NEWS

B.C. salmon farmers on 'high alert' for lethal virus

06/02/2012 05:28 EDT | Updated 08/02/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. salmon farmers say most of their operations have been untouched by a lethal fish virus, but the industry is "not out of the woods yet."

Infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus, a highly contagious disease, first showed up more than two weeks ago in routine testing at a farm near Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, owned by Mainstream Canada.

The Dixon Bay site was quarantined and more than 500,000 fish were destroyed.

Another quarantine was imposed at a second Mainstream Canada farm, but follow-up testing for the virus at that site hasn't been completed.

"I think it's early to draw conclusions," said B.C. Salmon Farmer's Association executive director Mary Ellen Walling.

"I think having Mainstream Canada deal so rapidly with what we call an index case, so that was the Dixon site, may well have prevented the spread of it."

But tests on another 20 or so farms have not been done, and samples from seven sites have not yet produced results.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Walling said.

The concern, she said, is that wild salmon — which have a natural resistance to IHN virus — are making their return right past many farms filled with Atlantic salmon, which are susceptible.

"We're hearing from Washington state that there's virus load on some of those returning fish, so we're still on high alert from the farm industry's point of view."

Walling says all of the testing should be complete in the next two weeks.

Marine Harvest Canada, which operates 27 salmon farms in B.C., says its sites have been given a clean bill of health for the IHN virus after testing was ordered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The agency says the virus does not pose a risk to human health and is found in wild fish in the Pacific.

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