A Washington-based fish nonprofit says farmed Atlantic salmon that escaped into Puget Sound last summer were infected with a contagious and harmful virus.
State wildlife officials say not so fast.
In August, a net pen at a fish farm in the San Juan Islands owned by Cooke Aquaculture collapsed, releasing more than 260,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest had 19 Atlantic salmon caught in the Strait of Juan de Fuca tested.
On Thursday, the group released results that showed all 19 were infected with Piscine Orthoreovirus, or PRV. The virus can lead to heart and skeletal muscle inflammation disease, or HSMI, with symptoms “that would either kill or render a wild fish incapable of surviving in natural conditions,” according to the group.
Responding to that report, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday said PRV occurs naturally and that in most cases fish with PRV are healthy and show no signs of HSMI. It said the disease has only been found in farmed Atlantic salmon, never native Pacific salmon, and that none of the escaped Atlantic salmon it examined had the disease.
Earlier this month, state officials terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s lease to operate Atlantic salmon farms near Cypress Island. The Seattle Times reports inspectors determined a second fish farm was at risk of catastrophic collapse and that the company misled the public and regulators about the scope and causes of August’s collapse.