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Fish activist seeks reopening of federal inquiry

04/26/2012 12:17 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT

The federal inquiry into the collapse of the sockeye salmon stocks on B.C.'s Fraser River could reopen hearings to consider new findings about a controversial virus.

Environmentalist Alexandra Morton, one of the participants in the inquiry, alleges that the potentially lethal piscine reovirus has been found among farmed salmon, a finding she says was withheld from the inquiry and which must be considered.

The inquiry stopped hearing evidence last year and Commissioner Bruce Cohen is just months away from delivering his final report to the government.

But according to Morton, 44 out of 45 samples of farmed Atlantic Salmon she bought at Vancouver area supermarkets and had tested at the World Animal Health lab in Prince Edward Island returned positive results for piscine reovirus.

In some literature, the reovirus has been linked to the fish disease HSMI [heart and skeletal muscle inflammation].

Morton said she believes a weak heart could explain why some wild salmon never make it up stream.

"What is not lethal to the farmed salmon, at times, is going to be highly lethal to the wild salmon," said Morton.

Morton has asked Cohen, a B.C. Supreme Court justice, to re-open the inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye in light of an admission last week by a B.C. ministry of agriculture fish pathologist Gary Marty.

Marty said that in 2010, he found that 75 per cent of farmed salmon he tested produced positive results for piscine reovirus.

"I don't know why Justice Cohen didn't hear any of this," Morton said.

Farm fish unaffected

Marty said the commission didn’t hear it because the virus isn't causing disease to fish raised in farms.

"Turns out, this is fairly common,” Marty said. “The ‘O’ in reovirus, stands for ‘orphan.’ They're called orphans because they're viruses without a disease."

The B.C. Salmon farming industry has slammed Morton's findings as unscientific and sensational.

Marty said the virus is worth further study.

"But at this point, it probably does not justify delaying the report any more to look for a virus that in B.C. is not clearly associated with disease," he said.

Morton said that without hearings on the virus, the final report from an inquiry that has already cost $28 million will lose its value.

The commission is considering Morton's application.

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