About 450,000 farmed salmon in Butter Cove will be destroyed following confirmation of a fatal virus among the stock.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Darin King announced the confirmed findings late Friday afternoon, following reports of suspected infectious salmon anemia at a quarantined aquaculture site belonging to one of the companies based on the south coast of Newfoundland. Neither the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) nor the provincial government would reveal the affected company — Gray Aquaculture, with an office in Conne River — until the virus was confirmed.
“We’ve also been advised by CFIA that an order to remove the fish and destroy is imminent,” said King. “It will be coming, if not this afternoon, some time (Saturday) morning.”
The minister acknowledged the destruction of the fish is a blow to Gray Aqua.
“You’re talking about a significant amount of fish, but the company has other sites. They have workers employed, they have other fish ready to stock cages — I think they’ll fine,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of the aquaculture industry. These things happen. Nova Scotia saw it last month, this happened in Chile and it may happen again. It’s part of a naturally occurring phenomenon. It has nothing to do with anything that was done wrong, it has nothing to do with how the fish were being farmed, nothing to do with that whatsoever.”
King said what’s suspicious is that the virus in the farmed stock was contracted from a wild fish, and he stressed the virus poses no threat to people.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong if you were to consume this fish,” he said. “The concern is that if you leave the fish in the water, the disease can be transferred in the ocean, and we simply don’t want a case where it breaks out any further.”
Dr. Daryl Whelan, the province’s lead veterinarian for the department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said the fish are tested for a variety of diseases every 30 to 45 days, or sooner if a problem is suspected.
King said the province’s “rigorous protocols” were what caught the disease before it could spread beyond the four of Gray Aqua’s 13 tanks where the virus was found, and that strict measures were put in place in late June, when testing first turned up suspicion of the disease. The minister said the decision to cull the stock comes from the food inspection agency, with advice and support from the provincial government.
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NDP critic optimistic
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“We’ve followed every protocol that has been put in place to ensure to the best of our ability that there’s been no transfer of the disease outside the sites that we’re talking about,” said King, adding that Gray Aqua is now working on a plan to remove, transport and dispose of the fish. “The entire protocol has to be approved by the federal government before any movement can take place on behalf of the company.”
George Murphy, the NDP’s environment critic, called the loss of the fish tragic, but said he’s optimistic the government is taking the right approach.
“It’s unfortunate that with this virus that it can survive in sea water for some time, so there has to be some very, very close monitoring done of other operations here at the same time that are relatively close to this operation or for that matter any operation,” he said. “Hopefully the government will put in the appropriate controls for it.”
Whether Gray Aqua is entitled to compensation for the destroyed fish is a “tougher question,” said Murphy.
“You have to ask yourself the question, I guess, should we be making strategic investments for a business that fails?” he said. “Maybe this is probably a lesson too, that we’re still learning. We’re still very early into the aquaculture industry here. … Can we learn from these challenges in the industry? Of course we can.”
Dr. Jag Dhanda, the inspection agency’s national manager, said several factors need to be considered in the disposal plan.
“You need to take into account different things: how fast the disease is spreading, and also we need to protect any surrounding farms and also the wild aquaculture, so we need to take measures as quickly as we can to remove the salmon on this affected farm,” he said, adding that other factors to be considered include what strain of the virus it is and what kind of biosecurity measures are being take to prevent further spread.
“We need to make sure that whatever disposal option we take, either rendering, or it could be burial, or it could be heat destruction, whatever we do, we take all the measures to control the spread of the disease.”
Due to an editing error, Jennifer Caines was both correctly and incorrectly identified in The Telegram’s page A1 story on July 6, headlined, “Food agency quarantines salmon farm over suspected virus.”
Caines is the spokeswoman for Northern Harvest Sea Farms in St. Alban’s, whose fish have not been quarantined, not the office manager for Gray Aqua in Conne River who declined to answer questions about the virus.
The Telegram regrets the error.