockeye [that do not migrate past the salmon farms]. Since Harrison sockeye spend the least amount of time in the river, she considered whether the source of the virus could be in the freshwater, however, she noted the Birkenstock sockeye go right through the Harrison portion of the river and they have the doomed genomic profile. How could two stocks use the same part of the river and one has the virus and the other not? Harrison sockeye have not been declining like the rest of the Fraser sockeye.

If juvenile sockeye have this virus does that mean it comes from the river? No one knows. As I write, thousands of adult sockeye are swimming past salmon farms and into the river and lakes where young sockeye are growing. If the adult salmon are picking up pathogens from the farms, they are taking it straight into the nurseries.

Right now my feeling is to follow through with Parvo, Miller said.

McDade: I hope it is not going to take 10 years

Kyle Garver, DFO virologist also on the stand: It will take a considerable amount of time

Miller: but we do have a candidate virus

Garver was asked if he had looked for Parvo with a molecular microscope, he said "no."

This was perplexing, why not?

Tomorrow Miller will be on the stand again.


3 healthy fry



Day 2 Disease/Aquaculture Cohen Inquiry

Today the same four people were on the stand, about 50 people attended.

Dr. Kent was contracted to write a technical report for the Cohen Commission on "Infectious diseases and potential impacts on survival of Fraser River sockeye salmon." While the expectation was that this work would evaluate the potential impact of of salmon farm-origin pathogens, this was not the case.

McDade: have you talked about the risk of transfer of farm disease to wild salmon?

Kent: no

McDade: Did you look at the fish farm health database?

Kent: I scanned them this morning

McDade: Did you have the farm disease database when you wrote your report?

Kent: no

Next Greg McDade pulled up a BC Provincial farm salmon health database called BCP002864 and tells the Commission there are 1,100 references in it to the classical signs of ISA virus lesions.

A BC provincial vet reported the classic lesions associated with the lethal salmon virus ISA 1,100 times !!!!

WHOA!! ISA virus is an internationally reportable fish influenza virus that is appearing in Norwegian salmon farms worldwide. It was first identified in Norway in 1984 spread across the North Atlantic and to Chile in 2007. The clinical signs of it are reportable! In January 2009 the industry publication, Intrafish, wrote "How long can B.C. avoid ISA?" because it's arrival seems inevitable. The Minister of Fisheries has written me repeatedly that there is no strong evidence that it travels in the eggs, and the salmon farmers, Mainstream employee says there are no symptoms of ISA in BC. But this database had 1,100 references to it!

Kent, who had only scanned the database this morning disregarded reporting of 1,100 report of ISA virus lesions by the BC provincial vet. Fortunately this vet, Gary Marty, will be on the stand August 31. The Commission did not allow this database to be entered as an exhibit, so it is not public.

McDade asked Kent if he had reviewed six published papers about how pathogens become more virulent and numerous in farm salmon (see exhibits 1482,1483, 1485, 1486) but Kent said no. Nor had he reviewed a paper by an ex-DFO scientist that described exceptional decline of wild salmon wherever salmon are farmed (exhibit 1487).

McDade: You didn't cite any of these papers in your report

Kent: No, because they dealt with fish farms

Clearly, Kent's report to the Commission does not tell us anything about the potential for farm salmon to have impacted the Fraser sockeye.

Kent surprised even the other panelists when asked:

McDade: If ISA virus appears in salmon farms would you blame the wild fish

Kent: Yes

Christine MacWilliams, DFO Hatchery Vet disagreed with Kent, she said if ISAv is in BC it would come from farm salmon.

The day revealed more.

Tim Leadam entered two emails as exhibits written by Dr. Kristi Miller asking two of the witnesses; Drs. Stewart Johnson and Christine MacWilliams why they recommended that she not be able to test farmed Atlantic salmon for the signs of disease that she has found in the majority of Fraser sockeye?

Both Johnson and MacWilliams said they did not answer Miller, that Miller had misrepresented their intent.

Picture 2

Dr. Miller was present to watch this, flanked by government security and will be on the stand tomorrow.

Brenda Gaertner, lawyer for 12 BC First Nations directed questions to the panel:

Gaertner: Would you say that worsening environmental conditions means the level of risk of salmon farms to wild salmon needs to be reviewed?

Kent: At the time [salmon farms were sited] there was not much concern about sockeye.

Gaertner: Could we remove salmon farms to limit sockeye exposure to pathogens?

Johnson: yes

There is hope yet!

"Fisheries and Oceans researcher Kristi Miller still not talking" (The Globe & Mail, 23rd August):

"Salmon farming on the hot seat at Cohen Commission" (The Vancouver Sun, 23rd August):

Leaping Pink2


Day one - Disease/Aquaculture hearings

Today four people took the stand:

Dr. Michael Kent, who worked in Fish Health for DFO at the Pacific Biological Station from 1988 - 1999, and become the Head the unit from 1997. This was during the rapid expansion phase of salmon farming and the spread of Plasmacytoid Leukemia through the farms. Dr. Kent did much of the research on this disease. Today, Kent is a professor at Oregon State University

Dr. Craig Stephens, who wrote his PhD Thesis on Plasmacytoid Leukemia in 1995 and a professor at University of Calgary.

Dr. Christine MacWilliams, Fish Health Veterinarian for the DFO Salmonid Enhancement Program since 2005, wrote her PhD Thesis on the exotic virus, Infectious Salmon Anaemia that has been spread across the North Atlantic and into Chile in salmon farms.

Dr. Stewart Johnson head of Aquatic Animal Health Section, DFO and monitors disease in wild salmon.

There was only time for questioning by Cohen's council, and the lawyers for Canada and the Province of BC. My lawyer, Greg McDade and others will ask questions tomorrow

While the panel included scientists who were working with two of the pathogens of greatest concern, Plasmacytoid Leukemia - which Dr. Miller suggests might be weakening and killing the majority of Fraser sockeye and Infectious Salmon Anemia which is following the salmon farming industry around the world, - none seemed concerned about these diseases.

Dr. MacWilliams, presumably has access to the fish farm disease records said she has seen no evidence of the exotic Infectious Salmon Anemia virus in BC. MacWilliams did research that found rainbow trout could be lethally infected with this exotic virus, but went on to say that Pacific salmon were relatively resistant to ISAv.

Dr. Kent, whose own research showed the Plasmacytoid Leukemia was widespread in salmon farms and 100% of the sockeye exposed became infected, said Plasmacytoid Leukemia (PL) was not a high risk to sockeye.

Kent never completed his research to figure out exactly what this disease is; an intracellular parasite, or a virus. Kent was very vague today saying they found some pretty good evidence it was a virus, a retrovirus, but that retroviruses are very common in animals and don't always cause disease. He said they could find PL with other inflammatory diseases, it could be a presentation of cells, might be caused by more than one agent, later more commonly associated with a parasite, a very convoluted story, complicated etiology, proliferated cells can be caused by many things.... Then he took a long drink of water.

Dr. Kent said it was hard to find wild salmon that die of disease, not mentioning the thousands of Fraser sockeye that have been dying for the past 18 years on the river banks just before spawning, that Miller's work suggest might be due to the disease he named.

Dr. Johnson distanced himself from this virus and Miller's work saying he only knew of her work from meetings....

There was a moment of confusion when the lawyer for the Province brought forward a document that I found reporting Gyrodactylus salaris in the Little Campbell River Hatchery. While there are North Pacific species of the freshwater parasite Gyrodactylus Gyrodactylus salaris is an exotic species of enormous significance as it can be extremely lethal to naive populations. The lawyer for the Province of BC asked what was more likely to have killed the cutthroat trout in the disease report - Bacterial Gill Disease or Gyrodactylus salaris. Dr. Kent said Bacterial Gill Disease, not the Norwegian parasite!

While the lawyer said she checked with the hatchery and it was just a typo, not in fact "salaris", not one of the panel members suggested someone should make certain this parasite has not been transported from Norway to BC. I could not see how the correct spelling of an exotic lethal parasite on a hatchery disease report could be considered a typo without someone checking up on this. Two of the people we pay to oversee hatcheries were on the panel and yet this document seemed new to them.... Something is wrong with the system, this should have raised immediate red flags and an investigation. Hopefully, it is just a "typo."

There was some questioning about whether we can be certain that Infectious Salmon Anemia is not in BC. It is appearing around the world in farms belonging to exactly the companies operating in BC, the DFO egg import form does not require reporting on this disease and the fish farms did not need to report it until Jan of this year. Given the cost of this Inquiry to Canadians and the longstanding concern expressed about this virus I think Dr. Johnson should have been able to report to us on competent testing using proper numbers of samples on how we know BC is still ISA - free, but he did not.

More to come tomorrow...


Share this post...

Submit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn