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Fish farm quarantined after virus discovered

Clayoquot Sound facility's outbreak is the company's third this year

A Clayoquot Sound salmon farm is under quarantine because of a positive test for a fish virus - and Friends of Clayoquot Sound say the outbreak illustrates the risks of approving any more fish farms in the sensitive area.

It is the third Mainstream farm in Clayoquot Sound to be infected with infectious haematopoietic necrosis, or IHN, this year.

"I think this emphasizes the way these farms amplify and spread the disease and it shows the industry really doesn't have control over these diseases," said Bonny Glambeck, campaigns director for Friends of Clayoquot Sound.

However, Mainstream Canada spokeswoman Laurie Jensen said the virus at the Millar Channel farm was likely spread by passing wild fish. The outbreak should not affect the company's application for a new farm site in Clayoquot Sound, she said.

Mainstream is waiting for the provincial government to decide on an application for a new 55-hectare salmon farm at Plover Point on Meares Island. A coalition of environmental groups and First Nations have asked the province to postpone any decision until the Cohen Commission, which is looking into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, releases its findings.

Those recommendations could affect the way salmon farms conduct business, Glambeck said.

"Two panels have recommended that the industry should move to closed containment, and that's the way we think this industry should go," she said.

IHN, which is not harmful to humans, is endemic to wild Pacific salmon, but attacks the kidneys and spleen of Atlantic salmon and can lead to rotting flesh and organ failure.

Earlier this year, 570,000 Atlantic salmon from Mainstream's Dixon Bay farm were destroyed after the virus was confirmed. Fish at the company's Bawden Point farm were harvested after a weak positive test.

It is unlikely the virus now at Millar Channel came from Dixon Bay because of the length of time between the cases and strict bio-security measures, said Jensen.

"Migrating wild salmon, natural carriers of the virus, are a more likely source," she said.

But Glambeck believes the Atlantic salmon were infected by other farm fish.

"The farm they are currently concerned about is smack dab in the middle of the one that was culled and the one that tested for a weak positive," she said.

Mainstream's proposed Plover Point farm would be a replacement site and would allow other sites to remain fallow for longer, Jensen said.

"But our critics just want us gone," she said. "It doesn't matter if we are doing it better or not."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has taken charge of the site to ensure the virus does not spread. It will decide whether the 400 tonnes of fish must be culled.