Tag Archives: disease

“Yellow fish” issue in farmed Chinook salmon not linked to PRV, new study shows

Three heavy hitters in BC’s fisheries and aquaculture science community have published a new study after a laboratory challenge of several different species of salmon.

The study investigated the phenomenon of yellow (jaundiced) fish from a Chinook farming operation in Clayoquot Sound; the level of Piscene Reovirus (PRV) in these fish compared to other species; and any disease associated with jaundiced fish and PRV infection.


Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there's no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.
Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there’s no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.

In our controlled laboratory exposure study, we demonstrated that PRV persisted in each of the Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Atlantic Salmon for 5 months after ip challenge without resulting in microscopic evidence of HSMI or any other disease.

Our study supports the hypothesis that exposure to PRV is not solely responsible for the development of Jaundice Syndrome. It may be possible that the presence of PRV is not contributory towards jaundice in Chinook but rather that its association is merely a reflection of the ubiquitous presence of PRV in wild and farmed salmon species of BC.

The research supports the conclusion that in Pacific waters, PRV is not connected to the Heart and Skeletal Muscular Inflammation (HSMI) disease, and that there is no connection between PRV and the jaundice phenomenon in farmed Chinook salmon.


Yes, the CFIA CAN detect ISA virus HPR0

One of the favourite claims in Alexandra Morton and friends’ narrative about the ISA virus in farmed salmon is that the CFIA can’t detect it.

Another one of their favourite claims is that the strain of ISA virus that doesn’t cause disease, HPR0, is elusive and hard to detect and so therefore it must be in the Pacific somewhere.

Neither are true.

The CFIA has no trouble detecting all known variants of ISA virus, and just recently confirmed (this word is important) HPR0 in New Brunswick.



They test wild and farmed fish in BC too, so if it was actually here, you’d certainly be hearing about it.



Activist Alexandra Morton lies on national TV

CBS’ famous 60 Minutes program recently aired several segments about salmon farming, and they were actually pretty fair.

The show was a generally fair representation of salmon farming in BC. I especially liked how the segment showing the seafloor beneath a fallowed salmon farm showed the seafloor was crawling with prawns.

My only two concerns were:

  1. Letting Alexandra Morton get away with a bald-faced lie when she talks about the ISA virus and says, “There’s nobody actually looking at the wild fish carefully.”

This is COMPLETELY false and it’s a shame 60 Minutes did not challenge her on this lie.

There were thousands of wild fish tested in Alaska, BC and Washington specifically for this virus in the past four years.

ISA surveillance fact sheet

Washington ISA test results

BC test results

Maybe she doesn’t think that thousands of properly-conducted scientific tests are “careful” compared to her method of sampling sick and dying spawned-out fish off riverbanks.

The problem with this is that as soon as Pacific salmon return to freshwater to spawn, they start to die. Their bodies rot around them. Their goal is to live long enough to reproduce.

Spawning fish will be infected with all sorts of things, many of which have similar symptoms. Their ravaged bodies will also be a very poor source of tissue for testing purposes.

As well, Morton’s statements about virus and “genetic markers” show her willful ignorance as she chooses to ignore how virus testing actually works, in favour of telling the story she wants to tell.

  1. Ending with a useless interview with a lawyer who refuses to say whether or not ISA is in BC.

I mean come on. A lawyer isn’t going to say anything definitive about a scientific question. This question should have been posed to a scientist, or several scientists, who could have provided a more responsible answer.

And they have — except 60 Minutes chose not to use it.

Junk science attack on processing plant gets its facts totally wrong

Just because a study is peer-reviewed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good science.

Here’s a perfect example. A new paper published by John Volpe, Michael Price and Alexandra Morton — who have published more than a few studies among them with spurious claims and questionable data — suggests that farmed salmon from Nootka Sound processed on Quadra Island are threatening wild salmon with sea lice and diseases coming out the processing plant’s effluent pipe.

But there are some serious flaws with this paper that suggest it should be retracted.

For one thing, at the core of the study’s premise is the claim that “Walcan Seafood only processes fish from open-net salmon farms on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Dill 2011); therefore, the sea lice we recovered undoubtedly originated from infected Atlantic Salmon that were farmed in a distant region.”

Most people in Campbell River and on Quadra Island know that Walcan processes a lot more than farmed salmon. Walcan processes farmed salmon and wild sockeye. They process shellfish. They process whatever people pay them to process, and they do a great job of it.

Here’s an article from 2010 several months after Morton collected data for this study, featuring Walcan president Bill Pirie talking about how great the record sockeye run was that year for business.

Walcan workers are running off their feet, putting in 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week as Campbell River area fishing boats bring in the sockeye for processing.

Here’s a video of the plant, taken around the same time Morton was collecting data for this study, showing the plant processing oysters.

But wait, there’s more. The source this paper cites says nothing that backs up the author’s claim. Click on the “Dill 2011” link above and look on page 29. Nowhere does Dill say that Walcan only processes farmed salmon from the west coast of Vancouver Island.

That’s a serious flaw in this paper that the peer-reviewers missed.

According to the four nitwit authors of this study, Walcan only processes farmed Atlantic salmon. Therefore, this photo is a lie.

And it’s important, because again, the paper’s central premise is that “Marine salmon farms and their processing facilities can serve as sources of virulent fish pathogens; our study is the first to confirm the broadcast of a live fish pathogen from a farmed salmon processing facility into the marine waters of Canada’s Pacific coast.”

This begs the question: What comes out of the effluent pipes of processing plants which process wild salmon? After all, there are well over 100 of them in BC.

Why didn’t the authors of the paper do a comparison with at least one of these other processing plants?

The answer is because they knew the comparison would disprove their hypothesis instantly.

Wild fish carry sea lice and diseases, too. They have done so since long before the first people came to BC and they continue to do so. Anyone who denies this fact is either lying to you, or just plain ignorant.

It’s guaranteed that if you go test the effluent pipes coming out of wild salmon processing facilities you will find stuff.

In fact, you will probably find more stuff than this paper shows, because farmed salmon processing facilities in BC — including Walcan — have spent more than $4 million installing effluent treatment and collection systems, which are not even required. They installed them because they believe it’s the right and responsible thing to do, and to show BC that salmon farmers and processors are doing everything they can to make sure there is no risk to wild salmon from their operations.

There’s another reason why farmed salmon processors have spent millions on these systems — so they can achieve the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices standard, assuring customers that salmon from those facilities are among the safest, most environmentally-sound and safest sources of seafood in the world.

In contrast, most wild processors discharge untreated effluent and bloodwater directly into the ocean.

The authors of this junk science paper fail to acknowledge any of that, instead building on a flimsy (and false) detail to construct a spurious conclusion, unsupported by any data — even their own.

This should never have been published. The authors should be ashamed of themselves for trying to fool people with such an obviously biased, flimsy piece of junk science and at the very least it should be retracted, corrected and the data compared with data collected from a wild salmon processing plant.

Then we might have some useful science that can actually tell us something instead of what this says, which is “We, the authors, hate farmed salmon and are willing to say anything to get you to agree with us.”



Read the full paper here.


In the ridiculous apologetics activists and their supporters use to explain why they are right in claiming ISA virus is in BC, one particularly odious claim keeps popping up.

This screed from Twyla Roscovich, Alexandra Morton’s new fiction writer and propagandist, lays out the claim:

Nearly every lab that doesn’t have direct ties with industry and the government seems to be able to find at least segments of the virus, while every lab that has a vested interest in not finding the virus can’t seem to detect it. It’s easy not to find this virus if you don’t want to.

Sorry, but this is bullshit. And like true propaganda, Twyla and Morton are banking on the hopes that you, dear readers, are not well-versed enough in science for your bullshitometers to be going off the charts whenever they talk.

We think you’re smart enough to think for yourselves, and do a little research, which shows that CFIA’s lab has found ISA virus 10 times already this year. Clearly CFIA has no problems testing for this virus, finding the virus and verifying suspected findings of the virus. If the lab can find the virus in Eastern Canada, there’s no reason why it couldn’t find it in BC.

But wait, they’ve got an explanation for that too. It’s some convoluted conspiracy theory about protecting trade. Which is stupid, because the East Coast salmon farming industry is almost as big as BC; the East Coast industry is ISA-positive; and the East Coast industry has no problems selling fish to the USA. And let’s not forget that ISA virus poses an even greater threat to wild salmon stocks on the East Coast than it ever would here, because wild Atlantic stocks on the East Coast have been so badly overfished they are endangered.

Showing their ignorance

Beyond conspiracy theories, Twyla attempts to peddle Morton’s weak scientific explanation.

In order for the CFIA to officially “confirm” ISA in B.C., it requires a high standard of proof called “virus isolation”. This means catching the virus alive and culturing it in a petri dish.


No. That’s not how it works. You cannot culture a virus. If a lab gets a positive result in the initial virus test, what they do to confirm it is put the suspected virus in a cell culture. If the virus kills the cells, then you’ve got something. Alternatively, the lab can try and see if they can detect the entire sequence of the suspected virus to see if it actually is the one they think it is.

This is the same standard every lab testing for ISA in the world follows to confirm whether or not the virus is actually present. It’s called responsible science.

Twyla continues with a false statement.

The only way this requirement of proof has ever been fulfilled is during an active disease outbreak on a farm where the fresh sample of a dying Atlantic salmon could be rushed to a lab very quickly. It has never been successful with wild fish anywhere in the world.

False, false, false. Learn to Google, Twyla. While it is difficult to find wild fish infected with ISA virus, because a fish that gets sick would likely die and disappear, it has been done. In this study, 142 sea trout and wild Atlantic salmon were collected over four years from five Norwegian rivers and one fjord, and tested for ISA. The rate of infection ranged from 13 to 100 per cent, depending on the year and collection river.

The study shows that there is very likely a natural reservoir of ISA virus in the ocean, since there were no active farms near the collection rivers during several years of sampling.

As well, the study makes a most interesting statement:

“None of the fish showed any clinical signs of ISA.”

That’s right. None of the ISA virus-positive wild fish collected were sick with the ISA disease.

That doesn’t mean wild fish don’t get sick and die from this virus. But it does mean that wild fish can carry this virus without getting sick. Which takes a lot away from the hysterical apocalypse Twyla and Morton are trying to sell us.

Virus testing basics

Twyla continues with statements showing she and Morton understand nothing about virus testing.

If you use a PCR test that only reports an exact match as a “positive”, you could easily miss the virus, since even a slight change will make it “invisible” to a probe that is looking for an exact sequence. Kibenge’s lab was using a technique that was reading the sequences of the virus, rather than just using a probe that only reports an exact match of a very specific sequence. So he was able to pick up on viral sequences that contained slight variations of the virus, as well as fragments.

No. That’s not how it works. Kibenge’s lab is not more special than other labs testing for this virus. His testing methods and techniques were pretty much the same as everyone else’s.

PCR virus testing basically works by taking a probe (an artificially-created segment of RNA or DNA), running it over a sample and trying to get related segments of virus to “stick” to it. If you can make this happen, your sample might just contain the virus you’re looking for.

Different labs may use different probes, and may search for different segments of virus. But the entire point of PCR testing is that you look for sequences of virus that are specific to the virus. RNA sequences can be shared between different viruses. Looking for segments which are not specific to the virus you are looking for is pointless. “Slight variations” and “fragments” of the virus are meaningless, if you have no idea whether or not they are common to some of the trillions of other viruses out there that no one tests for.

As well, the testing machine runs cycles, replicating the material in the original sample, creating more and more of the virus RNA to “stick” to the probe. The more cycles you have to run to get a positive hit, the weaker the result. All of the test results Twyla and Morton claim as “positive” proof of the virus came after many cycles, and could not be replicated. None of the scientists who did the tests will claim these results are proof of anything, other than that perhaps they have detected something with similarities to the ISA virus.

Twyla makes a particular ridiculous claim, which appears elsewhere in Morton’s comments, which makes no sense to anyone who actually does PCR testing for a living.

The problem is with detecting ISA virus is as soon as a fish dies, the virus begins to “shatter”. Often only segments of the viral sequence can be detected by the time a sample gets shipped to a lab. Probes that the CFIA labs are using will only detect exact matches for certain sequences.

No. In poor-quality samples (such as all of the samples Morton has submitted for testing), the virus may have degraded in quality, but it’s not like it breaks into pieces and disappears. If a fish is truly infected with ISA virus, even in low levels, it’s highly unlikely that only the segments you are looking for will be undetectable. However, if you have a poor-quality sample (as all of Morton’s samples have been), the chances of the probe picking up degraded bits of the wrong segments of virus are higher, which results in false positives.

And again, ALL PCR probes work like that: they look for a match for a certain sequence of virus. That’s the whole point.

Follow-up is essential

Neanderthal or human? You’re not likely going to know just by sequencing the DNA, since human and Neanderthal DNA is 99.7 per cent identical. Follow-up tests and contextual information are critical.

Even if you get a positive in PCR testing, unless it is exceptionally strong, more testing is required to confirm it. For example, Neanderthals and modern humans have DNA that is 99.7 per cent identical. However, they are very different species. If you found a piece of old bone and tested it, and found that it was 99.7 per cent identical to Neanderthal DNA, you could not definitively state you had found evidence of a Neanderthal until you did more research. Where was the bone found? How old is it? Could it have been contaminated? Humans and Neanderthals have different bone structure, does this show evidence of those differences? Is there any supporting evidence near where the bone was found?

Science isn’t an easy-bake oven, as Twyla and Morton seem to think. You don’t just pop in your sample, and bing, out comes your fully-cooked proof of ISA virus. That’s why the follow-up tests, which they scorn, are so important.

“So why don’t you just give good quality samples to Morton to test, if you’ve got nothing to hide?”

We’re not the BCSFA and can’t speak for them. But why would we give our fish to people who have made it their life mission to shut down our farms? They have shown no scientific integrity. They have misrepresented the truth, been caught in lies, and shown they will say anything to advance their agendas.

If you’ve got a neighbour who complains constantly about your dog, even though the bylaw officer has investigated and found no problems, would you leave your dog with that neighbour while you go on vacation?

DFO takes thousands of samples from fish which die in pens each year and tests them for ISA. This has been done since 2003. None of these samples have ever shown evidence of ISA. But that’s not good enough for Twyla and Morton. That’s why they have to concoct ridiculous conspiracy theories to explain why no one but them can “find” the virus.

Let’s apply an ancient scientific principle here: Occam’s Razor. Since Twyla and Morton and their friends are the only ones claiming they have “found” ISA virus in BC, and since they have to resort to ludicrous explanations as to why, it is highly probable that they are simply wrong, but just can’t admit it.

Their apologetics, poor-quality data, lies, manipulation of data and conspiracy theories take them out of the realm of science and integrity. Believe their claims at your own risk.

Step right up and spin the wheel of fish!

Wheel… of… FISH!

Our favourite anti-salmon farming activist is now trying to suggest that the VHS virus, which has been killing wild fish for millions of years and which was observed long before salmon farms, is now magically spreading from salmon farms and killing herring by making them bleed out their eyes.

This protest sign has finally come true!

Red Herring are Sacred, now, apparently.
Red Herring are Sacred, now, apparently.

How about we cut the crap and look at the science, shall we?

A study was just published which is “the first comprehensive analysis of the genetic diversity and epidemiology of VHSV isolates from the marine waters of BC since the first
detection of the virus in Pacific herring in 1993.”

The study, titled “Molecular epidemiology of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV) in British Columbia, Canada, reveals transmission from wild to farmed fish” by Garver, et al, was published in May.

Along with a lot of detailed genetic analysis of the virus and its transmission, it provides ample proof that VHS virus observed in farmed fish only comes from wild fish passing by or through the net pens.

Shedding rates of VHS diseased herring have been estimated to be in the order of 1.8 to 5.0 × 108 plaque-forming units fish−1 d−1 (Hersh berger et al. 2010). Thus, it is conceivable that if large numbers of herring residing in or around a net-pen undergo a VHSV epizootic then the farmed salmon may be subjected to high concentrations of waterborne virus.

Great Scott! That’s 500 million viral particles PER FISH PER DAY! If 3,000 infected herring are in a farm, they are shedding 417 million viral particles per second!

The farmers should be outraged! After all, didn’t Morton prove to all of us that salmon farms shedding viral particles will fill up ocean channels and kill fish in apocalyptic proportions? Wouldn’t that mean that herring shedding millions and millions of viral particles would fill up ocean channels, too?

Heyyyy… shouldn’t Morton et al be outraged that these horrible herring are shedding billions of viral particles in the ocean where our precious wild salmon swim? Because if viral particles shed from salmon farms will survive to decimate wild salmon, won’t viral particles from herring also survive to decimate wild salmon? Where’s the anti-herring outrage?

Hang on, there’s that pesky thing called context.

What Morton fails to mention every time she uses this “viral particles” example (aside from her not being sure if it’s 650 billion particles per hour or 65) is that viral particles do not spread very far without hosts. In fact, floating around in seawater without hosts, many viruses quickly lose their ability to infect. VHS virus is most unstable in seawater and will not survive long without a host, let alone retain its ability to infect new hosts.

For one group of fish to infect another, a large amount of one group would have to be infected to have enough viral load to infect the other. They would also have to spend some time in proximity.

That’s what happens when VHS-infected herring hide inside salmon farm pens to escape predators. The herring infect the farmed salmon.

However, even then, the problem is minimal for farmers. There are very few farm mortalities related to VHS virus. That’s because farmed salmon are healthy, and kept resistant through good husbandry and handling processes.

But this context is all white noise to Morton and friends, who will continue to spin the wheel of fish to see what new outrage they can whip up next.

Well, let ’em keep on spinning. Because all they’re doing each time they carry on with this nonsense, is picking the box.

Lazy media ignores context in farmed salmon stories

It’s the media’s job to provide context, but when it comes to reporting on farmed salmon, they fail miserably.

The latest example comes from Eastern Canada. While Canadian media was busy vilifying farmed salmon for possibly containing viruses which affect nothing but farmed salmon, they ignored reports showing that terrestrially-farmed meats routinely contain bacteria ­– the kinds of bacteria which, if the meat is processed and handled incorrectly, can be harmful to human health.

According to the National Antimicrobial Retail Monitoring System report, nearly a decade of research done by the US FDA and the Centre for Veterinary Medicine, your chances are very good for purchasing chicken, turkey, pork or beef containing E. coli, salmonella, enterococcus or campylobacter. Or perhaps all of the above.

It’s pretty much a given that, unless you are a vegan, in the past decade you have eaten meat containing these bacteria.


Should you worry? Should you declare your home a meat-free zone and go vegan?

If you want, but as we’ve pointed out before, the worst case of food-related illness in North America was from cantaloupes, which tragically killed 30 people. And other vegetables have been at the centre of food-related illnesses and deaths too, notably spinach. Vegetables often contain the same bacteria as meat, but like meat, they are usually present in such low quantities that they pose no health risks.

So if you’re a vegan, chances are good you’ve eaten these bacteria too, with no ill effects.

This sort of context is important in any discussion about the food we eat, be it salmon, chicken or spinach. But in the rush to “get it first” and “get people talking” the context is unfortunately the first thing the media cuts out in their reporting.

And because there’s a lot of money tied up in “demarketing” farmed salmon to boost wild salmon, there’s a lot of baloney out there about the healthiness of farmed salmon. Context is sorely needed to balance the nonsense, but most media are too lazy to do even basic investigative work to balance the claims of anti-salmon farming loudmouths.

The science speaks for itself. We are not aware of contaminated farmed salmon causing any deaths (unlike contaminated cantaloupes and spinach). In fact, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization recently published a comprehensive report showing that the health benefits of consuming oily fish (including farmed salmon) greatly outweigh any risks.

And overall, meat, seafood and veggies are safe. We live in an age where our food supply is the safest it’s ever been. There is no need to be fearful in the grocery store.

So media, enough with the scaremongering farmed salmon stories already. It’s time to show some responsibility and investigative skills and put the context back in your reporting.