Pacific Salmon Foundation researcher dissects tissue samples from overwintering Chinook to detect for the presence of infectious agents in Quatsino Sound, B.C., March 2019. (Photo by Amy Romer)

New viruses discovered in endangered wild Pacific salmon populations in B.C.

Study looked at 6,000 salmon along the B.C.’s coastline, including in the wild and in fish farms

A series of new fish-infecting viruses have been discovered in endangered Chinook and Sockeye salmon populations.

Among three new viruses discovered is a virus that has never been known to infect fish before, according to a news release from UBC researchers released on Wednesday.

While the impact of the viruses on salmon health isn’t yet known, all three are related to viruses that cause serious disease in other species, the study suggests.

Researchers from UBC’s earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences department, along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists, used DNA sequencing to screen for viruses within more than 6,000 salmon from along the B.C. coast, including wild, hatchery and aquaculture fish.

UBC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers used DNA sequencing followed by tests specific to each virus to screen more than 6,000 salmon from along the B.C. coast, including wild, hatchery and aquaculture fish.

READ MORE: DFO to test for harmful virus at B.C. fish farms

UBC’s department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences researcher Gideon Mordecai says he was surprised by this latest discovery, which was published this week in the research journal eLife.

“We were surprised to find viruses which had never before been shown to infect fish,” said Mordecai.

“Although there’s no risk to humans, one of the viruses is evolutionary related to to respiratory coronaviruses, and is localized to the gills. That suggests it has a similar infection strategy to its distant relatives that infect mammals.”

One new virus was detected in 15 per cent of all hatchery Chinook tested, which is more commonly found in hatchery salmon.

Another new virus was detected in 20 per cent of Chinook fish found in B.C. fish farms, but was only found in adult or sub-adult salmon. Usually, these viruses are more likely found in cultured fish than in the wild.

The research findings come as the population of Chinook and sockeye salmon continue to decline – a trend scientists have been documenting for 30 years.

While much of the focus has been on the impact of piscine orthoreovirus, the new findings highlight how little is known about other viruses endemic to salmon populations.

UBC virologist Curtis Suttle said the findings emphasize the potential role that viral disease can play in wild fish stocks.

“It’s essential that we determine whether these viruses are important factors in the decline of Chinook and sockeye salmon stocks,” Suttle said.

“The research highlights the need for robust surveillance to improve our understanding of how viruses might impact the health of wild Pacific salmon populations.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tofino mayor urges “kindness” as tourism reopens

“Health and safety matters to everyone.”

Resorts in Tofino and Ucluelet prepare to reopen in June

“We need to get the tourist economy in our communities back up and running.”

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve plans limited reopening on June 4

The Park Reserve shut down on March 18 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pacific Rim Hospice Society gifting free wellness “check-ins” to all West Coast residents

“This pandemic has led to a lot of isolation and it’s helpful for anybody just to have a soundboard.”

Accident, downed power lines closes Highway 4 west of Port Alberni

Detour is available near Hector Road as BC Hydro crews work to restore power

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Stolen gargoyle returns to its perch on central Vancouver Island yard

Petey, a concrete gargoyle statue, was returned by Nanaimo RCMP after being found by city crew

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

Most Read