Wild Fish Conservancy says escaped Atlantic salmon were infected with contagious virus

Submitted pictures of caught Atlantic salmon. From Steve Stout and viewers.

DUVALL, Wash. — The Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest said Thursday that lab results show the Atlantic salmon that escaped from pens last summer were infected with a highly contagious and harmful virus that could kill native wild salmon.

“Independent lab results demonstrate that 100% of escaped Atlantic salmon tested were highly infected with Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV), and that the strain of the virus is of Norwegian origin,” the nonprofit said.

The organization said it had received the test results this week from an independent lab at the University of Prince Edward Island. It had contracted with the alb to test heart, gill and kidney tissue samples from 19 Atlantic salmon collected after the large Cypress Island net pen collapse and fish escape last August. It said the 19 salmon were donated by commercial, tribal and recreational fishermen and were caught in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the site of the Cypress Island pen escape, and 50 miles up the Skagit River.

“PRV is known to be a highly contagious and debilitating salmonid virus, and is proven to be the causal agent for heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) disease,” the WFC said. “HSMI causes a crippling onset of symptoms in salmonids, symptoms that would either kill or render a wild fish incapable of surviving in natural conditions.

“Peer-reviewed scientific literature demonstrates a high likelihood that Atlantic salmon net pens infected with PRV will amplify the virus and spread it to wild salmon,” it added.

WFC ecologist Dr. Nick Gayeski said, “Based on the results of this sampling, I estimate that more than 99.9% of the 260,000+ fish that escaped from the Cypress Island net pen are infected with PRV.”

The WFC noted that a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said at a Jan. 30 news conference that the escaped fish “were healthy at the time of release. Of the escaped fish, there was no disease. No endemic bacterial, viral or parasitic (including sea lice) pathogens were detected at the time of release.”

As a result, the WFC called on the WDFW to immediately test all Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound for PRV, remove all infected Atlantic salmon from the pens, and stop allowing the restocking of the pens until they are shown to have no PRV.