100% of Escaped Atlantic Salmon Sampled in Puget Sound Test Positive for
Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV)
In February 2018, Wild Fish Conservancy announced test results from an independent laboratory at the University of Prince Edward Island. WFC contracted the lab to test 57 tissue samples taken from 19 farmed Atlantic salmon that escaped as a result of the Cypress Island net pen collapse in August 2017. The 19 fish were donated to WFC by commercial, tribal, and recreational fishermen, and were caught in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the site of the Cypress Island escape,and 50 miles upstream the Skagit River.
The independent lab results concluded that all 19 fish were infected with Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV), a highly contagious and debilitating salmonid disease.
In January 2017, a Washington state agency investigative report into the Cypress Island collapse revealed that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also conducted viral testing on 4 escaped fish. Similar to WFC's sampling results, all 4 fish tested by the agency positive for PRV.
The lab work from Prince Edward Island presented another concerning revelation. Genetic sequencing of the virus found the strain of PRV present in the escaped fish to be of Norwegian origin and clustered tightly with a PRV-isolate found in Iceland. This is the first time the Icelandic PRV-isolate has been found in Pacific waters.
This discovery raises a critical question:
If the eggs used in Cooke Aquaculture's Atlantic salmon hatchery in Rochester, WA were produced in Iceland using imported Norwegian Atlantic salmon eggs, has the industry been allowed to import PRV-infected eggs and consequently plant infected fish into Puget Sound?
Our Sound, Our Salmon Urges WDFW to Address the Threat of PRV
When it comes to the impacts of PRV on the Northwest's wild fish, Washington state agencies need to take a measured and precautionary approach. In Puget Sound, wild Pacific salmon and steelhead find themselves at considerable risk, with several species endangered and many surviving at only a fraction of their historical abundance. Even a small amount of risk from the spread of PRV has the potential to bring about disastrous consequences to already imperiled wild populations. Due to this concern, a measured and precautionary approach dictates that state agencies must err heavily on the side of caution.
The burden of proof that PRV does not cause harm to wild fish does not rest on wild fish. The burden of proof, rather, lies squarely with the Atlantic salmon net pen industry and regulatory state agencies.
On April 6, 2018, WFC sent a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and CC'ed the state's key environmental decision-makers formally requesting that the agency immediately address the threat of PRV. Considering the multitude of scientific studies that demonstrate PRV from open-water pens will likely spread to and harm wild fish, the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign is deeply disturbed by the disease’s apparent ubiquity among escaped Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound.
WDFW responded to our request and agreed to:
- Test all currently stocked Atlantic salmon net pens for PRV
- Remove any PRV-infected fish currently stocked in public waters
- Test any Atlantic salmon hatchery intending to transfer fish into public waters for PRV
- Not allow the transfer of any Atlantic salmon which test positive for PRV into public waters
Members and partners of the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign commend the agency for this decision as these actions are essential to ensure that PRV-infected fish are not being planted into public waters and that Atlantic salmon raised in net pens are not amplifying and exposing our native salmon and steelhead to the virus.
Our Sound, Our Salmon has deep concerns, however, over the agency’s chosen means for testing for this virus. Through conversations between WFC and WDFW we understand that a private veterinary consulting group will be conducting viral sampling and testing for PRV. This chosen group is currently a consultant for, and has and vociferously testified publicly on behalf of, the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry in Washington state.
A fundamental principle of good resource management is to ensure the public that the outcome of consequential testing is the result of rigorous science conducted by independent investigators free from any reasonable perception of bias and/or conflict of interest.
Due to this pre-existing relationship and the consequence of this testing, we believe it is in the public's best interest for WDFW to conduct all PRV sampling and testing internally. As an agency, WDFW owns both the scientific means and legal authority to sample and test for PRV in operating net pens and hatcheries, and we, as a coalition, have far more confidence in test results from a governmental agency than results coming from the industry's consultant.
Our Sound, Our Salmon Petitions WDFW to Avoid Conflict of Interest in PRV Testing
On May 8th, 2018, twenty six members and partners of the Our Sound, Our Salmon coalition notified the public in a press release of a petition letter delivered to WDFW Acting Director Joe Stohr, urgently requesting that the department reconsider the means by which they plan to test for PRV in Washington state's Atlantic salmon net pens and in the Atlantic salmon hatchery in Rochester, WA owned by Cooke Aquaculture.
The 26 members and partners who delivered the petition letter believe that allowing Cooke Aquaculture's private veterinary consulting group to be the party responsible for viral testing for PRV represents a clear conflict of interest. Not only has this group testified enthusiastically in public on behalf of the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry, but we believe the public's trust in the company and their ability to self-monitor has eroded. The state's own investigative report into the Cypress Island Spill revealed that on multiple occasions Cooke Aquaculture misled the public.
Beyond the company's poor public reception, a scientific paper released on May 7th, 2018 by a team of scientists from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) raises even more cause for urgency and alarm.
The paper, scheduled to be published in the journal FACETS later this month, reports that Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV) can cause cell rupture of red blood cells resulting in anemia and potentially causing lethal kidney and liver disease in Chinook salmon.
The paper is co-authored by Kristi Miller-Saunders, Head of Molecular Genetics at DFO, and was released by the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative, a federally incorporated Canadian organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wild Pacific salmon and their natural habitats in British Columbia and the Yukon.
In the past, WDFW and Cooke Aquaculture have dismissed the risks associated with PRV and have neglected to take an appropriately precautionary approach when it comes to the virus. This new research illustrates the recklessness of this approach, providing strong evidence that PRV causes severely debilitating effects in Chinook salmon.
The 26 organizations and businesses signed on the petition letter are requesting state conducted viral testing in order to ensure impartiality and to assure the public that the Atlantic salmon net pen industry is not imparting harm to Chinook and other wild salmon, the killer whales that depend on their abundance, and our cherished marine environment.
WDFW has the scientific means and the legal authority to conduct viral testing. If you believe that its in the public's best interest for all PRV sampling and testing to be conducted internally by WDFW, please click below to sign onto the petition.
WDFW Reverses their Position on PRV
On May 17th, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) issued a press release reporting they had denied permission for Cooke Aquaculture to transport 800,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon from the company’s hatchery in Rochester, WA to a vacant net pen in Rich Passage.
The agency made the decision to deny the transport permit after samples taken from the Atlantic salmon hatchery in Washington tested positive for what the agency called an “Icelandic form” of Piscine Reovirus (PRV). An official from WDFW quoted in the release, said that introducing an exotic strain of PRV into Washington’s marine waters would represent an unknown and unacceptable risk of disease transmission.
Previously the agency has argued that the virus poses little or no harm to wild salmonids and that PRV is endemic and common in Washington waters and not brought in by the Atlantic salmon aquaculture industry. The Our Sound, Our Salmon coalition commends the agency for reversing their position on PRV.
Here's what science says about PRV:
Science says there is a high likelihood PRV will transmit from farmed salmon to wild salmon. PRV survives well in sea water, and is known to spread out long distances from farms. The spread of PRV from farmed Atlantic salmon to sockeye salmon has been documented, and a 2017 BC study demonstrated that significantly more wild salmon were infected with PRV if they had been exposed to salmon farms than if they were located far away.
Science says that PRV is the cause of HSMI, a lethal salmonid disease. HSMI causes a crippling onset of symptoms in salmonids, symptoms that would either kill or render a wild fish incapable of surviving in natural conditions. The causal relationship between PRV and HSMI was heavily debated in the scientific community until a 2017 Norwegian study, in which a pure strain of PRV was injected directly into an Atlantic salmon and subsequently tested positive for HSMI.
Science says that even without the occurrence of HSMI, PRV can negatively impact a salmon’s ability to compete and survive in the wild. As PRV builds up in a salmon’s red blood cells, the virus may reduce the amount of oxygen cells can transport to the fish’s muscles, lowering the fish’s performance. For a wild fish, reduced performance means a reduced ability to capture prey, evade predators, and swim upriver to spawn.