The Norwegian Atlantic salmon giant Mowi has suffered another major blow at its hatchery in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, culling 450,000 juvenile fish after finding eight positive with a pathogenic strain of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) and six with a non-pathogenic strain.
Known as the “Indian Head” hatchery, the facility in the town of Stephenville was acquired by Mowi in July 2019 as part of its CAD 315 million ($248m) acquisition of Northern Harvest Sea Farms and is now considered part of the Northern Harvest Smolt Limited (NHSL) operation.
It was deemed one of the major prizes of the acquisition, as Mowi previously was required to purchase its smolts from other companies.
The hatchery maintains a production capacity of 4.5m smolts per year and is one of the only company-owned source of young salmon in Atlantic Canada. It feeds at least 33 cages in the area and had been slated for future expansion.
Mowi made public its “suspect detection” in a statement published March 27 on the website of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association. Such disclosures must now be made within 24 hours of such a detection per the regulatory changes put into place by the province after a massive mortality event last fall.
“The investigation is continuing with further sampling,” the company said in a press release issued Tuesday. “Should further fish be confirmed ISA positive through sampling, additional measures may be announced.”
The company said that all culled fish will be transported to a facility within the province that will convert them into biofuel. Following the culling, the facility will undergo a disinfecting process to ensure any presence of ISA is eradicated, and an enhanced program of additional testing and monitoring will continue at the facility with the involvement of regulatory authorities after the cull.
“The facility will remain in a state of quarantine until the quarantine is lifted by regulatory authorities. The cull, disinfecting process, and continued monitoring activity will be conducted per standard operating procedures approved by regulators,” the company said.
Mowi said the positive results were identified by continuous testing protocols led by the regulatory agencies.
“Per regulation, the suspect positive discovery was disclosed within 24 hours of detection, and in keeping with the industry’s focus on public disclosure, NHSL is now publicly announcing the ISA confirmation and our response,” the company said, stressing that ISA is not a human health issue or a food safety issue.
Mow said it “will now proceed with making revisions to its production planning, and remains committed to continuing productive operations in Stephenville, and throughout Atlantic Canada”.
The company was pursuing an effort to add tanks and expand the hatchery so that it could produce as many as 6.7m smolts per year but was dealt at least a temporary setback in late February when NL Supreme Court justice Daniel Boone ruled that a former environmental minister erred by not requiring an environmental review of area net pens, as first reported by Undercurrent.
The recent incident is just the latest tragedy to beset Mowi’s Canadian operations. The company, in September, suffered a major mortality event when it lost 2.6m Atlantic salmon in 72 cages at 10 different farm sites across Fortune Bay, off the coast of NL, an incident that was blamed on overly warm water. The company later estimated the cost of the loss to be $5.5m.
Many of the fish lost in the September mortality event were first grown as smolts at Indian Head.
Northern Harvest, at the time of its acquisition by Mowi, was already dealing with several cases of ISA that some believed were linked to a hatchery in Nova Scotia that had supplied many of the cages where infections were found.