Conservation (Bad) News: Salmon Plague Spreads to Wild Pacific Stocks

Deadly Disease Threatens Wild Pacific Salmon

File this one under: Just when you think things couldn't get worse.

Earlier this month fishery officials in Canada and the U.S. confirmed the deadly infectious salmon anemia had been found for the first time in wild Pacific salmon. This is the same disease that devastated salmon farms in Chile and other countries. The disease was found in two sockeye salmon smolts off British Columbia.

The news sent shock waves through the fishing industries and communities that depend on salmon. It was good to see the threat also quickly cut through the entrenched partisanship in Washington resulting in a bi-partisan bill to address the outbreak.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced legislation giving federal agencies six months to determine the scope and cause of the outbreak and to recommend steps to protect the salmon stocks along the West Coast, Canada and Alaska. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.).

There's a lot to be concerned about. Although a vaccine for the disease is currently being tested on Atlantic salmon, there is no known cure. Its sudden appearance is an example of the threats that fish farming operations pose to wild fish stocks. And its proven deadly virulence has some fisheries experts convinced the two infected smolts are just the tip of a disease iceberg already growing in that region.

And it's not like this is the only disease coming out of Chilean salmon farms.

Frankenfish?

That outbreak of infectious salmon anemia couldn't have come at a worse time for AquaBounty Technologies, the Massachusetts firm that has developed a genetically modified salmon it hopes to sell to fish farm operations. The company combined growth genes from Chinook salmon and slices of DNA from ocean pout, a fast-growing eel-like creature. The result is an artificial salmon that grows several times faster than the real thing.

Aquaculture supporters say developments like this will take the pressure off wild stocks--good news for anglers. But opponents point to incidents (above) of disease from these creatures spreading into wild stocks.

Sportsmen's groups are keeping a close eye on the debate.
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Longleaf Pines Get Help in Mississippi**

On the good news front, Mississippi has scored a victory in the popular cause of reestablishing the longleaf pine forests, earning two grants to restore the habitat on public and private lands in the state. The tall, broad-shouldered trees created a beautiful savannah-like habitat that was resistant both to fire and hurricanes, and was an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. But the trees were also valued for their hard lumber, eagerly sought for homes and naval industries.

Longleaf pines were once common in 35 of Mississippi's counties. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks a grant to improve more than 3,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat on Marion County and Theodore Mars Wildlife Management Areas in South Mississippi. Funds will be used to improve habitat for endangered wildlife species such as the gopher tortoise and black pine snake, and will also create habitat to benefit white-tailed deer, wild turkey and bobwhite quail.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded MDWFP, and its partners, the Longleaf Alliance and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve longleaf pine habitat on private lands in Mississippi.