The BC Salmon Farmers are crowing over today’s media conference announcing the results of further testing for the ISA virus in Pacific salmon. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the salmon farming industry’s public relations division – aka DFO Aquaculture Branch – tried their best to sound neutral and unbiased but were clearly pleased to report their findings to date. But not so fast (spin) doctors.
If you listened to the first few minutes of the media conference call there was nothing but good news. According to Dr. Con Kiley, Director of National Aquatic Animal Health with CFIA, there are no confirmed cases of ISA in either wild or farmed salmon in BC, all the samples received were thoroughly tested, all tests were negative and basically, we can all relax. There is no cause for concern.
That would be great news. ISA in the Pacific ocean could have tragic and truly devastating consequences if the disease were to mutate or prove to be virulent. Today’s announcement from the CFIA, DFO and the BC government was very reassuring – up to about the 10 minute mark.
I started getting very worried again when Kiley noted that “these supplementary results must be considered inconclusive because of the poor quality of the samples.” Say what? Inconclusive?
The spin-doctoring started seriously unravelling when a reporter from the Seattle Times asked if Canadian government officials would be willing to share raw samples with US researchers if they wanted to do their own testing (audio credit: www.ecoshock.net). Hmmm – seems our friends to the south are as suspicious of DFO and CFIA’s cosy partnership with the fish farming industry as Canadians are.
Peter King, who heads up the Moncton DFO laboratory that did the re-testing of the samples responded (and I quote): “For the most part these samples are either partially – and I say over the half way mark – or totally, totally degraded. Sharing those samples would not be good science. They are in poor condition, we received them in poor condition and moving them anywhere else is not going to help anybody.” He talks about the storage of the samples and the degradation of RNA, then goes on to say: “That’s why we call things inconclusive – because the degradation is so bad you cannot form an opinion from a test standpoint as to whether or not you are capable or not capable. The fact that they come up negative doesn’t really mean anything because they are so badly degraded.”
The negative test “doesn’t really mean anything”?
CFIA’s Kiley tries to regain control of the spin: “Or that you get a result that’s positive.”
King acknowledges “That’s a possibility too – that’s why we have to go to confirmatory testing…”
So given the huge uncertainty, surely our federal agencies are now working hard to get to the bottom of this? If the samples are poor quality, they must have a plan to immediately secure more and better samples? If the results are inconclusive and they can’t categorically rule out the presence of ISA then they’ll be spending sleepless nights putting together a testing program to make certain our wild salmon are not exposed to this disease.
Dr. Kiley advises DFO and CFIA are “assessing current testing levels for ISA in both wild and aquaculture populations in BC” and will “increase surveillance activities as required”. But they are acting quickly, right? Kiley replies there are ideal times of year for tests and based on the species and where they want to test they will decide what will be done and when.
So the spin will be ‘no ISA in BC’ while the reality is the tests are totally inconclusive, ISA might be present or it might not, the salmon farmers continue to do their own sampling and testing (but are ‘sharing’ the results of their in-house fish health audits with the Province) and the Canadian government agencies are going to move at a glacial pace before doing anything because after all – what’s the rush? It’s only our wild salmon and the continued functioning of our Pacific coast ecosystem that’s on the line.
At the end, a reporter introduces herself as Roxanne from the Yukon News and asks if there is further testing done, would it come north and perhaps include the Yukon River? Dr. Kiley replies: “No, we do our investigation in Canadian waters.” Now I’m reassured – Canada’s best are on the job.
Credit: This post was originally published here on the Living Oceans Society blog.