February 20, 2018 10:35 pm
Updated: February 21, 2018 12:55 am

A threat to wild salmon? Government confirms virus in blood discharge pouring into B.C. waters

There's a red flag being waved by conservationists on Canada's West Coast. A diver captured video — and took samples — of what some fish farms are releasing into the ocean. As Paul Johnson reports, there are fears that fish farms could infect B.C.'s precious wild salmon stocks.

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B.C. government scientists have confirmed the bloody effluent spewing from a pipe near Campbell River has tested positive for a highly contagious virus.

In November, filmmaker Tavish Campbell released footage of a blood-red cloud being discharged from a fish farm processing facility.

WATCH: Government confirms virus in fish plant waste

The footage caught the attention of government scientists who confirmed the presence of the highly-contagious piscine reovirus (PRV), which can infect and may sicken wild salmon.

“The fish farming industry says we are disinfecting our blood water when in fact all the indications are… there is no disinfection taking place,” John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation said.

The provincial government has launched a review of the practice.

WATCH: B.C. conservationists post livestream of blood discharge pouring into local waters

Jeremy Dunn of the BC Salmon Farmers Association said research indicates that PRV is a “relatively harmless virus.”

“There are millions of viruses in the ocean, most of which are harmless,” he said. “The science to date on this particular virus would show that it’s not having a harm on farmed fish or wild fish.”

WATCH: Fraser River sockeye run predicted to be lowest in 120 years

Last summer’s Fraser River sockeye run saw the lowest returns ever recorded, and no one knows exactly why.

A December 2017 report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada says B.C.’s sockeye salmon stocks are flirting with extinction, and need an “at risk” designation.

WATCH: New report calls for ‘at risk’ designation for B.C. sockeye salmon

In a few months, millions of juvenile wild salmon will swim through virus-infected clouds on their way to open ocean.

READ MORE: New study shows B.C. wild salmon are being infected by virus coming from fish farms

Scientists aren’t certain about how PRV affects wild salmon, but activists say dropping virus-infected effluent in the middle of a fish migration route may not be the responsible choice.

“There’s no reason in this day and age, with the technology that we have, that we should be allowing this to take place,” Werring said.

— With files from Paul Johnson

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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