Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAV)
ISAV is a salmon virus in the influenza family. It is so dangerous to salmon that confirmed detection of the virus is internationally reportable to countries that want to protect their fisheries.
When ISAV was first detected in salmon farms in Chile in 1999, it was ignored. Then in 2007, a mutated strain appeared in the Norwegian-owned fish farms and spread rapidly, causing $2-billion in damages.
Raincoast Research Society started testing for ISAV in BC in 2011. It began tests after discovering government lab reports that suggested the virus was present in BC farm salmon. Initial reports of ISAV detection by Raincoast and Simon Fraser University led to the reopening of the Cohen Commission – a federal investigation into the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.
In 2016, Raincoast Research co-published the first evidence of the ISA virus on BC’s coast. The ISA virus fragments detected in BC farmed and some wild salmon were found to be a match with the Norwegian variant known as HPR5.
Raincoast is now researching the distribution of this virus in both wild and farmed salmon, and whether wild salmon exposed to farms are more likely to be infected.
Controversy over ISAV
Some government scientists have challenged Raincoast’s findings, suggesting the test results were due to contamination. Other government scientists testified at the Cohen Commission that they, too, had detected the ISA virus. Their work remains unpublished.
The film Salmon Confidential, produced by Alexandra Morton, documents Canada’s early response to the evidence that ISAV is present in BC. ISAV is a controversial issue because BC is designated as ISAV-free. If the virus were to be confirmed, foreign sales of BC farmed salmon could be disrupted.
On the other hand, the consequences of not acting to control this virus could be far greater.
This controversy could be easily settled by allowing access to farm salmon for testing – and allowing tests to be modified to best suit the ISAV strain that appears to be in BC. Yet testing remains highly restricted. Raincoast Research continues to test using farm salmon sold in markets which are not ideal samples for confirming the presence of the virus.