Salmon virus burned Fed resources

Reports that a potentially lethal salmon virus had been found in the waters off British Columbia last year drew a fast, co-ordinated response from the federal government, tied up resources of three federal ministries for months, and even required the assistance of Canadian consular officials in the U.S., newly released documents indicate.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act detail the lengths the federal government went to try to confirm and then respond to an October 2011 announcement by a Simon Fraser University professor that infectious salmon anaemia had been found in two of 48 sockeye smolts collected from the Central Coast.

Federal officials have repeatedly reported they haven't been able to confirm the presence in BC of the virus, which can't infect humans but poses a serious threat to farmed and wild salmon stocks because it can cause anemia, hemorrhaging and lead to death.

In November, news broke that a Prince Edward Island lab at the Atlantic Veterinary College that deals with the virus had been audited by the World Organization for Animal Health after member countries became concerned the lab's work was not consistent with findings from other researchers.

That lab also played a key role in the research that prompted the October 2011 announcement by Prof. Rick Routledge and salmon-farming critic Alexandra Morton.

A draft summary of a Dec. 12, 2011 conference call between Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, shows officials inside one DFO branch were still dealing with questions about the virus almost two months after Routledge's announcement.

"DFO Science noted they have been seized with this issue for the past two months, and speaking with media and other interested parties has consumed much of their time over this period," stated the document. "They posed the question about what more could they be doing."

Listed as participants in the conference call were seven officials from DFO, two from the CFIA, and at least four officials from Foreign Affairs, as well as representatives of Canadian consulates in Seattle, Anchorage, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tom Robbins, a spokesman with Fisheries and Oceans, said he doesn't think any costs have been attached to the federal government's response to the Oct. 17 announcement.

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