Clayoquot Action, a Tofino-based conservation society, has completed a field survey of salmon farms in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, looking for the highly contagious Norwegian piscine orthoreovirus (PRV). The Atlantic Veterinary College confirmed that samples collected by Clayoquot Action from all but one of the fifteen salmon farms surveyed was found to be infected with the Atlantic PRV-1a variant.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) continues to deny the origin of this virus, claiming it is endemic to British Columbia and harmless to salmon. No one has come forward with a genetic sequence to back up this claim.

Yet the evidence that PRV is harmful to wild salmon is mounting—a study by DFO’s own genomic lab with the Pacific Salmon Foundation found that PRV-1 in Pacific Chinook is strongly associated with the rupture of red blood cells, overwhelming the vital organs, leading to jaundice, organ failure and death (Di Cicco et al. 2018). The authors concluded “migratory chinook salmon may be at more than a minimal risk of disease from exposure to the high levels of PRV occurring on salmon farms”.

Creative Salmon, operating in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation territory near Tofino, rears Pacific Chinook salmon in open-net pens. Of particular concern, PRV-1a is replicating at Creative Salmon, adapting to a Pacific species (Chinook), and spreading through the waters of Clayoquot Sound.

“Wild Chinook salmon in Clayoquot Sound are on the brink of extinction” said project coordinator Bonny Glambeck. “Two federal court judges have ruled in three cases that DFO’s policy of putting farmed salmon into open-net pens without screening for PRV is unlawful, yet DFO continues to allow the transfer of PRV-infected farm salmon. Are we about to witness another collapse on DFO’s watch—like the Atlantic Cod fishery?”

“The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been clearly mandated by the Prime Minister to remove open- net pen salmon farms from our waters by 2025”, said MP Gord Johns (NDP Fisheries Critic). “Coastal communities are expecting her to report on the necessary actions that will be taken to achieve this objective. This has to include an immediate halt to the transfer of PRV-infected fish into BC fish farms.”

Cermaq, a Norwegian-owned company, rears Atlantic salmon in the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve, in the territory of Ahousaht First Nation.

Bonny Glambeck

Campaigns Director, Clayoquot Action