Genome BC: Salmon Health: Past, Present and Future

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VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - March 11, 2013) - Genome British Columbia, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are embarking on a remarkable partnership to discover the microbes present in salmon in BC that may be undermining the productivity of BC's Pacific salmon. The project will conduct epidemiological assessments to explore the transmission dynamics and historical presence of detected microbes, with key focus on microbes that are suspected globally to be causing disease in salmon. Researchers will apply genomic technology to identify and verify which microbes are presently carried by BC's wild and cultured fish.

The project is being managed in four sequential Phases with Phase 1 valued at $930,000. The first phase is taking place over 12 months, concluding mid-2013, and comprises the collection phase of both cultured and wild salmon. While later phases are subject to final funding, Phase 2 involves rigorous analysis of the tissue samples collected in Phase 1 and in previous research. Using molecular and genomic tools, the research team will attempt to determine when and where microbes may have been transmitted. The research results will begin to rank microbes by their potential to cause disease in BC salmon based on relationships with microbes associated with disease in other parts of the world and histological evidence from salmon in BC. Phase 3 will focus in on the microbes identified in Phase 2, with an emphasis on microbes that have not been extensively researched and that are thought to be of pathological significance in salmon. Phase 4 will include reporting of research and presentations to management agencies on the potential utility of methods developed and the application of outcomes to future monitoring.

Over 90% of juvenile salmon migrating from freshwater into the ocean will die before returning to freshwater to spawn. The scientific community believes that mortality is highest during the first few months in the marine environment and that disease may be a significant factor in this mortality, but not enough is known about what pathogens or diseases might be involved.

What is already known comes almost exclusively from observations of cultured fish (both in hatcheries and in aquaculture). Consequently, there is a fair understanding of pathogens and diseases that impact salmon in freshwater hatcheries and sea-water net pens, but a much poorer understanding of pathogens affecting Pacific salmon in the ocean. 

Uncertainty about pathogens and diseases was highlighted in the final report of the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. In this report, Justice Bruce Cohen noted that more research is needed to make accurate assessments about the range of possible impacts on wild fish stocks. The research conducted by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and funded in part by Genome BC, will address specific recommendations from the Cohen Commission report and build on the body of research referenced by the Commission.

Phase I is being led by Dr. Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation and co-led by Dr. Kristi Miller of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"This project is about developing effective monitoring tools to assess the microbes in BC's salmon, assessing the risk of these microbes to Pacific salmon, and establishing public confidence that people are watching over the health of our wild salmon populations," said Dr. Brian Riddell, president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. "The uniqueness of the project is its comprehensiveness. We are bringing a strong team of scientists together to assess the risk of disease to all species of wild salmon, including salmon produced in our hatcheries and salmon from aquaculture. We will also engage the full range of stakeholders, including government, industry, communities and conservation groups that have an interest in this research."

From the outset of the project, the development of a stakeholder consultation process that enhances understanding and dialogue about the health of our Pacific salmon is paramount. The stakeholder group will provide input to information needs, public engagement and communications and on ways to integrate research on microbes and disease on BC salmon. This group of stakeholders will encompass a wide cross-section of BC citizens with an interest in British Columbia's salmon (including wild, hatchery, and farm raised salmon), including regulators, managers, harvesters, Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) and farmers.

"This is a unique and collaborative approach to an issue that affects a diverse group of stakeholders," says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome British Columbia. "It is gratifying to see part of Genome BC's $37.5 million investment in salmonid research being used as a foundation for this significant project."

Note to editors: Further details about the SHI project is included in attached background information.

About Genome British Columbia:

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $550M in research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. www.genomebc.ca

About the Pacific Salmon Foundation:

The Pacific Salmon Foundation was created in 1987 as an independent, non-government, charitable organization to protect, conserve and rebuild Pacific Salmon populations in British Columbia and the Yukon. The Foundation's mission is to be the trusted voice for conservation and restoration of wild Pacific salmon and their ecosystems and works to bring salmon back stream by stream through the strategic use of resources where local communities are mobilized. www.psf.ca

Background

The project has been initiated for a variety of reasons, the primary one being the high mortality rate of juvenile salmon during their early ocean migration. There is a strong belief within the scientific community that infectious disease may be a significant factor in this mortality, but not enough is known about what disease agents might affect Pacific salmon in their natural habitats. What is known comes almost exclusively from observations of cultured fish (both in hatcheries and aquaculture).

The project intends to clarify the presence and/or absence of microbes in Pacific salmon. To address this issue the initiative will involve a four-phased program to discover the microbes present in Pacific salmon that may reduce the productivity of our Pacific salmon. In the initial phase of the work the primary goal is to obtain collections of wild, hatchery and aquaculture salmonids from southern BC. This phase will provide a tissue inventory for assessment of microbes carried both by wild and cultured salmon in BC. The first steps also include the development of a stakeholder consultation process that will provide input to the information needs, public engagement and communications and ways to integrate research on microbes and disease on BC salmon.

The phases of the project are as follows:

Phase 1 (May 2012 to April 2013) establishes a large-scale sampling program, running over 12 months, for wild, hatchery and aquaculture salmon that will be conducted in 2012 and early 2013. These samples will be combined with similar samples collected from 2008 through 2012 to facilitate the broad scale microbe surveillance plan to be implemented in Phase 2. This Phase will not conduct analysis on samples. 

Phase 2 (April 2013 to April 2015) will develop, test and validate a novel, high throughput genomic technology to get a 'snapshot' of the microbes carried by wild and cultured salmon in BC. This segment will also involve epidemiological assessments to identify when and where microbes are transmitted and how long they may have been in BC, high throughput genome sequencing to determine the evolutionary relationships between strains of novel microbes in BC and elsewhere in the world, and histopathology and microarray analyses to rank microbes by their potential to cause disease in wild salmon. Moreover, the aquaculture audit samples, which are the only samples collected from fish dying in the ocean, will offer an invaluable opportunity to begin to relate specific microbes with disease. Validation of assay results across laboratories and platforms will provide confidence in the results and technologies implemented.

Phase 3 (October 2014 to October 2016) will focus in on the microbes identified in Phase 2, with an emphasis on microbes that have not been extensively researched previously and that are thought to be of pathological significance in salmon. A portion of the samples collected for molecular surveillance will also undergo histopathological analysis and the audit samples in the library will be used for both molecular analysis and histopathology. The team will use high-grade samples that contain significant numbers of specific microbes and conduct laboratory studies of pathogenicity to provide further understanding of disease processes and dynamics in wild fish. This Phase will begin towards the end of Phase 2 to expedite information needs on microbes that are newly discovered in BC salmon.

Phase 4 (October 2016 to October 2017) will include reporting of research and presentations to management agencies on the potential utility of methods developed and the application of outcomes to future monitoring. The culmination of the project will likely be in 2017 when data has been compiled and research outcomes are clear.

Key stakeholders and management agencies will be invited to participate in a consultation panel to meet twice annually. Their role will be to help determine the kinds of information on possible disease agents that are important for them and other end-users, to assist in the development of a strategy to effectively communicate research outcomes and to identify appropriate outcomes that may be applied to management of wild and cultured salmon resources.

Contact:
Genome BC
Sally Greenwood
Vice President, Communications and Education
604-637-4374
sgreenwood@genomebc.ca

Pacific Salmon Foundation
Michael Meneer
Vice President - Development, Communications and Marketing
604-664-7664, extension 127
mmeneer@psf.ca
www.psf.ca

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