Further study urged on virus found in Pacific salmon

Thu Oct 20, 2011 10:53pm EDT
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By Nicole Neroulias

SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. senators from Alaska and Washington state called on Thursday for more investigation of a contagious and lethal fish virus recently detected for the first time in wild Pacific salmon, alarming marine scientists.

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 -- was found in two out of 48 young sockeye salmon sampled from a British Columbia river inlet, researchers said.

The findings were announced on Monday in Vancouver by marine biologists from Simon Fraser University, who said the European strain of the virus they detected had only been identified before in farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

They said the research suggested 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.

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."

"Many of the salmon populations around the Pacific Northwest are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and this is another potential problem for them," Ericksen added.   Continued...

<p>A sockeye salmon swims in shallow water in the Adams River while preparing to spawn near Chase, British Columbia, northeast of Vancouver in this October 11, 2006 file photo. A lethal and highly contagious fish flu virus that decimated Chile's aquaculture industry several years ago has been found in wild Pacific salmon for the first time, alarming U.S. and Canadian researchers, who say farmed Atlantic salmon imported into the region are to blame; the salmon farming industry is disputing the study. REUTERS/Andy Clark/Files</p>