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:



State of the bait: Study yields insight on tiny fish – AP via KIRO.TV

Forage fish are one of the foundational species in Puget Sound and the wider Salish Sea. Their importance to the food chain has only recently been more clearly understood. One reason for adding  more protection to beaches and the nearshore in updates to the Shoreline Master Programs, have been to look at protecting habitat used by these food sources for salmon and other fish as well as birds. Here’s a good short update on State efforts. Additionally to this, some of the Marine Resource Committees of the north Sound have been working on these efforts to protect forage fish, and educate the public to their importance.

Josh Frederick hops out of an idling state Department of Fish and Wildlife motorboat and begins scooping beach gravel into bag labeled with his precise location on Hood Canal. He pulls out a handful and gives it a hard look. “Nothing,” he says. Spotting the tiny, pen point-sized eggs of Puget Sound’s smallest fish isn’t easy, but this stretch of Misery Point has just about everything that spawning herring, smelt and other forage fish could want: shade from trees, few nearby homes, no bulkheads and a beach covered in the not-too-fine, not-too-gritty sediment they favor for tucking in their unhatched young…. Finding few eggs in ideal spawning grounds could be part of the mounting evidence that the sound’s forage fish are in decline. That’s bad news for salmon, seabirds and just about every marine animal bigger than the bait-sized fish. Tristan Baurick reports. (AP)


Puget Sound steelhead management input sought – The Olympian

If you are involved in fishing and interested in salmon management, here’s an opportunity for you to volunteer your input.

The public’s input is being on sought on the selection of at least three Puget Sound rivers where hatchery steelhead would not be released. The wild steelhead management zones would be an additional effort by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to conserve wild fish.


Poacher draws 5 1/2 years in prison after investigation by WDFW Police

There has been a number of people wondering about who were poaching  these oysters.

SEATTLE – The former owner of a shellfish company based in Jefferson County was sentenced today to 5½ years in prison after a poaching investigation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) proved he and his employees had stolen millions of oysters and clams off Washington beaches.

Rodney Allan Clark, 50, former owner of G&R Quality Seafood in Quilcene, pleaded guilty in King County Superior Court to 17 counts of trafficking in stolen property and one count of reckless endangerment for selling shellfish to the public without a state health certification.

Clark was also ordered to return to court next month for a hearing to determine restitution for the shellfish he and his employees stole from beaches in Jefferson and Kitsap counties.

Eight of Clark’s former employees, some of whom cooperated with the investigation, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fishing violations in previous court appearances and received a combination of fines and jail time.

Clark’s sentencing marked the end of a high-profile case that was delayed for nearly a year after the former convict jumped bail in 2013 and fled the state. He was finally extradited from Hawaii under a warrant signed by Gov. Jay Inslee the following year.

Court records describe how a tip from a shellfish inspector for the Washington Department of Health prompted WDFW to open its investigation of G&R Quality Seafood in April 2009.

According to the health inspector, a shellfish buyer reported buying thousands of Clark’s oysters, which made some of his customers in Yakima and the Tri-Cities sick.

For the next 11 months, WDFW detectives developed a case on Clark and his employees, documenting their activities as they illegally harvested shellfish at night on isolated beaches in Jefferson and Kitsap counties. The detectives also monitored the movement of the stolen shellfish to King County, where Clark and his employees sold it at a profit to restaurants, fish markets, and seafood wholesalers.

WDFW Police Chief Steve Crown estimates that Clark and his employees illegally harvested more than $2 million worth of oysters and clams from publicly and privately owned beaches, but said the true value of the stolen shellfish may never be known.

“These poachers stripped entire beaches of oysters and clams, and recklessly sold uncertified shellfish for public consumption,” Crown said. “This was a crime against the people and the natural resources of our state, and we made it a priority to get their ringleader off the street and shut his operation down.”

In March 2010, the WDFW Police seized thousands of documents detailing the operations of G&R Quality Seafood after obtaining a warrant to search Clark’s office in Quilcene and other properties. Several other agencies participated in those raids, including the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Based on WDFW’s investigation, Clark was charged in King County Superior Court in December 2011, but was released on bail pending trial. In December 2013, he failed to appear for a pretrial court date, leading to an interstate search that led first to Alaska, then to Hawaii.

Clark, who previously served a prison sentence for drug offenses in Montana, was eventually arrested in Hawaii and extradited to Washington state under a warrant issued last year by Gov. Inslee.

“We’d like to thank all the agencies that helped us bring Rodney Allan Clark to justice, particularly the King County Prosecutor’s Office,” Crown said. “If the prosecutor hadn’t agreed to pursue this case, Rodney Clark would probably still be out on the oyster beds, plundering the state’s natural resources.”

Shellfish Tell Puget Sound’s Polluted Tale – Earthfix

It’s always been a question mark in my mind, about how much of the bad stuff in the Sound are we eating with our delicious meals of shellfish. Now we know. And it’s a good word of caution that if you are regularly eating shellfish, that buying them from growers who are away from urban environments, or harvesting them yourself in remote places, is the best rule of thumb. And it also gives us a very easy way  to measure the recovery efforts at work. The bad news is that PCBs, long banned, continue to be found in the water, as do flame retardants. Both are cancer causing. It points out that storm water runoff and our crazy notion that we can pour our sewage into our Sound, have consequences for us.

Scientists used shellfish to conduct the broadest study to date of pollution levels along the shore of Puget Sound. And in some places, it’s pretty contaminated. This past winter the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife put mussels at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound. After a few months, volunteers and WDFW employees gathered the shellfish and analyzed them for metals, fossil fuel pollution, flame-retardants and other chemicals. The WDFW just released the results. [http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01643/] Ashley Ahearn reports. (EarthFix)



The Puget Sound watchdog group Sound Action and 10 state environmental groups* last week addressed the importance of strengthening nearshore habitat protections in a joint letter commenting on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s proposed revisions to the state’s hydraulic code. 

The code is the state’s principal regulatory tool to ensure the protection of nearshore and stream habitats and fish life from the harmful impacts of in-water development and construction work.

“Our review found that much of the proposed language creates exemptions and regulatory loopholes and utilizes language that appears to diminish both department responsibility and the ability to ensure the mandated protection of vital habitats,” said Sound Action executive director Amy Carey.

According to the environmental group’s comments:

·      The proposed new rules don’t require project applicants to conduct forage fish spawning surveys prior to work, nor do they require vegetation surveys at project sites.

·      The new rules introduce a simplified permit that allows project approval with no impact review or site visit; they also allow permit applicants unnecessary latitude to negotiate timing restrictions for work.

·      Most significant, the new rules make no provision to protect spawning areas that have not been identified as spawning areas. The groups advocate that the precautionary principle should be applied and protective provisions to a project used when certain habitat features are present even if the site is not currently listed as containing a “documented” habitat.

The rule revision process continues into 2014 with additional public hearing and comment periods, with adoption scheduled for mid-2014.

The rule revisions also drew comments from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission [http://www.soundaction.org/nwifchpa.pdf ] and the Skagit River System Cooperative [http://www.soundaction.org/skagithpa.pdf].

For a more detailed account of the environmental group’s comments on the revised rule, click here [http://www.soundaction.org/hpacomment.pdf]

*Environmental groups signing: League of Women Voters of Washington, Sound Action, Coastal Watershed Institute, Spokane Riverkeeper, Wild Fish Conservancy, Friends of the San Juans, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

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