Wild Fish Conservancy Stands Firm Behind PRV Statements

We are reproducing today’s new press release from WFC to allegations by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about the previous findings by the WFC in lab tests. There is obviously pushback from WDFW because if these findings are accurate, and there is no reason at this point to question them, it opens up many questions about whether WDFW has been doing it’s job, or whether they have been protecting the net pen industry. I can only say that there has been considerable support of net pens by WDFW (and Department of Ecology for that matter) over the years, so much so that it has been very difficult for any outside organization to question them about it. But of course, in B.C. a similar thing happened with the government agencies that should have been protecting the wild fish, but were actually simply in support with the net pen industries no matter what independent science found to be true.

 

 

In light of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) response to Wild Fish Conservancy’s (WFC) press release on February 15th, we stand firm behind our original statements, and aim to briefly but fully clarify our position on the matter of Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV) of Norwegian origin found in escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound. It is our intention that this clarification will dispel any charges of inaccuracy when it comes to the PRV threat.

As is stated in the original release, WFC received independent lab results confirming the presence of PRV in 19 of 19 farmed Atlantic salmon tested that had escaped from a large-scale escape event off of Cypress Island in August 2017. Furthermore, testing of the samples showed the strain of PRV to be of Norwegian origin. Specifically, the S1 gene from tissue samples from eight of the 19 fish were sequenced and all identified as Geneotype 1a, which is known to be of Norwegian origin.

We take issue with a number of claims made by WDFW in response to this press release, mainly that the agency did not attempt to accurately represent WFC’s views on the matter, and that WDFW is not taking an appropriately precautionary approach when it comes to evidence of a potentially harmful virus being proliferated in Washington’s public waters.

WDFW mischaracterizes our view regarding the Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammatory (HSMI) disease. In the press release we accurately state that HSMI has caused up to 20% mortality in Norwegian net pens. We also state that PRV is known to be the causative agent of HSMI, which has been well documented.

We do not claim, however, that HSMI has been shown to occur in wild Atlantic or Pacific salmon and steelhead. We do not confuse HSMI with PRV, but we do express unease over PRV’s demonstrated relationship to the lethal disease. We are clear that our primary concern is with infection of the virus itself and the concerning possibility that it may cause harm to wild salmon and steelhead, particularly juveniles.

In the press release, WFC states:

“As PRV builds up in a salmon’s red blood cells, the virus may reduce the amount of oxygen cells can transport to the fish’s muscles, lowering the fish’s performance. For a wild fish, reduced performance means a reduced ability to capture prey, evade predators, and swim upriver to spawn.”

This quote identifies a credible biological mechanism by which PRV infection may lead to increased mortality in wild salmon and steelhead. Even in the absence of HSMI, there is the potential for PRV infection to harm wild fish. We believe this potential for harm should not be taken lightly, especially considering the status of the wild ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in Puget Sound.

WFC additionally takes issue with the claim that escaped Atlantic salmon were infected with PRV as a result of stress in the aftermath of escape. 100% of escaped Atlantic salmon tested by both WDFW and WFC (a total of 23 fish) tested positive for

PRV. In a recent broad effort to survey for disease among Alaska and Washington, only 4.6% of Chinook, Coho, and steelhead sampled in Puget Sound tested positive for the virus, a finding that dispels the notion that PRV is ubiquitous among wild fish. Similarly, Norway’s wild salmon disease surveillance program data shows that escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in wild salmon rivers have much higher levels of PRV infection (55% of fish sampled) than either wild-origin conservation hatchery brood stock (24%) or wild salmon (13%). Lacking data that would indicate the absence of the disease prior to escape, WDFW cannot state with any amount of certainty that the disease was contracted in the days following the escape.

As for the issue of the virus’ origin, WFC strongly disagrees with WDFW’s implication that PRV in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea originated in the Pacific Northwest, rather than being imported from Norway. Our independent lab results identified the S1 gene samples of Atlantic salmon as Geneotype 1a, which is known to be of Norwegian origin. WDFW’s implication that the virus is native to the Salish Sea is, at best, highly controversial. Our evaluation of the recent scientific literature on this issue leads us to conclude, in agreement with a majority of researchers who have published on the matter, that it is highly improbable that PRV is native to the eastern Pacific Ocean, and that its presence in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea is the result of importation from Norway.

Much of WDFW’s reply treats the press release as if it were a detailed scientific article, rather than a news brief presenting a summary of critical information. In the release WFC provided members of the press and public with references to the relevant scientific journal articles that informed our position; those interested in digging deeper are encouraged to dig deeper. Still, a press release is necessarily brief and general. It is not a scientific document, and a reviewer should not treat it as such. The testing of the tissue samples from the Atlantic salmon that escaped from the Cypress Island pen, the general results of which we announced in the press release, is part of an ongoing collaborative research project soon to be published in a major scientific journal. Contact information has been provided at the bottom of this press release, please don’t hesitate to contact WFC to request more information regarding the information provided in this release.

When it comes to the impacts of PRV on our wild salmon and steelhead, the science strongly indicates that Washington state agencies need to take a measured and precautionary approach, not a dismissive one. In Puget Sound, wild Pacific salmon and steelhead find themselves at considerable risk, with several species threatened with extinction and many surviving at only a fraction of their historical abundance. Even a small amount of risk from the spread of PRV, compounded with the other stressors our wild fish populations face, has the potential to bring about disastrous consequences to already imperiled wild salmon and steelhead. Due to this concern, a measured and precautionary approach dictates that state agencies must err heavily on the side of caution.

The burden of proof that PRV does not cause harm to wild fish does not rest on wild fish. The burden of proof, rather, lies squarely with the Atlantic salmon net pen industry and regulatory state agencies. This burden has yet to be shouldered by the industry and its defenders.

To date, WFC has not seen sufficient evidence from either of these entities that PRV will not harm wild fish. In standing firm on our concern over the impacts of PRV to wild Pacific salmon, WFC calls on WDFW and other state agencies to accomplish the following:

1. Stop all restocking of Atlantic salmon net pens until thorough industry-independent testing has proven the Atlantic salmon hatchery is not planting PRV infected fish.

2. Immediately test all Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound for PRV.

3. Remove all PRV-infected Atlantic salmon from Puget Sound net pens.

4. Immediately disinfect facilities showing any trace of PRV.

We maintain that these actions are essential to ensure that PRV-infected fish are not being planted into public waters and that Atlantic salmon raised in net pens are not amplifying and spreading the virus in public waters where it places our native salmon and steelhead at risk.

For more information, please contact:

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director

(425) 788-1167

Or email us at:

info@wildfishconservancy.org

 

Cooke Aquaculture inspection finds problems at 2 other Atlantic salmon pens  – Seattle Times

Deficiencies have been found at Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound by an independent inspector, the state Department of Natural Resources reports. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz ordered inspections of all nine of Cooke’s net pens after a catastrophic collapse of one of its net pens at Cypress Island in the San Juans last August, allowing more than 200,000 Atlantic salmon to escape into the Salish Sea. The latest inspections from the contractor hired by the state, Mott MacDonald of Edmonds, found deficiencies at Cooke’s operations at its Hope Island and Rich Passage facilities, according to the reports released Friday. Problems included poor condition and deterioration of some anchor lines, surface rust and corrosion on parts of the facilities and concern about whether anchors were inside the boundaries of the net-pen leases. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/cooke-aquaculture-inspection-finds-problems-at-2-other-operations/?utm_source=referral&utm_medium=mobile-app&utm_campaign=ios

Contrary to agency claims, escaped Atlantic salmon were infected with a highly contagious and harmful virus – Wild Fish Conservency

The stories and assurances  that the net pen industry and their allies have told for years are now proven to be just lies.  I have sat in Marine Resource Committee meetings and had the industry rep blithely tell the group, with no scientific evidence,  that “there are no diseases down here, that’s a Canadian problem. ”  The WDFW, DNR and Ecology have been telling lawmakers there’s no problem, the escaped fish represent no threat because they are healthy and can’t interbreed. One thing that nature teaches us is that it only takes one genetic mutation to change everything in evolution. Let’s get the bill to phase out net pens passed and put this nightmare to an end.

To remedy the harm that may be imparted to our wild fish, and to get to the bottom of the disease’s source, WFC calls on WDFW, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Ecology to:
1. Stop all restocking of Atlantic salmon net pens until thorough testing has proven the Atlantic salmon hatchery is not planting PRV infected fish.
2. Immediately test all Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound for PRV.
3. Remove all PRV infected Atlantic salmon from Puget Sound net pens.
4. Immediately disinfect facilities showing any trace of PRV.
These actions are essential to ensure that diseased, PRV-infected fish are not being planted into public waters and that Atlantic salmon raised in net pens are not amplifying the virus and spreading it in the public’s waters where it places our native salmon at risk.
“Hopefully the Washington state legislature will successfully pass legislation to phase out Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound, but in the interim, this alone is far from enough to protect our wild salmon from this industry,” said Kurt Beardslee.“
It’s absolutely critical that our state agencies take immediate action to ensure we’re not planting or amplifying viruses into our public waters.”

WFCPressRelease2.15_Page_1WFCPressRelease2.15_Page_2WFCPressRelease2.15_Page_3

Washington state House votes to ban Atlantic salmon farms – KUOW

This has been a wild ride to try and keep up with the various bills in the House and the Senate and whether they are in or out as of this moment as to banning Atlantic salmon farms. Here’s 8PM on Feb 14th’s latest report:

The Washington House of Representatives has voted to phase out farming of non-native fish in state waters, drawing the end of Atlantic salmon farming in Puget Sound one step closer.

http://kuow.org/post/washington-state-house-votes-ban-atlantic-salmon-farms

Washington state cancels lease for Atlantic salmon farm off Cypress Island -PDN & Seattle Times

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s lease to operate Atlantic salmon farms at its Cypress Island site, where a second fish farm is at risk of catastrophic collapse, state inspectors say. In a letter to Cooke managers sent Saturday, Franz said the lease is terminated immediately and the company should wind up its operations and clear out of the site in the San Juan Islands, where one of three pens fell apart last August, releasing more than 260,000 Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound. The termination comes just days after state investigators released a report blaming the net-pen failure on company negligence. The investigators also said the company misled the public and regulators about the scope and causes of the collapse. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times) See also: Mix of net pen bills takes aim at non-native salmon http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/politics/mix-of-net-pen-bills-takes-aim-at-non-native-salmon/ Mark Swanson reports. (Peninsula Daily News)

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/washington-state-cancels-lease-for-atlantic-salmon-farm-off-cypress-island/

5 counties warned state about salmon-farming back in 2012 – Everett Herald

A good review of the work done in the last ten years fighting net pen salmon. Here in Jefferson County, it was work by the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee, which voted to recommend supporting the SMP language that would ban net pens in the county, and followed by the support of all three county commissioners, especially now retired Commissioner Phil Johnson.

Not long ago, some of the loudest political voices railing against the danger of farming Atlantic salmon in the waters of Puget Sound came from within chambers of county governments. Back in 2012, leaders of Island, Whatcom, Jefferson, Skagit and San Juan counties — Democrat and Republican — called for a moratorium on such fish farm operations. They also sought authority to include a ban on them in their respective shoreline management plans. They reached out to executives in state agencies as well as former Gov. Chris Gregoire and, later, Gov. Jay Inslee. They lobbied lawmakers and sought backing of tribes in their quest. “While Washington state missteps with outdated science, local governments desiring to recognize modern science, job, and environmental and public threats, ask that they be permitted to ban these open finfish feedlots before they destroy the native species, their habitats, and the jobs we have worked so diligently to protect,” former Island County Commissioner Angie Homola wrote in a six-page issue paper delivered to Inslee in August 2014. Jerry Cornfield reports. (Everett Herald)

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/5-counties-warned-state-about-salmon-farming-back-in-2012/

Norwegian company to build large, land-based salmon farm in Belfast Maine – Republican Journal

News from Maine, shows that fish farming corporations have finally come to grips with the fact that it’s net pen aquaculture doesn’t work, and are moving to build upland facilities that are financially viable. We hope that the Tribes here in Puget Sound, who are holding off support for banning net pens, can use this information to press State Senators Ranker and Van de Wege to add funding for a couple of experimental sites to prove the viability here in Puget Sound. The use of our waters for ‘feed lot’ kind of fish farming, pouring vast arrays of chemicals and fish food must end. We know that the Tribes ‘do the right thing’ as it comes to aquaculture and we hope that they can exert pressure to help them get from this dying technology of net pens, to a new way forward with upland containment.

A Norwegian company plans to build one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms in Belfast, a project that would create 60 jobs within two years and up to 140 once it is completed, according to the company’s chief executive officer.

https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/30/norwegian-company-to-build-large-land-based-salmon-farm-in-belfast/

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