Lethal Virus Hits Pacific Salmon
Atlantic salmon disease has devastated fish stocks elsewhere
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2011 7:54 AM CDT
Researchers believe the disease may have been present but undetected in the region for several years.   (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

(Newser) – The backbone of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem—and a multi-billion dollar industry—is in serious danger, scientists warn. A lethal and highly contagious virus has been found for the first time in wild salmon in the region, having possibly spread from fish farms that imported millions of Atlantic salmon eggs, reports the New York Times. Infectious salmon anemia devastated fish farms in Chile when it spread there four years ago and has cost farms in Scotland and Norway more than 70% of their fish.

The disease poses "a cataclysmic threat" to salmon and herring in the region, according to the researcher who found the virus in two of 48 salmon collected in an area of British Columbia more than 60 miles from the nearest salmon farm. Fisheries experts are calling for urgent research to determine how far the virus has spread. They warn that culls may be necessary, and some argue that the presence of the disease—which mutates very quickly, but poses no threat to humans—is evidence that marine-based fish farms don't belong in the region.