Alexandra Morton and Sea Shepherd take water samples in PA Harbor


Photo by Al Bergstein

Independent fish biologist Alexandra Morton brought the the 81 ft. Sea Shepherd and her crew down to Port Angeles today to begin sampling the water around the net pens in Port Angeles harbor as well as other locations around the Salish Sea. She was joined by Kurt Beardslee of the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Photo courtesy of John Gussman

She has started using a new technique that allows her to detect piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) in farmed salmon without having to physically get into the net pens. As she describes on her blog…

Last winter, I used a tiny mesh aquarium net to scoop up hundreds of fish scales that were knocked off young farm salmon as they were pouring into the pens from transport vessels. I also collected bits of flesh from dead farm fish that was pouring out of a salmon farm and had them tested. Viruses were detected in these samples. I learned that farmed Atlantic salmon infected with piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) are being put into the farms in Musgamagw territory.

By collecting the waste pouring out of the farms, I now have the capacity to discover the infectious status of individual farms. Previously I only had access to farm salmon from markets with no way of tracing them to individual farms. Sampling the farm sites will allow me to begin measuring the impact of specific farms on wild salmon. Aboard the Martin Sheen I have now sampled every salmon farm between Vancouver and Alert Bay.

She successfully took samples of the water outside the pens while boats from the net pen company watched at a respectful distance.

Photo courtesy of John Gussman

On the boat’s return, Alexandra and Kurt discussed their work with Representative Mike Chapman. Mike was a key legislative driver for the state house bill that finally banned any Atlantic Salmon aquaculture in Puget Sound, the Strait and Hood Canal. They expressed their thanks to Mike noting that the example shown by Washington State has been instrumental in helping gain more legislative support for a ban in British Columbia.

State Representative Mike Chapman, Wild Fish Conservancy’s Kurt Beardslee & Alexandra Morton Photo by John Gussman

Kurt and Alexandra are working on efforts to get Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to test for the virus. If the virus is present, it could infect young hatchery fish on their way to sea, as well as on their return to the hatcheries. They believe that there is little to waste because hatchery fish will be released in four months. If the virus is present then they are hoping for more rapid shut down of the net pens so as not to spread it further afield. There are concerns that the virus appears identically using DNA testing, to the virus running rampant in Norway. Apparently Kurt and Alexandra believe that the eggs being shipped from Norway are infected, and are infecting the salmon in the pens here.

Photo by Al Bergstein

Alexandra collected fat samples for analysis.

In addition to their crew, Alexandra and Kurt were joined by George Quacksister Jr. the Hereditary Chief Gigame of the Laichkwiltach Nation. He was instrumental in taking underwater video of sick salmon in net pens in B.C.

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