Anyone seen today’s Seattle Times? I walked past a paper box this morning and this headline jumped out:
(It then proceeded to dance wildly down the street. But that’s a story for another day.)
Anyway, what’s up with this story? That headline sounds scary. Here’s the low-down:
10 years ago, in 2002, a visiting researcher (Molly Kibenge) took samples of Pacific salmon on Vancouver Island. She found evidence of salmon virus (a strain of infectious salmon anemia, or ISA) in 117 wild fish. However, though the virus was present, there was no illness. Molly Kibenge concluded that a non-lethal strain of ISA might exist naturally in wild Pacific salmon*. However, her results and prepared write-up were not published. So no one outside Canada knew about it. After this year’s initial ISA scare, she went to her lab colleague (Simon Jones), who works for DFO Canada, to pursue publication of her results. But he said that his agency disputed her results and did not give his permission for publication.
Molly Kibenge’s work suggests that wild Pacific salmon might contain a natural variant of ISA. Thus, it is less likely than previously thought that ISA in wild Pacific salmon started in farmed fish. Basically, ISA in wild Pacific salmon carries less risk than previously thought, since this strain appears to be local and non-lethal.
Let’s sum up:
Boo to Canada, for not letting anyone else in on this–especially because access to this work would likely have mitigated the fall-out of this fall’s virus-scare.
But YAY for those results, because they point to the conclusion that we should not be overly worried about the two wild sockeye that tested ISA-positive at Simon Fraser University.
However–as is always the case in science–we need more data. I hope U.S. and Canadian officials continue the push for increased monitoring and virus testing of wild Pacific salmon. If Molly Kibenge’s work can be verified and her conclusions supported, we’ll all breathe a big sigh of relief.
*Edited to add:
I’ve been corrected in the comments: Molly Kibenge did not find a naturally-occurring local strain of ISA in Pacific salmon. She found the European strain, which does suggest introduction of the virus to the Pacific from Atlantic fish. However, the strain was non-lethal. My apologies for the confusion.