Protecting Industry at All Costs: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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The Canadian Fish Health Agency Wins the War... Against Us
by Alexandra Morton
Today we learned how the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has handled the findings that ISAv is present in British Columbia. While we sent the samples to the best labs we could find, reported the results to the CFIA and the public and responded by following up with tests on as many salmon rivers as we could reach, it would appear the CFIA was busily trying to make ISAv disappear. Everyone should read this:

Download DFO-599910[1].pdf (199.7K)

Not only did the CFIA apparently work to achieve the headlines at the bottom of the email, we heard that Dr. Kibenge, the International Reference Lab for ISAv suffered attack to his reputation. He commended his University for standing behind his work. This is exactly what happened to Dr. Nylund in Norway when he discovered ISAv had infected Chile via Atlantic salmon eggs.

In my opinion, the salmon farming industry is getting better service from our government than we are.

DFO covers up disease in wild salmon - day one of explosive testimony at the Cohen Inquiry into ISA virus

Dec 15, 2011 Vancouver Immediate Release Four salmon disease experts were on the stand today at the Cohen Inquiry into the decline of the Fraser sockeye. Dr. Are Nylund of the University of Bergen is an expert in salmon viruses, including the ISA virus. Dr. Fred Kibenge runs one of only two World Organization for Animal Health labs for ISA virus. Dr. Kristina Miller is the head of the Genomics Lab at DFO’s Pacific Biological Station. Nelle Gagne is a researcher at the DFO National Reference Lab in Moncton a non-accredited lab.

On December 2, 2011, the Minister of Fisheries announced, “there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in British Columbia salmon” However, on the stand today, Justice Cohen heard the DFO “Reference lab” is the only one that can’t seem to find ISA virus. The difference was in the type of software and assays used by Moncton. ISA virus is a type of fish flu, appearing worldwide wherever there are salmon farms, it has a tendency to mutating into highly virulent strains in the crowded.

But it got worse. Testing farm salmon in Clayoquot Sound for a jaundice yellow condition killing the farm fish for the past 7 years revealed both ISA virus and a new Norwegian virus that causes Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in salmon. Dr. Miller also reported higher levels of both ISA virus and HSMI in Fraser sockeye smolts in 2007, than 2008. The 2007, sockeye smolts were the ones that never came home in 2009. This raises the question how much these diseases contributed to the sockeye crash.

The scientists on the stand were unsure how long ISA virus may have been in BC. Dr. Miller revealed evidence it could have been here since the late 1980s, shortly after the first farm Atlantic salmon came to BC in 1985. What was most disturbing is that DFO never told the public and did not reveal the ISAv and HSMI findings to the Inquiry. Justice Cohen instructed DFO over a year ago to produce all evidence on the health of the Fraser sockeye. One hundred percent of the highly endangered Cultus Lake sockeye of the Fraser River tested positive for ISAv in 2002, 2003 and DFO never revealed this to the Inquiry and maintains the position ISA virus is not here.

This is a dangerous and shameful breach of public trust, DFO lost all credibility, they are like addicts when it comes to salmon farms, they will do and say anything. They are going to destroy wild salmon as they did wild cod of the North Atlantic, no one has the right to be careless with viruses.

At the hearings in August, the BC Salmon Farmers suggested they would develop a protocol with Miller to allow her to test Atlantic salmon for viruses. However, when asked today Miller said she refused an arrangement where the salmon farmers would have become managing partners in her research on Fraser sockeye while delaying access to Atlantic salmon until some future, undefined date.

While the public has been told all the wild salmon that tested positive for ISA virus were healthy, a researcher in Dr. Miller’s lab, Brad Davis, discovered that in fact ISA virus positive salmon exhibit symptoms of the flu – suggesting harm.

The Commission also heard evidence that when the provincial vet provided Dr. Miller with farm salmon samples that were so degraded and spoiled they were useless.

Tomorrow Dr. Simon Jones of DFO takes the stand because he co-authored the paper that found ISAv in 100% of the Fraser sockeye, a paper DFO never provided to the Inquiry.

Atlantic Salmon - how did this happen to British Columbia?

There were large Atlantic salmon imports to BC from eastern Canada decades ago in a deeply misguided venture to establish Atlantic salmon among healthy Pacific salmon stocks. They did not survive for long, but could have left a legacy of pathogens.

This blog reports on a series of excerpts from provincial and federal documents chronicling the conversations around the more recent Atlantic salmon egg imports into BC waters for the purpose of salmon farming. Since the 1980s, people in government have voiced serious biological concerns, trying to defend BC. Most recently today Dr. Sally Goldes who worked for the Province of BC in fish health came forward, Times Colonist article. Despite their efforts the threat of trade sanctions appears to have dominated decision making. The source of eggs changes, suggesting problems, and each time it is preceded by industry pressure. The biology caved to the demands of commerce. But the irony is that the pristine, oxygenated, nutrient-rich waters of British Columbia - that the industry so desperately craves - has become the casualty. All our lines of defence against viral activity in salmon farms were removed one-by-one. There are some heroes in government who really tried and are still trying to protect BC wild salmon.

1982 – Canadian government and Norwegian and Canadian business interests meet:

• “have requested consideration of alternative approaches to inspection and certification of salmon culture facilities” (Tim Carey, DFO, Senior Program Advisor, Aquaculture and Fish Health, letter to Pritchard, DFO* Aquaculture & Resource Development re: importation of Atlantic salmon from Norway)

1984 – Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) approves limited importation of Atlantic salmon, although this is not made public.

1985 – Draft Importation of Salmonids Policy states:
• Imports will cease March 1989
• Source hatcheries must meet Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations
• 12 month quarantine
• 300,000 eggs per hatchery to maintain reasonable security

• “I am getting increasingly anxious about our importing of Atlantic eggs. My concern is shared by many of my colleagues in both provincial and federal agencies…The fish health measures agree-to jointly by DFO and ourselves in the fall of 1984 are not foolproof. They are based on statistical sampling, so we are taking a risk when it comes to the introductions of virus. That means a risk to the nearly one-billion-dollar wild salmonid fisheries of British Columbia” (Dave Narver, MOE* to Anthony ADM, MOE, Feb 26)

130,000 Atlantic salmon eggs imported from Scotland

1986 – Import policy remains unsigned and is not public

• "…We are deeply concerned with the fact that the risk of exotic diseases is dependent on both the number of imports and their size… Government has made a commitment to support aquaculture, but surely not at the risk of a nearly $1 billion resource in the wild salmon fisheries of British Columbia. The direction the aquaculture industry wants us to go will insure that we import unwanted diseases that can impact on government hatcheries and wild stocks" (Narver, MOE to Gunn, Pacific Aqua Foods, Nov 6).

• “…Imported fish could be more susceptible to local pathogens than native stocks. An outbreak of disease in an imported stock due to a local pathogen, as well as causing losses to that stock could result in a dramatic increase in the pathogen loads in the system to a level which otherwise refractory native fish may not be able to withstand.” (CFSAC Advisory Document 1986) This is an extremely important observation, the unnatural salmon farm environment can cause local pathogens to become dangerous to local stocks.

• “To start with a general comment, I am disappointed with what appears to be the prevailing attitude of a number for companies, that fish health regulations to protect wild stocks are great, but … If we continue the way the aquaculture industry seems to dictate, we can expect to introduce new diseases.” (Dave Narver, MOE to Dale Blackburn, Stolt Sea Farm Canada Inc.)

1,144,000 eggs imported from Scotland

1987 - Federal-Provincial Policy for the Importation of Live Salmonids was signed, but restrictions were lowered.

• quarantine reduced to 120 days to reduce industry cost of dealing with waste water
• suggestion egg imports continue until 1990 ( Davis, DFO to Chamut, DFO, Jul 23)
• “If challenged in court over denial of any imports, what is the legal likelihood we would be successful in denying imports?” (Chamut, DFO to Davis, DFO, June 27)

1,281,000 eggs imported from Scotland / Washington State

1988 – Davis, DFO’s Regional Director of Science for the Pacific Region suggests extension of egg import to 1991

2,700,000 eggs from Scotland / Washington State

1990 - U.S. salmon farmers claim Canada import restrictions are a trade barrier.

• “Continued large-scale introductions from areas of the world including Washington State, Scotland, Norway and even eastern Canada would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in BC could be both biologically damaging to the resource and economically devastating to its user groups” (Chamut former ADM, DFO, to Sarna, Director of Pacific Rim & Trade, Policy Division, International Directories, DFO, 1990)

1991 – The threat of a “Free Trade Ruling” remains, fish farm industry pushes for use of known diseased stocks.

• “I am very concerned about the discussion which took place about the egg import policy and proposed changes… I think [they] have gone too far… The proposed revisions not only open the window indefinitely but essentially allow for unlimited numbers of eggs. I know your Department argues that this has to done to avoid a Free Trade ruling…” (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO, Sept 30)

• “As we have no other disease-free source available [other than Iceland] anywhere in the world, I am requesting that you reconsider your position, particularly in the light of the expected change in the DFO regulations” (Needham, Director Aquaculture, BC Packers, to Hoskins, DFO, Dec 3 )

• “DFO and MOE are responsible for the protection of wild and cultured salmonid stocks in British Columbia. Both…agencies firmly believe that repeated large scale shipments of salmonid eggs…expose BC’s wild and farm salmonid stocks to unnecessary disease risk.” (Ginetz, DFO to BC Trout & Char Producers, Jan 16)

• Document titled, The Need for Restrictions on the Importation of Atlantic Salmon into B.C. Atlantic salmon eggs “clearly carry the risk of the inadvertent introduction of exotic disease, or exotic strains of indigenous agents.” (Gary Hoskins, Scientist, DFO memo, Jul 13)

• “Perhaps most important is the fact that new diseases are continually surfacing – their dynamics…are totally unknown. To suggest therefore that vertical transmission should not be a concern would be irresponsible" (Chamut, DFO to Emberley, Director General, Inspection Services Directorate, Jun 11)

• "The proposed revisions not only open the window indefinitely but essentially allow for unlimited numbers of eggs. I know your Department argues that this has to done to avoid a Free Trade ruling." (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO Sep 30)

• "I have the distinct feeling that the seriousness of the interaction between wild/farmed fish has been downplayed by some of your staff" (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO Sep 30)

• “I want to therefore emphasize that despite allegations that restrictions were introduced to limit trade for the benefit of BC producers, our foremost and only concern was to protect our wild and cultured stocks from exotic disease… There are a host of examples including cases in the US… where new diseases were accidentally introduced due to inadequate regard for fish health, resulting in significant economic losses to commercial and sport fisheries and more recently the salmon farming community.” (Chamut, DFO to Barrows, Free Trade Coordination Divisions, External Affairs & International Trade, Jan 23)

• “strongly urg[ing] DFO and BCMOE to modify existing policies to provide greater access to larger commercial quantities of Atlantic salmon eggs.” (BC Salmon Farmers Association to Chamut, DFO Jul 15).

735,000 eggs imported from New Brunswick / Ireland / Washington State

1992 – Importation Policy redrafted – signed by Pat Chamut

• No limit on number of eggs per license,
• quarantine reduced from 12 mos., to 120 days or body weight of 3g.

• BC Salmon Farmers Association: “imported fertilized eggs would be more competitive with domestically produced eggs if hatchlings did not have to be raised under quarantine conditions.

640,000 eggs New Brunswick / Washington State

1993 – The Provincial and Federal government agencies (DFO, MAL*, MOE) Wild/Farmed Salmonid Interactions. Despite all the discusion above and no literature cited it reads:

• “There is also no evidence that wild fish in BC are placed at serious risk from disease occurrence in farmed fish.” (Apr 6).

• Washington State exports 47 million salmon eggs worldwide (10% to BC)

1,447,000 eggs from New Brunswick / Ireland / Washington State

1995 – Pressure from US for BC to relax egg/smolt import regulations

• “Major salmon egg exporters from Washington State agreed that there would be great market potential for their Atlantic salmon eggs in British Columbia if existing import restrictions were removed.” (International Trade – Canada’s Restriction on Certain Salmon Imports, Report to U.S. Senate Slade Gordon, April 1995, GAO/GGD-95-117)

775,000 eggs imported from Washington State / Ireland


1,500,000 eggs imported from Washington State


1,600,000 eggs imported from Washington State


2,400,000 eggs imported from Washington State


2,400,000 eggs imported from Washington State


2,500,000 eggs imported from Washington State


800,000 eggs from Washington State


0 eggs imported

2003 – Dr. Laura Richards Director General, Science, Pacific Region (DFO) petitions John Davis Regional Director, DFO to simply waive the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations so Atlantic salmon eggs can come from a hatchery in Iceland that does not meet Canadian protection standard (Oct 2, Cohen Commission, Exhibit)

• “Two BC salmon farming companies wish to import Atlantic salmon eggs from…Icelandic company which is not certified under the Canadian Fish Health Protection regulations (FHPR)
• Failure to provide permission for egg importation may trigger a trade challenge under the World Trade Organization…
• Additionally, DFO could also be viewed as causing a competitive disadvantage of the aquaculture industry by denying them access to alternate strains.

0 eggs imported


4,700,000 eggs from Iceland


80,000 eggs from Iceland (reported on DFO website), however import permit 05-PBS-1 Jan, 17, 2005 reports 150,000 eggs imported from Iceland that hatched and were destroyed April 19, 2005


0 Eggs imported


1,750,000 eggs from Iceland


800,000 eggs from Iceland


600,000 eggs from Iceland



DFO = federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, renamed Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
MOE = provincial Ministry of Environment (disbanded when Gordon Campbell became Premier of BC)
MAL = provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, assumed control of salmon farm regulation in 1988 and remains responsible for the seafloor leases

December 9, 2011

Dear Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Ashfield:

Your response to the ISA virus is not serving British Columbians and so we are intervening on our behalf.

Only government can’t find ISA virus in BC salmon. You cannot pretend Fraser sockeye, Chinook, chum and coho are not testing positive for ISA virus.

You write “…there are stringent federal regulations in place to protect Canada’s aquatic species (farmed and wild) from disease,” (letter, Nov. 23, 2011) but I can’t find them. Every possible line of defense against ISA virus has been removed or never existed.


1. When DFO waived the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations, 8 million Atlantic salmon eggs entered BC that do not meet “federal regulations,” and we lost our 1st first line of defense against ISA virus.

2. ISA virus does not appear on the egg import certificate, our 2nd line of defense.

3. When ISA virus went epidemic in 2007 in Chile, DFO did not even make it reportable in Canada, our 3rd line of defense.

4. DFO ignored ≈2,000 reports of “classic” ISAv lesions in farm salmon.

5. You are ignoring lab tests coming up positive for ISA virus.

6. It is meaningless to state 5,000 government tests didn’t find ISA virus without reference to the RNA segment, assay, probe or primers.

7. Most critical, you refuse to acknowledge the HPR0 strain of ISA because it cannot be cultured. HPR0 appears to travel with Atlantic salmon eggs, then mutate to higher virulence. When you refuse to recognize HPR0 you remove BC’s final line of defense against ISA virus.

There has been no response from DFO Pacific Region to ISA. All communications have come from your office - unprecedented in the troubled history of BC salmon farms.

Mr. Ashfield I keep trying to tell you, we are not fools. Your failure to respond to the early virus warnings echoes what happened to Chile. This has unacceptable biological, economic, international and market implications. So we have stepped into the void you created. We are tracking ISA virus, we will form a plan when all our results are in and we will give you direction in the New Year. Whether ISAv has always been here, arrived 100 years ago, or recently, there are specific steps available to benefit salmon.

Salmon diseases are no longer a federal secret. We will protect our fish. We are not going to beg help from you any longer.

Alexandra Morton

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