Salmon virus could be devastating to aquaculture company, says association

Daniel MacEachern
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Farmed salmon swim in a pen. — Telegram file photo

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has quarantined a Newfoundland aquaculture site due to a suspected salmon virus.

Provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Darin King, in a written statement issued by department spokesman Bradley Power, said the agency quarantined an aquaculture site on the south coast because of a suspected case of infectious salmon anemia. “This quarantine restricts movement of people, fish, vessels and equipment, with strict biosecurity measures in place while final testing by CFIA takes place,” reads the government’s statement.

According to the province,

which has not identified the

site that was quarantined, testing done by the aquatic animal health division raised suspicions of the virus.

The food inspection agency was notified, and further testing June 29 revealed similar results.

Neither the provincial government — which noted the virus is not harmful to people, and occurs naturally in the wild — nor the food inspection agency would identify the quarantined site more specifically than the region, the St. Alban’s area where it’s located.

Nell Halse, vice-president of communications for Cooke Aquaculture, said it’s not a Cooke farm — the New Brunswick-based company has a farm in St. Alban’s. Earlier this year, Cooke had to destroy salmon at its Nova Scotia operations after the virus was found there.

“We are very concerned because there are different companies working in the same area, and we are certainly very eager to see the company involved be very aggressive and proactive like we have been in Nova Scotia,” she said. “This is a virus. We’ve learned from experience you need to remove the fish as quickly as possible.”

Jennifer Caines, spokeswoman for Northern Harvest Sea Farms in St. Alban’s, said Northern Harvest hasn’t been quarantined, but the office manager for Gray Aqua’s operation in nearby Conne River declined to comment.

“I’m not able to answer any of your questions,” said the manager, directing The Telegram to Gray Aqua’s vice-president of communications, Clyde Collier, who did not return messages.

Miranda Pryor, executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, said a confirmed diagnosis could be catastrophic to an aquaculture company.

“I can’t speak on behalf of that company specifically, but it’s hard to survive if you lose what you were expecting were your market fish for this year, and that’s your revenue source for this year and you lose them all without compensation of them,” she said.

“It takes us two to three years’ investment to get our fish to marketside, so it can be devastating, quite devastating.”

Pryor said the association is working with companies in the area to improve their biosecurity.

“Given the infrastructure on the south coast, we share wharves, we share processing facilities, those types of things, so we’ve been trying to limit as much possible movement of vessels and people and service supply industries in and around this site to other sites,” she said. “The company itself, upon hearing this news and being notified from our provincial veterinarians and the CFIA stepping in, they’ve been looking at plans on how to get the fish out of the water — how do we move the fish out of the water as quickly as we can?”

Cooke’s Halse said the company shouldn’t wait for an agency order but should take action now. She said the agency requires all test results to be in before a diagnosis is confirmed and a company is ordered to take action, but that can take weeks.

“If it was our site, we would have removed the fish without waiting for that order because it’s an important way of managing it, especially when you have other farms in the area that are at risk,” said Halse.

It’s not just the aquaculture companies that stand to lose if a virus depletes fish stocks, but also taxpayers. In April, Gray Aqua received a $500,000 repayable loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to set up another operation at Goblin Bay in the Bay d’Espoir area. Northern Harvest received $2.3 million in federal and provincial funding to expand its operations in Rencontre East, Bay d’Espoir and Stephenville. Also, if the food agency orders a company to destroy fish stocks, there may be federal compensation available for that company.

 Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Northern Harvest Sea Farms, Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Northern Harvest Conne River Goblin Bay Rencontre East Stephenville

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