A Secret about Salmon Virus

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.

Link to the story: read it for yourself!

*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.

4 thoughts on “A Secret about Salmon Virus

  1. All things are true about the null set. We can’t see Kibenge’s data, so there’s no telling what she actually found (or didn’t find). It’s entirely possible that her Canadian colleagues had excellent reasons for disputing her results. It’s also entirely possible that they’re covering something up. I don’t think it was productive for Kibenge to go to the media with this, though. Now we’re faced with lots of speculation without any new data.

  2. I agree–we simply don’t know. According to the Seattle Times story, Kibenge’s husband says he’s going to share the data with virus investigators. I prefer to believe that Kibenge’s intent was good, though of course that might not necessarily be true.

    From my (somewhat idealistic) point of view, the more transparency the better. When the original October scare happened, Canada could have stepped up and said, “Okay, look. We had something like this happen before, here’s this researcher’s results and conclusions, here’s our results and conclusions on those same data.” At the very least, this would have shown that there’s a precedent for ISA-positive tests in wild Pacific salmon. (Irrespective of whether there is actually ISA in wild Pacific salmon.)

  3. The correct conclusion to draw from this is that ISA was brought from Norway where fish farms developed it in 1984, a non-virulent freshwater strain mutated once fish farms were initiated in Norway.

    Read the Molly Kibenge and other research: http://www.superheroes4salmon.org/sites/default/files/files/DFO%20draft%20mamuscript_2004%281%29.pdf.
    It says the BC/Alaska strain is the European strain – it is simply a non-lethal strain. There is no Pacific ISA strain. Only East and West Atlantic Ocean. But ISA mutates greatly in fish farms. In Chile after a $2 billion loss, quarter of a billion fish slaughtered (where do you put that many rotten fish) and 13,000 losing their jobs 2007 – 2010, in the wake of this more and more farms are sequenced for ISA, now 23, and earlier in Nov 2011 one farm had to destroy its salmon.

    There are now 28 strains of ISA in Chile all from the original that was brought over by fish farms as the South Pacific has no ISA nor salmon. You can see Fred Kibeng’es work on this. See this table and follow the links: http://fishfarmnews.blogspot.com/2011/10/isa-infections-world-wide-sine-1984.html.

    And it is now seven salmon that have been tested positive for ISA inBC in the past month: two sockeye fry; coho, chum, chinook adults in the Fraser; two Sockeye adults Fraser.

    DFO should have taken action a decade ago and should not have withheld this research given one of its other strategies was to smother the Cohen process with 500,000 documents, and terms of reference that don’t allow for blame to be assessed.

    DFO should have taken action a decade ago and should not have withheld this research given one of its other strategies was to smother the Cohen process with 500,000 documents, and terms of reference that don’t allow Cohen to asses blame for problems caused. And the feds have argued against disease data bein released and people have recanted their work to such a degree that there are so many conflicts of interest it is hard to know who to believe.

  4. Thanks, DC Reid! I have to admit…I linked to the Superheroes 4 Salmon blog in a previous post but somehow didn’t think to check it this morning. I should have known someone would make the draft manuscript public. I will go and read it as soon as I get the chance.

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