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Senators Call For U.S. To Conduct Independent Testing To Assess Risk Of Salmon Virus
Posted on Friday, November 04, 2011 (PST)

With additional reports of British Columbia salmon testing positive for Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA), U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Mark Begich, D-AK, this week sent a letter to key senate appropriators calling for the federal government to independently test samples of the recently detected virus, rather than relying on Canadian scientists.


“The threat of a potentially devastating infectious salmon virus needs an immediate federal response,” said the senators. “We are writing to urge you to marshal the resources we need to prioritize Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) research, surveillance, outreach, and mitigation measures across the Pacific Northwest and develop a response plan.


“At risk are healthy salmon populations which are the foundation for tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity throughout the West Coast.  Besides the two infected sockeye salmon found in Rivers Inlet, there are now additional reports that a wild adult coho salmon found in a tributary of the Fraser River showed signs of infectious salmon anemia disease.”


The full letter can be found at


(For more information see CBB, Oct. 21, 2011 “Researchers Say Lethal Marine Influenza Virus Found In Wild Salmon Off British Columbia Coast”


Regarding the additional reports, the senators were referring to information in a blog posting by British Columbia biologist and activist Alexandra Morton, who said she received a report from “Dr. Fred Kibenge, of the World Animal Health reference lab for ISA virus in Province Edward Island, on salmon a small group of us collected in the Fraser River on Oct. 12.


“Late last week results from this group of tests was leaked to the New York Times and we heard that a coho salmon tested positive for ISAv. Now that I have the complete report we learn that, similar to the sockeye from River's Inlet, the coho in the Fraser River was infected with the European strain of ISA virus. But we see from this report that a chinook salmon and a chum salmon also tested positive,” Morton wrote.


Morton’s full posting and reports can be found at


Cantwell and the two Alaska senators urged appropriators to “prioritize the resources and coordination necessary to address this emerging salmon virus threat.”


“We urge the U.S. government to obtain samples from the two infected sockeye and run independent diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of the ISA virus in British Columbia,” the senators wrote. “We should not rely on another government – particularly one that may have a motive to misrepresent its findings-- to determine how we assess the risk ISA may pose to American fishery jobs.”


The letter came one day after Senate passage of legislation authored by Cantwell and backed by all eight West Coast Senators that requires an investigation be conducted and a rapid response plan be delivered to Congress within six months.


The amendment was included in the minibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2112), which passed the Senate by a vote of 69 to 30. The next step will be a conference of the House and Senate.


Cantwell’s amendment was backed by Sens. Murkowski, Begich, Patty Murray, D-WA, Ron Wyden, D-OR, Jeff Merkley, D-OR, Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and Dianne Feinstein,D-CA.


The letter was sent to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies which funds the National Marine Fisheries Service.


The letter outlined actions the senators urge be taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including:


-- Confirmation by the U.S. government of the presence of the salmon virus in British Columbia. Evaluate and bolster the nation’s surveillance and monitoring framework;


-- Measure salmon virus susceptibility among different populations and species of wild salmon in the North Pacific;


-- Develop essential action plans to respond to the salmon virus;


-- Integrate salmon virus monitoring into existing outreach programs to protect the seafood industry from consumer uncertainty (the virus does not pose a threat to human health);


-- Protect current salmon restoration programs.


“We sincerely hope that the recent detection of ISA in Pacific salmon turns out to be a false alarm,” the senators continued in the letter. “However, waiting for even more red flags to appear would be irresponsible. We know that ISA has catastrophically impacted salmon industries around the world, costing tens of thousands of jobs abroad, and that the virus is virtually impossible to eradicate once it has spread within an area. We urge you to act now to prevent a similar catastrophic outbreak in the salmon populations of the Pacific Northwest.”


Cantwell’s legislation approved by the Senate calls on the National Aquatic Animal Health Task Force to evaluate the risk the virus could have on wild salmon off West Coast and Alaskan waters, and to develop a plan to address this emerging threat. The legislation requires a report be delivered to Congress within six months.


The task force works cross-jurisdictionally with several agencies, including NOAA, the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The task force brings together federal, state, local, and tribal government. Sen. Cantwell’s legislation requires the Task Force to prioritize ISA research, surveillance and response.


In addition, the legislation calls on the task force to make recommendations for management, evaluate mitigation techniques, and ensure the nation has the needed tools to adequately respond to infectious salmon anemia.


The amendment requires a report be delivered to Congress within six months which outlines surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge, and recommendations for management.


The amendment does not have a cost but rather streamlines existing research goals and surveillance efforts, highlights research needs and forges critical collaborations necessary to assess this potentially devastating risk to wild salmon and the coastal economies which rely on them.

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