Salmon Firm Admits Link
to Deadly Fish Flu Virus
By Geraldine Murray
THE world's largest salmon farming company has been linked to the spread of a deadly fish flu virus in Scotland.
Eight out of 11 salmon farms confirmed by government scientists to have infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) are owned by Hydro Seafood. A further two farms were infected after introducing young salmon from a Hydro Seafood farm.
The virus, a notifiable disease that has led to the slaughter of millions of farmed salmon, costing the industry an estimated £38m, was first recorded in Scotland in May 1998 at a Hydro farm in Loch Nevis, near Mallaig.
Hydro Seafood, which is owned by the Norwegian multi-national Norsk Hydro, admits there are clear links between this first discovery of ISA and all but one of the later cases. Last week government scientists alarmed environmentalists by revealing they had found ISA in wild fish, including salmon, trout and eels, for the first time.
David Rackham, director of Hydro Seafood's Scottish operation, said: "There is clearly a link between the point source in Nevis, which is where the outbreak first occurred in 1998 and our own farms in other areas."
He added that the company had unwittingly spread the virus by selling young salmon, known as smolts, to Marine Harvest McConnell.
"There's no doubt at all that we have inadvertently spread it from our own operations. We sold smolts on to Marine Harvest McConnell and then they transferred this up to Shetland from their operation on Skye."
Hydro runs 28 of the 340 salmon farms around Scotland, an industry which employs 6,000 people. Hydro employs about 300 and will harvest nearly 20,000 tonnes of fish this year.
But Rackham distanced his company from any blame in introducing the virus to Scotland. He said last week's announcement of ISA in wild fish suggested the virus was already present in the environment and that salmon farms simply provided it with the right conditions to thrive.
But Dr Richard Dixon, head of research at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "ISA is endemic in Norway, eight out of the 11 confirmed sites (in Scotland) are controlled by the Norwegian multi-national Norsk Hydro and every confirmed ISA case but one has since been traced back to the Hydro Seafood farm in Loch Nevis. It would be a most remarkable coincidence if ISA was not imported into Scotland from Norway. ISA is here to stay."
The argument over the original source of ISA shows no signs of being resolved. The virus, which causes haemorrhaging in the fish's kidneys and liver if it develops to full-blown disease, was first recorded in Norway in 1984. It was reported in Canada in 1996 and was discovered in Scotland last year.
The Scottish Executive said that tests showed the viral strain found in Scotland was "distinct" from the strain in Norwegian waters although it shared a "98%-99%" similarity.
Twenty-four Scottish farms have been designated as "suspected" of harbouring ISA. They are subject to a quarantine but are not required to kill stock. Hydro has launched legal action against the government for about £20m compensation for compulsory destruction of fish on farms where the virus has been confirmed.