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Mowi reports ‘suspect’ ISA infections in Newfoundland salmon hatchery


Mowi has opened up its large Indian Head Atlantic salmon hatchery in the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador (NL) for inspection by national and local authorities after finding three parr potentially contaminated with infectious salmon anemia (ISA).

The hatchery, maintained by the Norwegian salmon farming giant’s Northern Harvest Smolt division, maintains a production capacity of 4.5 million smolts per year and is 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 company reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Aquatic Animal Health Division of the provincial government were ordered to the site to conduct their own sampling to determine if the result can be replicated or was a false positive.

“Our company is following all government approved regulations to protect fish health, and all fish at the location have been quarantined,” reads the statement.

Because the hatchery uses uncontaminated well water, the investigation could lead Mowi to investigate its broodstock as a possible link, one source suggests.

Mowi Canada East spokesperson Jason Card could not be reached for comment at presstime.

Mowi acquired the Indian Head hatchery, in the western town of Stephenville, when it purchased Northern Harvest, another Atlantic salmon company based in New Brunswick, in July, for CAD 315m ($248m). It was deemed one of the major prizes of the acquisition, as Mowi previously was required to purchase its smolts from other companies.

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.

Northern Harvest, at the time of the acquisition, 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.

Cooke says its ISA incident was limited

Mowi has faced other significant challenges in NL, too.

In September, it confronted a major salmon mortality event in Fortune Bay, off the southern coast, in which the deaths of some 2.6m salmon — half of Northern Harvest’s fish — were blamed on a prolonged warm water period. The net pens involved were many of the same ones that are regularly fed by the hatchery.

The Indian Head ISA incident is just the latest to be reported in the province, too. In October, shortly after the heat-related mass mortality incident, Mowi announced that it would have to cull an unidentified amount of salmon from its Broad Cove site after ISA was detected there and a quarantine was ordered by provincial authorities.

On Jan. 22, Cold Ocean Salmon, a division of New Brunswick-based Cooke said it received a positive test result for ISA at its Sugarloaf Island farm, in Great Cullier Bay. The detection involved one fish from one pen and two fish from another.

The Cold Ocean Salmon farm holds 483,886 fish.

However, Joel Richardson, a Cooke spokesperson, responded to a request for comment by Undercurrent on Friday by noting that, after the January removal of the three ISA positive fish, “there were no more positive results on the farm and and the farm is part of the current harvesting schedule”.