UPDATE: B.C. fish pathologist consulted with government and industry vets
Published Thursday, November 23, 2017 10:52AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 27, 2017 11:59AM EST
During W5’s broadcast of "Farm Trouble" we reported about questions raised about the closeness of the BC laboratory which tests farmed Atlantic salmon for disease, its lead scientist and the largest fish farm company on the coast.
In particular, we looked at the discovery of a virus called PRV and a disease it causes, which produces heart damage in salmon. Identified in Norway, the disease has now been spotted in farmed salmon in British Columbia. This was reported by a scientist at the federal fisheries laboratory in Nanaimo in a research paper published in 2017.
Following that publication the lead scientist at the B.C. laboratory that tests farmed salmon, Dr. Gary Marty, claimed that he too had seen the disease, but decided not to call it HSMI.
During an interview with W5, Dr. Gary Marty said: “Well, the first time I reported abnormalities in the heart that looked like HSMI was in 2008. When I talk to our veterinarians, they tell me that we don’t have the serious clinical disease that they have in Norway, and so we don’t use the term HSMI like they do in Norway. We prefer a more general term, um, to the public it would just be, ‘heart disease of unknown cause’.”
Critics complain that Marty had downplayed a serious disease that could put wild salmon at risk and pointed to his connections with the farm fish industry, as a real or perceived conflict of interest.
In part they relied upon two research papers, published in 2014 and 2016, which Marty co-authored, among others, with an employee of Marine Harvest and downplayed the significance of heart damage seen in B.C. farmed salmon and its possible link to PRV and HSMI.
After the W5 broadcast the B.C. government announced it was investigating the laboratory in Abbotsford and its independence.
According to Marty, the veterinarians he was referring to in the W5 interview were employed by the B.C. government.
In an e-mail to W5, he explained: “Since 2000, government agencies have been auditing BC salmon farms for disease and compliance with fish health management plans; these audits include examination of farm mortality records. During that time, licensed salmon farm veterinarians have reported their diseases to the regulatory veterinarians. One hundred and twenty times a year, the government audits check the veracity of the reports from the licensed salmon farm veterinarians. One hundred and twenty times a year, these audits confirm that the licensed salmon farm veterinarians are reliably reporting their diseases.”
However, during his interview Marty was clearly proud of the relationship he’d built with the aquaculture industry, providing examples of the association and reliance on fish farm staff and veterinarians.
E-mails obtained by W5 also show that Marty accepted the conclusions of fish farm veterinarians in regard to HSMI. In May 2016 he wrote:
“… the aquaculture veterinarians said that they were not seeing a clinical pattern that was consistent with Norwegian HSMI (all the Atlantic salmon companies have Norwegian connections, so I assume that they are well aware of the clinical signs of HSMI. Therefore, we decided that what I was seeing was probably not the same as Norwegian HSMI.”
In the same e-mail he wrote, “The farm’s veterinarian told me that the fish did not have clinical signs consistent with the description of the European syndrome HSMI.”
Once again, he cited the advice he’d been given by farm staff:
“I diagnose inflammation in the heart and skeletal muscle when it occurs; however, I do not diagnose HSMI in these fish because the submitting veterinarians tell me that their fish do not have clinical signs consistent with HSMI. As a referral veterinarian I would need some very strong justification to diagnose a syndrome contrary to the information provided by my referring veterinarians.”