Saturday, October 29, 2011

Infectious salmon anemia spreading throughout North American fish

The scientist in Canada got the results from a respected lab and held a news conference. The ice and bait man at a fish processor in Sitka, Alaska, heard the news on Facebook. Vardon Tremain read it in the newspaper while working on his trolling boat docked here in Salmon Bay.

More scientists in Washington started talking, and 24 hours later everyone is asking more questions. As word spread that infectious salmon anemia, a deadly virus that has devastated farmed fish in Chile, had been found for the first time in prized wild Pacific salmon, there remained much uncertainty about the finding and what its potential impact could be.

So far it has been found in just two wild sockeye salmon in British Columbia and not in an active state. Nevertheless the reaction from fishermen has echoed that of some scientists: this is the last thing salmon need.

“On top of everything else, that would just be murder here,” said Mr. Tremain, aboard his 40-foot boat, Heidi, at Fishermen’s Terminal here.

Multiple species of wild Pacific salmon, which migrate between freshwater rivers and the saltwater ocean, are listed as endangered species, their numbers threatened by declining river habitat, hydroelectric dams, rising water temperatures and other factors.

“Now we have something in the salt water that can kill them, too,” said Mr. Tremain, referring to the newly found virus. “With all of the other threats, the ocean has been what’s saving them.”

Infectious salmon anemia is not contagious to humans, but it has many people here worried. Wild salmon are a cultural symbol, a political wedge, a marketing phenomenon and good eats. A bumper sticker seen often in the region mocks their farmed foils: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon: support your local commercial fisherman.” more