Feds launch review after tests show fish virus in B.C. bloodwater
The federal government has launched a review after tests showed a contagious fish virus in blood spewing into a B.C. waterway from a fish processing plant.
CTV’s Melanie Nagy first reported Monday on video footage that shows a pipe gushing effluent into B.C.’s Discovery Passage, one of Canada’s largest migratory routes for wild salmon. Each year, millions of fish pass through the region on Vancouver Island’s east coast.
The video shows a steady column of blood flowing from an open pipe into the ocean at a depth of about 30 metres. The pipe is linked to Brown’s Bay Packing Co., a farmed Atlantic salmon plant near Campbell River that processes fish for many foreign-owned companies.
But the Discovery Passage pipe isn’t the only one. B.C. photographer Tavish Campbell, who recorded the video, shot footage of a second pipe pouring blood into the water near Tofino.
The second pipe was connected to another processing plant.
Blood samples from both pipes were collected and tested at the Atlantic Veterinary College. The effluent was found to be infected with Piscine reovirus, or PRV.
PRV was first found in Canada in 2011. Now, it is estimated to affect up to 80 per cent of B.C.’s farmed salmon. The virus has been linked to HSMI, a potentially deadly disease that causes heart lesions and organ hemorrhaging in fish.
The disease doesn’t pose a risk to humans, but can wipe out up to a fifth of a salmon farm population.
Marine researcher Alexandra Morton said continued spread of PRV would have devastating consequences on wild salmon. Salmon populations are considered a vital link in B.C.’s food chain and are a key food source for species such as orca whales and bears.
“Piscine reovirus is known to be a highly durable virus, so it can last a long time in the water,” said Morton, a longtime critic of salmon farming in B.C.
The federal government said fish plant effluent falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction. But Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc was so alarmed by the video that he opted to launch a review.
“Obviously if there’s an appropriate enforcement action that will take place, it will take place,” LeBlanc said.
The B.C. government confirmed it is also investigating. The province’s environment minister, George Heyman, said it’s important to know what’s entering the water.
“We want to ensure that anything discharged into the ocean is safe before it hits the water,” Heyman said.
B.C. authorities will also conduct a large-scale audit of fish processing plants to make sure they meet regulatory requirements and that the environment is protected. According to the province, some plants operate on permit standards established decades ago.
The farmed salmon industry insists that it adheres to the highest waste treatments standards. Still, the industry said it will also conduct a review of processes at all fish plants.
Dave Stover, the manager of Brown's Bay Packing, told CTV News that the company has an “effluent permit” with the province. Stover added that the processing plant follows industry standards.
Steven Hedlund, communications manager with Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), an international non-governmental organization that advocates for responsible practices within the aquaculture industry and provides certification for plants, said the GAA’s standards require plants to “screen out solids and treat effluents by chlorination or another method of disinfection which will kill the disease organisms before released.”
He added that certified plants are required to facilitate “periodic monitoring” of effluent to ensure that no live organisms or pathogens are present.
Brown’s Bay Packing Co. is certified by the GAA, Hedlund confirmed.
Michael Price, a biologist who has investigated fish processing plants and highlighted risks, said wild salmon may be under threat due to the industry.
“It is a constant source of potential pathogens,” Price said. “This is the big red flag, I think, for wild salmon conservation.”
Indigenous groups in B.C. have been raising the issue for years. Chief Ernest Alfred, a hereditary chief from the 'Namgis, Lawit'sis and Mamalilikulla nations, launched a protest in August that saw environmentalists and Indigenous activists occupy a fish farm near Alert Bay, B.C.
Alfred said he believes fish farms and processing plants violate human rights by negatively impacting wild salmon, which are a source of livelihood and food for those living along Canada’s west coast.
“If we want a functioning ecosystem, we have to do something now,” he said.
With a report from CTV’s British Columbia Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy