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Remain Calm and Keep Eating

Cooke Aquaculture gets provincial millions in expansion money. But do you want what they're selling?

by Miles Howe

ISA-infected salmon steaks anyone? [Photo: Miles Howe]
ISA-infected salmon steaks anyone? [Photo: Miles Howe]

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - On June 21st, the provincial government of Nova Scotia announced that Cooke Aquaculture, the New Brunswick-based seafood conglomerate, would be receiving an infusion of $25 million to aid in a massive eight-figure expansion program into Nova Scotia's coastal waters. This, despite the announcement on June 19th that a suspected case of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) had been found at an as-yet-unannounced salmon pen belonging to Cooke Aquaculture.

ISA, an influenza virus, does exist in wild salmon. But given the cramped quarters of open-net pen salmon farms, a situation described by Dr. Alexandra Morton, British Columbia-based authority on salmon, as resembling a "feedlot", ISA is allowed to mutate and increase in virulence at an extremely rapid rate. Epidemics in salmon feedlots spread rapidly, and can and do infect migrating wild salmon populations.

But what of the risks to people?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has made it very clear that ISA-infected salmon pose no health risks to humans. Indeed, while reports of ISA outbreaks in Atlantic and Pacific farmed salmon have seen trade doors close in Asian and European markets, the CFIA does in fact allow for ISA-infected salmon to be sold over the counter in grocery stores across Canada.

The singular reason that ISA-infected salmon from Cooke Aquaculture's last outbreak, confirmed on March 7th, 2012, were not in fact sold to Canadian market, was that the infected fish were too small to sell when they were found to be infected. It was not a matter of Canadian consumer health, but a matter of not being able to find a market for the infected fish. As the CFIA states:  

“Since infectious salmon anemia [ISA] poses no human health or food safety risk, the facility may explore processing options where available."

So while ISA-infected fish are not all right for trade to certain countries, according to the CFIA they are fine for Canadian palates.

Dr. Morton doesn't necessarily agree. 

"I do a lot of lecturing, and I speak a lot about ISA," says Dr. Morton. "And virtually every lecture I do, a nurse or a doctor will take me aside and say ‘Because ISA is an influenza virus, it concerns us that people are eating it.’

"I would say [to CFIA] ‘Show me the research’. There is a paper from a while back saying that the virus cannot replicate in our body temperature. Okay, and how up to date are we on that? Because if you look into this virus there are a lot of mutations out there. [Viruses] are incredibly successful organisms, and they kill things. We absolutely know this. We know that moving them around is a bad idea. We know that letting them mutate is a bad, bad idea. That’s how we ended up with the avian flu scare, and the swine flu.

"And they’re feeding a lot of warm-blooded animal products to these fish. Blood flour is a huge ingredient. Chicken feathers is another big ingredient. So they’re mixing up the food chain, which is also bad for these viruses. You want them to stay in their own little pocket and not really jump around."

When Dr. Morton shops at the grocery store in British Columbia, and tests salmon samples from the market, she finds fluctuating percentages of ISA-infected product. 

This adds but one more concern to the Nova Scotia government today announcing that Cooke Aquaculture's multi-million dollar expansion will provide more than 400 jobs to rural Nova Scotia, where high seasonal unemployment swings and a dwindling population have the coastal communities looking for good news. 

Despite the real economic pressures, over 100 interest groups, a number of them coming from communities already negatively effected by Cooke Aquaculture's salmon farming ventures, recently demanded a moratorium on open-net pen fin fish farming. Cooke Aquaculture chief operating officer Kris Nicholl recently called these the actions of "very well-funded groups that like to promote controversy".

Today Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture, noted that this new expansion into Nova Scotia was part of the family business' commitment to meet world demand for "healthy fish." The majority of the fish will most likely head to the eastern seaboard markets of the United States, where markets are wide-open for Atlantic salmon, ISA-infected or otherwise.

Where ISA-infected salmon can pass for healthy fish at the market, and coastal communities come to rely on jobs that pollute the very coastlines upon which they have traditionally depended. 

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671 words


Rise Up

What an incredible TRAVESTY that Glen Cooke and the gov't think profit is more important than the health of our oceans! A healthy ocean is our best bank for the future. They don't even mention that ISA can also spread to other wild fish in the marine environment. 
Here on the wild west coast of Vanoucouver Island some of our wild runs of salmon that have to pass the fish farms are now almost extinct. Where they don't pass farms, they are doing well.
This gov't has gone WAY over the top and we all need to RISE UP. Instead of trying harder to save our environment Canada seems to be leading the fast track to destruction. 

farmed salmon

you might want to watch Silver Donald Cameron's Salmon Wars before deciding whether you want to keep eating or not

farmed salmon


Silver Donald's movie is a must watch. Also:



Dear Miles, spreading lies

Dear Miles, spreading lies and mis-information will do nothing for your cause. Using Ms. Morton as your Virus expert is laughable.

Giving credence to Ms. Mortons supermarket forrays  is plain irresponsible.

This action is tantamount to buying beef steak in a supermarket sending it out for testing then running straight to the press  screaming Mad Cow Disease.

Here is a recent press release from CFIA  regarding Morton's supermarket samples

2012-03-12: Salmon disease finding not conclusive

The Government of Canada has been notified of a suspected infectious salmon anaemia finding by a private laboratory based on samples collected in British Columbia. These tests have not been confirmed by the National Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory System (NAAHLS) laboratory, which uses internationally recognized test methods. Infectious salmon anaemia is not a human health concern.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will work with the private laboratory to send the samples for testing and analysis at the NAAHLS laboratory run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada; however, due to the poor quality of the samples it is unlikely that the NAAHLS laboratory will be able to verify the result.http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/aquatic-animals/diseases/reportable/isa/bc/eng/1332461648551/1332461724110


Followed by a more recent report2012-03-22: Salmon samples negative for infectious salmon anaemia

The Government of Canada has finished testing the British Columbia salmon samples shared by a private laboratory for confirmation of suspected infectious salmon anaemia. The federal laboratory repeated the screening tests conducted by the private laboratory and found all samples to be negative.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is launching a surveillance initiative to verify the health status of salmon in British Columbia. Approximately 5000 wild salmon will be collected and tested annually, for a minimum of two years. Testing is expected to begin this spring.

In recent years, the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia have tested over 5000 wild and farmed salmon in British Columbia for infectious salmon anaemia. None have ever tested positive.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is the federal authority for aquatic animal health. Anyone who suspects that fish may be infected with infectious salmon anaemia or another reportable disease should immediately contact the Agency.

Prompt reporting will allow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to carry out a disease investigation and appropriately collect samples for testing if warranted http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/aquatic-animals/diseases/reportable/isa/bc/eng/1332461648551/1332461724110


But I'm sure Morton knows better.

Pseudoscience, if it is a useful concept at all, should refer to activities that have all the trappings of science, but which promote cultures of delusion rather than enlightenment. Pseudoscientists have no problem generating hypotheses to test, but they have problems generating sound rationales for the hypotheses and they tend to perform inadequate testing. commenter



Bob Milne

Victoria BC


Dear Bob

Thanks for your comments!

I'm not sure what my particular cause is in this case, but I definitely do believe that the Canadian public has the right to know whether or not they are eating ISA-infected salmon. It seems like you put a lot of faith in the CFIA, and for a variety of reasons, few of them actually related to farmed salmon, I don't. I think that anything coming from the CFIA needs to be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism, which apparently you do not.

As far as Ms. Morton's tests of store-bought salmon. I understand that she doesn't have chain of property on the tests that she has done on store-bought salmon. But I do believe that the laboratory where she had the tests done was reputable, and I personally doubt that Ms. Morton would go about infecting farmed salmon products just to make things look bad on lab results.

I kind of get the feeling that there's a smear campaign out on Ms. Morton, and I kind of suspect that's because she's stepping on a lot of rich salmon lot owners' toes. We've already taken one comment down off of this site that was absolutely shameful in it's personal attacks on Ms. Morton.

So sorry if I've hurt your feelings in terms of not falling in line with the all-mighty word of the CFIA. If that's your choice, hey, have a good time! Personally I won't be cooking up any farmed salmon steaks on the ol' bar-b this long weekend, so more for you, I guess.


Hello Miles,   Do you really

Hello Miles,   Do you really believe that Ms. Morton has out smarted the CFIA?

What are your concerns regarding ISA infected fish in the marketplace?  Keep in mind the cull is pre-cautionary and there is no way to determine the level of infection., only that the virus is present.

Ms. Morton also has complete irreverance to DFO, BCALC, MAFF,  and all provincial fisheries ministries. Should we also be sceptical of them?

The current backlash towards Morton isn't so much from  her stepping on toes as it is from a now vocal group of science lovers, scientists, and fish farmers that are  tired of the mis information spread by the anti-farming crowd.(of which she is the leader)

This quote from a commenter  sums it up nicely

You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts. Science is science, evidence is evidence. Those of us that accept and report it are always attacked as paid agents of blah, blah, blah, when we are just trying to help foster understanding of an important topic. Most scientists don't even bother. If people choose to believe that GMOs are toxic, the earth is 6000 years old, the planet is cooling, man never landed on the moon, or vaccines cause autism, why should we care? I'll answer my own question. We start to care when ignorance affects public policy or destroys needed research. That's now.
By the way ISA  is an influenza-like  virus,   not an influenza virus as stated in your article.
Bob Milne

Science is Science?

You may have a future in PR with Monsanto or DOW.

I'm sceptical of CFIA too.

I'm sceptical of CFIA too. Farmed salmon is a big poker chip in the world ecomonic trading game, and it should be obvious to everyone how the economics of farmed salmon seems more important to the government and the corporate world than really finding out the truth. When Chile was hit with an outbreak, billions of dollars were lost. Probably not what they want for Canada. 

It's interesting how ISA used to be the big dreaded disease that Canada was proud to not have - but look at the changes in attitude: It was denied for quite a long time that it was even present on the east coast, then when it was irrefutable everyone said they are better at salmon farming and testing now and it's all under control. Then, now that it has re-appeared on the east coast again, everyone says well, it's not that bad if you eat it anyways, and even some east coast gov't official recently said  that ISA is just part of the everyday problems that have to be dealt with in everyday salmon farming - it's no big deal. THAT'S  money talking! 

The type of testing that the TWO labs used to find the ISA virus in the samples Dr. Morton sent in, IS the world standard testing used by countries around the world. Interstingly, the CFIA uses a different type of test, not world standard accepted, and at their own lab...hmm...

Although the gov't has a plan to test wild fish, I don't believe it has started yet. And now that the federal gov't has chopped away so many positions, projects, studies, funding, protection laws, etc in fisheries I wouldn't be surprised that this has been chopped too.  In a pristine area on the west coast but surrounded by far too many salmon farms, the wild salmon runs are almost extinct. But people  were recently told that this area would NOT be included in the wild salmon testing! Isn't that the type of area you think they would want to start in?  Hmm...

I don't know whether ISA will, or ever can mutate enough to make humans very sick. (Dr. Ian Lipkin leading virologist referring to disease mutation in aquaculture, recently wrote in an e-mail to me "in science we never say never")  But I do know that other marine species, not just wild salmon, can carry ISAV, and can die from ISA,  and I think we should all be screaming mad about the risks that are being taken in our oceans for the sake of making some people rich. 


So  we should all be sceptical of the CFIA  beacause you 'don't know whether ISA will, or ever can mutate enough to make humans very sick?'  Yes  scientists never say never   but you've got a long wait on your hands  waiting for a  marine virus found in cold-blooded animals  to be found in a warm blooded animal  such as a human.  

Where is this pristine area  on the west coast  that has too many salmon farms? where the  wild salmon are almost extinct?

How exactly can an area be pristine, have too many salmon farms, and almost extinct wild salmon all at the same time?

Certainly you couldn't be talking about the Broughton Archepelago  where the wild salmon are   thriving?   http://salmonfarmscience.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/sealice_2008_comment_on_declining_wild_populations.pdf




Pristine no longer...

Heavens, I don't think we should wait at all!
I would like to see all farms far, far away from wild salmon. It IS a known that ISA can harm other marine species. Whether ISAV will mutate enough to harm humans is an unknown. And whether ISA will one day make someone sick or not, who wants to eat diseased flesh?  

I refer to a United Nations designated biosphere area, Clayoquot Sound, BC. "Pristine" refers to the old growth temperate rainforests, some of the watershed systems have never been logged, no roads or development, no agricultural run-off, no industrial run-off, etc. and 22 salmon farms in the mouths of these beautiful inlets.
it does beg your question "how exactly can an area be pristine, have too many salmon farms. and almost extinct wild salmon at the same time?"
I guess it still looks pristine, but below the water, out of sight, effects from salmon farms have wreaked their havoc. What a travesty.

I wish the east coast all the best and thankyou Miles for your article. 


Well  you and Miles can  go

Well  you and Miles can  go ahead and  not eat  farmed salmon. I tend to side with the people that ate just over a million tonnes of it last year without incedent. I managed to find a report from the EU  about the  ISA/ human  issue. It is from 2000    when there was legitimate concern over  human consumption of ISA infected fish in Norway. I can't find anything more recent. Perhaps it is ou there.


This would be through the European version of CFIA   so  take it as you may.

Pristine is like pregnant  there's no grey area here   Clayoquot is beautiful . I know it well. 

The Salmon farms are part of  the biosphere  . This  is from  clayoquot biosphere.org

Designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000, Clayoquot Sound is an area that
has a long history of resource extraction from the marine environment -historically
through fishing, and more recently through shellfish and finfish aquaculture. The
Biosphere Reserve’ role of promoting sustainability and requiring protected areas makes
it an ideal tool for supporting the long-term viability of fisheries and aquaculture in
Clayoquot Sound. It can do so by supporting ecosystem-based management, supporting
creation of marine protected areas, promoting sustainable aquaculture through
polyculture, promoting better management practices in fisheries –practices the not only
help sustain, but help rebuild fisheries- as well as including stakeholders through various
forms of co-management.


maybe you should take up the havoc and travesties with the UN


Bob Milne

The paper you quote is the

The paper you quote is the only one that you will find, and that points to the fact that actual research has not been done on ISAV and human consumption. In the report itself it says "No reports dealing with research on zoonotic aspects of ISA have so far been published."

But you are right that I will go ahead and never eat farmed salmon. The virus disease factor is not the only reason. The most prevalent parasite in farmed salmon is kudoa thyrsites, which results in the "soft mushy flesh syndrome." That particularily turns my stomach. Yech!  :-(

Except for the handful of people who work on the farms, most people in Clayoquot Sound:Tofino, Ucluelet, wilderness tour operators, and most certainly the commercial and sport fishermen do not like the farms as we have all watched the local wild salmon runs disappear. Sometimes, contracted divers and farm workers share some really horrific stories of grotesque looking, diseased fish.  Some people actually hate the farms, especially the old timers, the fishermen, wilderness seekers - regardless of whatever some politician wrote when they named it a biosphere area. 
Words on paper don't match what happens in real life. 





Dear Genoa,    certainly  you

Dear Genoa,    certainly  you must be joking about kudoa. What is the concern? It has long been found in wild salmon on the coast.  This Hysteria about disease is disconcerting to me.

Disease and virus is a fact of life. Creating public hysteria from ill founded studies and research does nothing to further the debate. You want to talk about Kudoa?

Go to  www.salmonfarmscience.com

Are you really denouncing the biosphere designation  as something some politician wrote?

Were you around when we fought for the clayoquot?

It is essential to move away from the simplistic perspective that policy makers andconsumers face a choice between wild salmon and farmed salmon. Salmon farming is a major world industry which is here to stay. Wild salmon is incapable of supplying the much larger domestic and world salmon market which has been created by farmed salmon. Natural wild salmon, hatchery salmon, and salmon farming all offer potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers. All also have inherent risks. The real issues are how to take responsible advantage of the potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers from both wild and farmedsalmon.”

There is no such thing as risk free anything


bob milne


MarineHarvestCanada has  serious

MarineHarvest Canada has  serious kudoa problems. From their international financial report:  "Kudoa remains an escalating issue for fish grown in certain areas (west coast Canada) , and exceptional costs, related to discards and claims, included in operational EBIT amounted to NOK 21 million in the first quarter." 
Sixty workers are laid off and farms are closed, hatchery is closed.

The farmed salmon market was created by a corporation that always needs to grow shares, therefore increase the market. But the envrionmental damage and future risks far out weigh the economic benefits of raising salmon in an open net feedlot in the ocean.


Slimy Kudoa Mush -Yum

Once every couple days people return their farmed salmon to the grocery store - Here's a little clip of what your farmed fish may look like when it has kudoa. 


No thanks. NEVER on my dinner plate.


Just watched this piece, and was disgusted.

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