Last night’s Wild Fish Conservancy press release stating that “contrary to” WDFW statements, Northwest salmon face dire consequences from “a highly contagious and harmful virus” in escaped netpen fish is overblown, riddled with errors and misrepresentative.
So says the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in a blistering rebuttal to the Duvall outfit’s claim that a lab it had sent 19 Atlantic salmon to found all of them to be infected with an exotic strain of a fish virus, which WFC suggested could spread a disease that weakens our native salmon.
AN ATLANTIC SALMON CAUGHT ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT SULTAN ON JANUARY 8, THE HEAD AND ORGANS OF WHICH WERE SENT TO WDFW FOR ITS OWN TESTING . (ERIC BELL)
The nonnative salmon reared for the table in sea enclosures have become a hot-button issue in Washington and across the border in British Columbia as tribal interests, certain state agencies and legislators and special interest groups try to push them out of Northwest waters using whatever means possible, fair and otherwise.
This is also not the first rodeo for WDFW and the Wild Fish Conservancy, which sued the state in 2014 in an attempt to end consumptive steelheading in Puget Sound, and which has attacked hatchery salmon production elsewhere.
Their latest move calls into question WDFW’s science and its word, and so the agency tasked Ken Warheit, its fish and genetic specialist, to respond to WFC’s claims. He begins with four bullet points.
“The Wild Fish Conservancy’s news release confuses the virus (PRV) with the disease (HSMI), misuses the scientific literature to exaggerate risks to native salmon, and fails to find a single study to support the claim that PRV from open-water pens will harm wild fish,” reads Warheit’s statement.
“The Conservancy asserts – without evidence – that HSMI will harm wild salmon. However, HSMI has never been detected in our native salmon or any other fish except farmed Atlantic salmon,” Warheit continues.
“PRV occurs naturally and was first confirmed in the Salish Sea from fish samples taken in 1987. The Conservancy provides no data or scientific research to support its claim that the PRV found in escaped fish originated in Norway,” he says.
And Warheit adds that PRV isn’t even recognized as a “pathogen of concern” currently by the World Organization for Animal Health.
Warheit then takes the Wild Fish Conservancy’s press release apart line by line, as well as counters the organization claim that WDFW’s Amy Windrope misled the public during a late January press conference with DNR and the Department of Ecology when she reported the Atlantic salmon had been healthy when they’d gotten loose.
In that release, WFC’s “outraged” Kurt Beardslee said “I’m outraged this disease is being amplified into our public waters, and I’m outraged our state agencies are willfully misleading the public. When the public finds out about this atrocity, they will be outraged as well. Wild salmon are the environmental, social, economic, and cultural cornerstone of this region, we can’t afford to put them at greater risk. We need to take corrective actions and remove this dangerous industry from Puget Sound before it’s too late.”
However, Warheit states that, “WDFW never claimed that PRV was not present in escaped Atlantic salmon. In fact, in the state’s report investigating the Cypress #2 accident, WDFW was the first to report the presence of PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. Ms. Amy Windrope’s quote that appeared in WFC’s press release was accurate and subsequent statements at the press briefing specifically dealt with the presence of PRV and stated that WDFW found PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. None of the escaped Atlantic salmon with PRV examined by WDFW had HSMI.”
He says that PRV is not only present in netpen salmon but free-swimming ones as well from Alaska south to Washington, if not further down the West Coast.
“In most cases, fish with PRV are healthy, and show no signs of disease,” Warheit says. “The syndrome HSMI has been associated with PRV in Atlantic salmon aquaculture only. HSMI affects only a small subset of captive Atlantic salmon with PRV and in most cases HSMI is not fatal.”
To back that up, he points to a white paper prepared last September by the Pacific Northwest Fish Health Protection Committee’s TR Meyers of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
But Warheit states that several of WFC’s citations either don’t support the organizations’s claims, are misused or are speculative.
“… Although PRV genetic sequences from eastern Pacific closely resemble that from Norway, there are differences between these sets of sequences, and it would have been more informative if WFC provided information about the sequences, rather than speculating about the origin of the PRV found in the escaped Atlantic salmon,” he states.
Meanwhile, bills banning new Atlantic netpen operations have been passed in the state Legislature and a couple weekends ago, DNR’s Hillary Franz terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island lease, where all this began back in August.