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The most feared virus in the salmon farming industry has been detected by scientists in British Columbia.

Scientists claim most feared salmon virus detected in B.C.

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Sunday, January 10, 2016, 12:39 PM - The most feared virus in the salmon farming industry has been detected by scientists in British Columbia.

The study published on Wednesday in the journal Virology, found out of more than 1,000 farmed and wild fish that were tested, 8 per cent of the samples had the European variant of the infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISA).

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ISA is a fin-fish disease caused by a virus that belongs to a family of viruses called Orthomyxoviridae. The agency has not declared the presence of ISA in the province. However, it has been previously reported in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland. It was first detected in Atlantic Canada in 1996.

"I have been following this work for many years. ISA virus is a serious matter," Dr. Daniel Pauly, fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia said in a release. "A member of the influenza family in open ocean feedlots is a risk Canada should not be taking."

Meanwhile, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association disputed the study's methodology as well as the "ethics of the researchers involved given their history of reporting false positives with respect to ISA," Jeremy Dunn, the industry association’s executive director told Metro News.

"ISA has never been detected in fish on the West Coast of North America. This report claims to find an ISA sequence, but researchers admit they were unable to verify it using necessary, globally standard follow-up tests."

RELATED: B.C. weather jeopardizes salmon run. Here's how

Researchers were denied access to fish farms, thus samples were taken from farmed seafood, according to biologist Alexandra Morton.

"The study's authors caution that they used what samples were available, i.e. farmed salmon from markets and wild salmon, but that to 'confirm' ISA virus, as per Canadian regulations, access to live salmon in the farms will be required," the release notes.

Researchers hope to design a test to better detect this variant of ISA. There is fear that it could spread outside of the province.

"Wild salmon has no borders. U.S. fish swim through B.C. waters and B.C. fish mingle with Alaskan salmon. A salmon virus found in B.C. may not stay in B.C.," the release reads.

An outbreak of ISA in Chile in 2007 cost its farming industry $2 billion in damages. 

The study notes the present variant was quite difficult to detect because it carries a mutation and there are dozens of ISA variations in salmon aquaculture. 

"This is a difficult strain of ISA to detect," Morton said in the release. "It is easy to see how it was missed, but we have cracked its code, completed the test of science: large sample size, validated methods, peer review. It is critical that we learn from what happened in Chile. In my view, this work gives B.C. the opportunity to avoid tragic consequences."

Source: Study | Release | Metro News | Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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