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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ISA test results inconclusive

The BC Salmon Farmers are crowing over today’s media conference announcing the results of further testing for the ISA virus in Pacific salmon. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the salmon farming industry’s public relations division – aka DFO Aquaculture Branch – tried their best to sound neutral and unbiased but were clearly pleased to report their findings to date. But not so fast (spin) doctors.
If you listened to the first few minutes of the media conference call there was nothing but good news. According to Dr. Con Kiley, Director of National Aquatic Animal Health with CFIA, there are no confirmed cases of ISA in either wild or farmed salmon in BC, all the samples received were thoroughly tested, all tests were negative and basically, we can all relax. There is no cause for concern.

That would be great news. ISA in the Pacific ocean could have tragic and truly devastating consequences if the disease were to mutate or prove to be virulent. Today’s announcement from the CFIA, DFO and the BC government was very reassuring – up to about the 10 minute mark.

I started getting very worried again when Kiley noted that “these supplementary results must be considered inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples.” Say what? Inconclusive?

The spin-doctoring started seriously unravelling when a reporter from the Seattle Times asked if Canadian government officials would be willing to share raw samples with US researchers if they wanted to do their own testing (audio credit: Hmmm – seems our friends to the south are as suspicious of DFO and CFIA’s cosy partnership with the fish farming industry as Canadians are.

Peter King, who heads up the Moncton DFO laboratory that did the re-testing of the samples responded (and I quote): “For the most part these samples are either partially – and I say over the half way mark – or totally, totally degraded. Sharing those samples would not be good science. They are in poor condition, we received them in poor condition and moving them anywhere else is not going to help anybody.” He talks about the storage of the samples and the degradation of RNA, then goes on to say: “That’s why we call things inconclusive – because the degradation is so bad you cannot form an opinion from a test standpoint as to whether or not you are capable or not capable. The fact that they come up negative doesn’t really mean anything because they are so badly degraded.”

The negative test “doesn’t really mean anything”?

CFIA’s Kiley tries to regain control of the spin: “Or that you get a result that’s positive”
King acknowledges “That’s a possibility too – that’s why we have to go to confirmatory testing...”
So given the huge uncertainty, surely our federal agencies are now working hard to get to the bottom of this? If the samples are poor quality, they must have a plan to immediately secure more and better samples? If the results are inconclusive and they can’t categorically rule out the presence of ISA then they’ll be spending sleepless nights putting together a testing program to make certain our wild salmon are not exposed to this disease.

Dr. Kiley advises DFO and CFIA are “assessing current testing levels for ISA in both wild and aquaculture populations in BC” and will “increase surveillance activities as required”. But they are acting quickly, right? Kiley replies there are ideal times of year for tests and based on the species and where they want to test they will decide what will be done and when.

So the spin will be ‘no ISA in BC’ while the reality is the tests are totally inconclusive, ISA might be present or it might not, the salmon farmers continue to do their own sampling and testing (but are ‘sharing’ the results of their in-house fish health audits with the Province) and the Canadian government agencies are going to move at a glacial pace before doing anything because after all – what’s the rush? It’s only our wild salmon and the continued functioning of our Pacific coast ecosystem that’s on the line.

At the end, a reporter introduces herself as Roxanne from the Yukon News and asks if there is further testing done, would it come north and perhaps include the Yukon River? Dr. Kiley replies: “No, we do our investigation in Canadian waters.” Now I’m reassured – Canada’s best are on the job.

Cath Stewart is manager of Living Oceans Society's Salmon Farming Campaign


  1. I was listening too and you got it backwards. The science shows that the samples, after retesting, showed NO evidence of ISA.

    You can spin a couple of weak positives, which were unreproduceable (and the ability to reproduce results is crucial in science)to support your story and paint conspiracy theory pictures but you are wrong.

    And why would American testing be any good? American fishermen would like nothing more than to see their competition shut down. You can put your trust in America if you want, and considering Living Oceans is a registered charity in the USA I suppose that makes your bias clear, but Canadian scientists have done the work and done the science.

    And the science shows no ISA in B.C.

    PS - the Yukon River is mostly in Alaska and enters the ocean in Alaska. Spawning salmon enter through Alaska, and smolts go out to sea through Alaska. Obviously that's where testing would be done, if there was to be any testing of Yukon River fish. So you can drop that red herring.

  2. Continue to sample for ISA, but not with my tax dollars. Get Mortons rich Mom in America to pay. 5000 negative ISA tests on farm fish is enough evidence for me.

    Save the wild, eat farm salmon.

  3. The 5,000 tests over 10 years over ALL the farms in BC of millions and millions of Atlantic salmon that continually get harvested then replaced has already been mathematically proven to be a useless amount of fish to test in court at the Cohen Commission. Let's not hear that ridiculous rant anymore!

  4. Excellent point.
    In the widely accepted six stages of moral development (Kohlberg'70) the argument that A.Morton's mother is wealthy falls into the stage one category. This stage is usually surpassed by the time the child reached grade two. It is time to move beyond that as well.

  5. I heard it too and of course the samples after retesting showed no ISA....they were tooooo degraded!!!....and then of course science couldn't reproduce the results with those degraded samples....that's why they said the results are "inconclusive"...and because of that they are erring on the side of caution...which to them means...head shake and eye roll..that it's not in BC!...everyone seems to keep missing the fact that two of the fish had European strain signatures of ISA...kinda hard to get that without ISA....that's ok though...lots of fresh samples coming right up!!!

  6. I am getting the distinct impression that this is one very lonely person having a debate with themselves.

  7. Please feel free to delete Mr Anonymous. No one with integrity would miss him.

  8. Go to my blog and read my response to Minister Ashfield's news release on ISA:

    As there are now five positive results for ISA in BC in four of five species, and in two different life phases, suggests that there is something wrong with the BC provincial system: either the test or the reporting arrangement.

    We need independent testing of the 9,562 strains of BC wild salmon very quickly.