Cohen Commission: ISAv Evidentiary Hearing, December 15, 2011

Theme: Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv)

Witnesses:

Nellie Gagné (Molecular Biology Scientist and Laboratory Supervisor, DFO, Moncton)

Dr. Fred Kibenge (Chairman, Department of Pathology and Microbiology, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island)

Dr. Kristi Miller (Head, Molecular Genetics, DFO)

Dr. Are Nylund (Professor, University of Bergen, Norway)

Transcript Link: Evidentiary Hearing Transcript -  PDF Document

For your reference links to the following reports:

  • Cohen Commission: BACKGROUNDER August 25, 2011: Technical Report Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon
  • Project 5A – Summary of Information for Evaluating Impacts of Salmon Farms on Survival of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon
  • Project 5B – Examination of relationships between salmon aquaculture and sockeye salmon population dynamics
  • Project 5C – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Noakes investigation
  • Project 5D – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Dill investigation

can be accessed here.


News Coverage from December 15 Hearing

Statement regarding availability of samples from BC salmon farms
BCSFA, December 15, 2011

Some of the testimony given by Dr. Kristi Miller at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry has caused some confusion about sampling that's been done for Infectious Salmon Anemia on BC's salmon farms. The BC Salmon Farmers Association would like to clarify the availability of samples from our farms.
Infectious Salmon Anemia.

The BCSFA has volunteered samples from every salmon farm in BC to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Department of Fisheries and Oceans -the lead authorities on the ISA investigation.

BC's salmon farmers have participated in a sampling program through our regulators for nearly 10 years. As part of the CFIA investigation into reports of preliminary and unconfirmed ISA findings, the sampling program that has been undertaken by government and industry was deemed extensive enough to offer confident in the consistently negative findings.

That sampling continues. The BCSFA will of course also abide by any new surveillance plan implemented by the CFIA.

No requests for samples for ISA testing have ever been denied.

To see a PDF of the letter to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, click here.

Research by Dr. Kristi Miller

Discussions with Dr. Miller in the fall showed that research into the parvovirus is still at a preliminary stage with no indication yet about whether it causes disease or how long it has been found in British Columbia. During those meetings, Dr. Miller advised industry representatives that she had access to historical wild samples of salmon as well as audit samples collected regularly from farms (now reaching 7,000).

Industry proposed a stepped approach, which would begin testing the already-available samples of both wild and farmed salmon while conducting virology work to test the virus for disease indicators. When or if a disease is found, then a sampling program would be implemented in the spring for both hatchery and early-entry farmed salmon to mirror the sampling program for wild salmon.

Dr. Miller refused that proposal. Therefore, no application for funding could be made in time for the deadline. The BCSFA has expressed its continued interest in pursuing a research agreement with DFO regarding this work. There has been no further proposal from Dr. Miller.

There was no refusal of samples. This proposal was made based on the understanding that Dr. Miller had access to already collected samples, and other work needed to be prioritized before further sampling in the spring.

To see a PDF of the email exchange between Dr. Miller and BCSFA Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling regarding this topic, click here.


Scientists unsure what hints of virus means for B.C. salmon
Gordon Hoekstra, Postmedia News, December 15, 2011

VANCOUVER - B.C. sockeye salmon have tested positive in a Department of Fisheries and Oceans lab for pieces of a virus known to kill Atlantic salmon, the Cohen Commission was told Thursday.

It has been present in B.C. for at least 25 years, the inquiry heard.

While the Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus has not been proven to kill wild Pacific salmon, the virus has devastated salmon farms in Norway, Chile and Eastern Canada.

The commission, which is examining the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon run, added three days of evidentiary hearings in Vancouver to examine new information about recent testing for the ISA virus.

In early November, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's national aquatic animal health program said there were no confirmed cases of ISA in wild or farm salmon in B.C. after some positive lab tests of sockeye from Rivers Inlet were reported.

On Thursday, the test results revealed at the Cohen inquiry were produced in a DFO lab in Nanaimo, B.C., headed by DFO scientist Kristi Miller, one of four experts testifying at the inquiry.

There was not agreement, however, among the scientists on the significance of Miller's results.

"I clearly believe there is a virus here that is very similar to ISA in Europe," Miller told the inquiry.

She also said that subsequent testing of tissues samples dating back to 1986 in British Columbia also showed evidence of the genetic material for the ISA virus.

But Miller added that more comprehensive information on the virus is needed to determine exactly how it will be classified.

"And obviously we have not established that it causes disease," said Miller.

When the samples used at Miller's lab were tested at DFO's lab in Moncton, N.B., the results were negative for ISA.

And Norwegian scientist Are Nylund, who testified by video from Norway, said he sees no "hard" evidence of ISA in Pacific Salmon so far.

There are only indications of the virus, said Nylund, a fish disease biologist at the University of Bergen.

But professor Fred Kibenge, who heads up the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he believes there is evidence of the genetic material of ISA virus.

"Whether it's ISA or ISA-like virus needs more work," added Kibenge.

Miller made headlines earlier in the Cohen hearings when she testified that a newly discovered virus - not the ISA virus - could be the "smoking gun" in the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye.

Miller, similar to other DFO scientists, has been forbidden to speak freely or publicly about her research other than at the Cohen hearings.

B.C. Salmon Farmers Association executive director Mary Ellen Walling said in an interview Thursday she is confident federal and provincial testing has shown there is no ISA in salmon farms in B.C.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the inquiry after sockeye returns to the Fraser fell to about one million from an anticipated 10 million in 2009.


Virus present in B.C. salmon for decades, inquiry told
mark hume, VANCOUVER— Globe and Mail, Dec. 15, 2011

nfectious salmon anemia, a virus that has triggered devastating disease outbreaks in stocks of farmed Atlantic salmon around the world, appears to have been in British Columbia wild salmon for at least 25 years, the Cohen commission of inquiry has heard.

The ISA virus – or a new variation of it – has been found repeatedly in samples of wild sockeye and pink salmon, as well as in samples of farmed chinook taken from one West Coast aquaculture operation.

That revelatory evidence was given on Thursday, by Kristi Miller, head of molecular genetics at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

“I clearly believe that there is a virus here that is very similar to the ISA virus in Europe … [but] we have not established that it causes disease,” said Dr. Miller.

She was one of four experts on ISA called to testify about a recent series of conflicting test results that have raised questions about whether the virus is present on the West Coast or not.

In October, sockeye salmon collected by Simon Fraser University researchers were tested at an East Coast lab and several samples were found positive for ISA. But follow-up testing by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency failed to replicate the results. As other labs got into the picture, some got positive results, while others didn’t.

Intrigued by the SFU discovery, Dr. Miller said she launched her own research effort and has concluded that the ISA virus, or something much like it, is present in both wild and farmed salmon in B.C.

Fred Kinbenge, chair of the department of pathology and microbiology at the University of Prince Edward Island, which did the SFU testing, agreed with Dr. Miller’s assessment.

“In my view … I think there’s evidence there are ISAV sequences in fish samples from B.C.,” Dr. Kinbenge said. “I think the result is credible. Now, whether it’s ISA or ISA-virus-like, that requires some work.”

Dr. Miller said her tests found a virus that is 95-per-cent similar to the European strain of ISA, which has infected farmed Atlantic salmon in Norway, Scotland, Atlantic Canada and Chile.

She said when her tests detected ISA in fish collected this year, she went back into the laboratory’s storage lockers and pulled out samples of fish from as far back as 1986 – and found ISA there too, showing the virus has been present at least 25 years.

Dr. Miller said the ISA virus has now been confirmed in numerous wild fish, and in chinook samples provided by Creative Salmon, a fish farm on Vancouver Island.

Dr. Miller said Creative was the only fish farm that co-operated with her research efforts, and she had not been able to get samples from other farms in B.C.

“They did not want their samples to be tested,” she said of the farms, which mostly raise Atlantic salmon.

The ISA disease can be lethal to Atlantic salmon, but lab tests suggest it does not kill Pacific salmon.

However, a report by Brad Davis, a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Miller, indicates that fish with the virus react in a way that “suggests that the virus is causing enough damage to elicit a strong response in the salmon. … Therefore, we cannot at this point assume that this virus does not cause disease in these fish.”

The panel of ISA experts included Are Nylund, a professor at the University of Bergen who was testifying by video link from Norway, and Nellie Gagné, a molecular biology scientist with a DFO testing lab in Moncton.

The panel members all agreed that the conflicting results between labs could be the result of different techniques.

Dr. Nylund said he is not convinced by Dr.Miller’s work, which was completed just last week.

“I don’t think we have seen … hard evidence,” he said.

Ms. Gagné said the ISA virus was first detected on the East Coast in 1990, and research showed it was a different strain from the European virus.

“It could be we are really looking at another [third kind of] ISA,” she said.


New virus in B.C. salmon?
FishFarmingXpert, Odd Grydeland, December 15, 2011
Canada: Scientists brought in to testify during a special session of a wild sockeye salmon inquiry speculate that a new variant of the ISA virus might have been around for decades- even before the farming of Atlantic salmon started

The never-ending spectacle of investigating the relationship between farmed and wild salmon continues in British Columbia, with the continuation of testimony for Justice Cohen, appointed by the federal government of Canada to look into the failed return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River near Vancouver in 2009. The fact that a record number of salmon showed up to spawn the next year didn’t slow down the finger-pointing by environmentalists at the province’s salmon farming industry.

Despite thousands of attempts at isolating the ISA virus and other pathogens from their stocks, salmon farmers and their veterinarians and other scientists have never encountered the dreaded ISA virus in samples taken from farms in B.C. But miraculously, some environmental opponents to the industry with various scientific credentials recently announced with great fanfare that indeed the ISA virus had been found in wild B.C. salmon. The fact remains that no such virus has been isolated. But new light was shed on the factual situation during today’s testimony by four scientists that usually are considered credible, and where the possibility of an ISA-like virus might have been around before the first Atlantic salmon was ever farmed here, but without causing any form of disease outbreak in either farmed or wild stock.

Tamsyn Burgmann of The Canadian Press provides some background;

There are indications that for decades now salmon in British Columbia may have been carrying a virus that wiped out stocks in Norway and Chile, but experts don't know if it will have the same devastating results. Four pre-eminent fish scientists relayed their suspicions during an extraordinary meeting of the Cohen Commission, which has spent 21 months investigating the sharp decline of B.C.'s Fraser River sockeye. The commission reconvened after the alarming discovery by a Simon Fraser University professor of infectious salmon anaemia in two smolts in northern B.C.

Kristi Miller, who heads a molecular genetics lab for the federal Fisheries Department, joined two other Canadians and a Norwegian on a panel appearing before the commission. "I clearly believe that there is a virus here that is very similar to ISA virus in Europe, but we really do need to get a fuller sequence to get more information about how similar it is," said Miller. "Also, we have not established that it causes disease." Miller gave evidence Thursday in the first of three days of the special sitting to discuss infectious salmon anaemia. Her submissions came from research conducted in her Nanaimo, B.C., laboratory. She noted the testing procedures were not standard and differed from another government-funded lab on the East Coast, but suggested her tests could be more sensitive.

Miller told the inquiry that she has not only tested recent samples of fish, but went back into her massive archive and ran the same procedure on fish from 1986 and found a similar pattern. "Which suggests that not only has this been here for at least 25 years, but it's been here probably quite considerably longer than that," she said. Some research indicates Pacific salmon could be resistant to the virus.

ISA, an influenza-like virus, has killed millions of fish in Chile after it's believed to have been transported from Norway, where it was first discovered in the 1980s. Government scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Canadian Food Inspection Agency moved to assuage fears by conducting further tests. Along with the Fisheries Minister, they announced the virus had not been detected and said public agencies will nonetheless develop a new surveillance plan to watch more closely for fish diseases.

The panel of scientists agreed more research needs to be done. "In this case, I don't know where we are at this point because we do not have enough information, but it could really be that we are looking at another ISA that was there for a long time," said Nellie Gagne, a molecular biology scientist who leads a Department of Fisheries lab in Moncton, N.B. "It's an interesting theory that I'm keen to see more work done on." Gagne said her own lab had not turned up any samples she would consider positive, but noted that the lab uses "universal" test methods that look for known strains. "If there are others, we don't know about it," she said.

Fred Kibenge, who works at the Atlantic Veterinary College which runs the reference lab for the virus in P.E.I., conducted the initial tests that came up with positive results on two smolts publicized widely in October. He told the inquiry he believes the recent testing conducted by himself and Miller is "overwhelming" evidence of the virus. He also tried to substantiate an unpublished study from 2004 -- conducted in part by his wife -- that was leaked to media last month. It concluded an asymptomatic form of the virus was occurring in some wild-salmon species in the north Pacific. Kibenge noted the results that emerged from Miller's lab means that his wife's earlier tests may yet be credible.

However, one scientists came out strongly opposing the results found in Miller's lab. "We have a lot of indications that the virus could be present in Pacific salmon, but there is no hard evidence," said Are Nylund, a professor with the department of biology at the University of Bergen in Norway. Nylund, who has studied the virus for years, described Miller's testing procedures as "a bit strange." He did note he believes the virus could spread from eastern Canada, where it has infected Atlantic salmon, to the West Coast, similar to the theorized transfer of the virus from Norway to Chile.


Salmon virus has been in B.C. since 1985: scientists
By: Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press, Dec. 15, 2011

There are indications that for decades now salmon in British Columbia may have been carrying a virus that wiped out stocks in Norway and Chile, but experts don't know if it will have the same devastating results.

Four pre-eminent fish scientists relayed their suspicions during an extraordinary meeting of the Cohen Commission, which has spent 21 months investigating the sharp decline of B.C.'s Fraser River sockeye.

The commission reconvened after the alarming discovery by a Simon Fraser University professor of infectious salmon anaemia in two smolts in northern B.C.

Kristi Miller, who heads a molecular genetics lab for the federal Fisheries Department, joined two other Canadians and a Norwegian on a panel appearing before the commission.

"I clearly believe that there is a virus here that is very similar to ISA virus in Europe, but we really do need to get a fuller sequence to get more information about how similar it is," said Miller.

"Also, we have not established that it causes disease."

Miller gave evidence Thursday in the first of three days of the special sitting to discuss infectious salmon anaemia.

Her submissions came from research conducted in her Nanaimo, B.C., laboratory. She noted the testing procedures were not standard and differed from another government-funded lab on the East Coast, but suggested her tests could be more sensitive.

Miller told the inquiry that she has not only tested recent samples of fish, but went back into her massive archive and ran the same procedure on fish from 1986 and found a similar pattern.

"Which suggests that not only has this been here for at least 25 years, but it's been here probably quite considerably longer than that," she said.

Some research indicates Pacific salmon could be resistant to the virus.

ISA, an influenza-like virus, has killed millions of fish in Chile after it's believed to have been transported from Norway, where it was first discovered in the 1980s.

Government scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Canadian Food Inspection Agency moved to assuage fears by conducting further tests. Along with the Fisheries Minister, they announced the virus had not been detected and said public agencies will nonetheless develop a new surveillance plan to watch more closely for fish diseases.

The panel of scientists agreed more research needs to be done.

"In this case, I don't know where we are at this point because we do not have enough information, but it could really be that we are looking at another ISA that was there for a long time," said Nellie Gagne, a molecular biology scientist who leads a Department of Fisheries lab in Moncton, N.B.

"It's an interesting theory that I'm keen to see more work done on."

Gagne said her own lab had not turned up any samples she would consider positive, but noted that the lab uses "universal" test methods that look for known strains.

"If there are others, we don't know about it," she said.

Fred Kibenge, who works at the Atlantic Veterinary College which runs the reference lab for the virus in P.E.I., conducted the initial tests that came up with positive results on two smolts publicized widely in October.

He told the inquiry he believes the recent testing conducted by himself and Miller is "overwhelming" evidence of the virus. He also tried to substantiate an unpublished study from 2004 -- conducted in part by his wife -- that was leaked to media last month.

It concluded an asymptomatic form of the virus was occurring in some wild-salmon species in the north Pacific.

Kibenge noted the results that emerged from Miller's lab means that his wife's earlier tests may yet be credible.

However, one scientists came out strongly opposing the results found in Miller's lab.

"We have a lot of indications that the virus could be present in Pacific salmon, but there is no hard evidence," said Are Nylund, a professor with the department of biology at the University of Bergen in Norway.

Nylund, who has studied the virus for years, described Miller's testing procedures as "a bit strange."

He did note he believes the virus could spread from eastern Canada, where it has infected Atlantic salmon, to the West Coast, similar to the theorized transfer of the virus from Norway to Chile.


New version of salmon virus may have started in B.C., expert says
Will Campbell, Vancouver Observer, December 15, 2011
Federal scientist says a possible new strain of a potentially deadly virus previously found only in foreign Atlantic-salmon fish farms has been discovered in Pacific salmon...Are Nylund, a Norwegian professor testifying via video link, questioned Miller’s lab techniques, saying they may have produced unreliable results.
The University of Bergen researcher said he’s not convinced the virus has hit the province.
He said there is currently “no hard evidence” to support that claim.
“Many indications it could be present in Pacific salmon but not hard evidence.” Read More

Canada Holds Hearings on Suspected Virus in Salmon
By WILLIAM YARDLEY, News York Times, December 15, 2011
...But on Thursday, a new and particularly bitter dispute began playing out in a very different kind of judicial venue across the Canadian border: a provincial Supreme Court justice held a hearing into questions of whether a potentially lethal virus had been detected in wild Pacific salmon — and whether the Canadian government was responding adequately...

...Dr. Miller said that while her tests showed that the fish responded to the presence of the virus, it was not clear that it causing harm. She testified that she had recently tested salmon tissue samples from 1986 and that they, too, showed the asymptomatic form of I.S.A.
“We have not established that it causes disease,” she said. Read More