Marine Harvest Bugged by Flesh-Eating Parasite
Marine Harvest, the biggest salmon farming company in the world, has been laid low in Canada by the smallest of bugs: a flesh-eating myxosporean parasite called Kudoa thyrsites. Kudoa causes post-mortem myoliquefaction (soft-flesh syndrome) in farmed salmon on sale in supermarkets and is causing a huge loss of face and financial loss for Marine Harvest.
Watch CTV’s special investigation online here
Retail giant Costco, which sold the parasite-ridden farmed salmon to a concerned shopper who then contacted CTV News, refused to be interviewed but that did not stop investigative reporter Mi-Jung Lee who wore a hidden camera to interview the store manager.
Costco’s manager admitted on the hidden camera that 1 out of every 200 fillets of farmed salmon on sale is infected with the parasite Kudoa. “Some are more mushy than others,” he said. “Some you pick up and they’re like paste. Once every couple of days we get a few like this.”
“The parasite liquefies the flesh after the fish is caught,” reported Mi-Jung Lee for CTV’s ‘The Investigators’ show. “The parasite has caused huge losses for the industry.”
Pointing viewers to a copy of Marine Harvest’s annual report, Mi-Jung Lee said: “Marine Harvest’s annual report showed that it cost the company last year around $12 million to get rid of infected fish and provide refunds.”
“Right now the industry is studying the microscopic parasite to try to keep it away from its fish,” continued CTV News. “This expert fears the impact on wild salmon.”
“What we don’t know is what the magnitude and distribution of this impact is on the wider ecosystem,” said Dr. John Volpe from the University of Victoria. “The parasite is like this time-bomb inside the fish.”
Last month (25 June), Alexandra Morton warned about the financial fallout from Kudoa. “Marine Harvest is trying escape a parasite that liquifies salmon flesh (Kudoa),” reported Morton sardonically. “People don’t want to consume their salmon through a straw.”
Morton directed her avid readers to Marine Harvest’s Q1 2012 financial report which detailed a “continued high claim level due to Kudoa and negative impact from contracts”. Kudoa cost Marine Harvest NOK 21 million ($3.5 million) alone in the first three months of 2012 and Marine Harvest Canada’s results are not expected to improve until the third quarter of 2012.
Read more via Alexandra Morton’s blog: “How viable is salmon farming?”
Sign a petition from Alexandra Morton calling on supermarkets to stop selling disease-ridden farmed salmon!
More details online here
“The effects of infection are not seen until after the fish has been delivered to the customer, therefore, the economic impact of Kudoa thyrsites can be substantial,” admitted Dr. Diane Morrison, Fish Health Director at Marine Harvest Canada. “Kudoa thyrsites was discovered in British Columbia farmed Atlantic salmon in the early 1990’s yet, to date, little is known of its life cycle and how and when fish become infected.”
Read more via “Kudoa Thyrsites – increasing our knowledge”
Last month (4 June), the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) warned Marine Harvest’s CEO and Board of Directors in Norway, investors, shareholders and the Oslo Stock Exchange of the risks of Kudoa and other infectious diseases in British Columbia.
“Surely Marine Harvest should disclose to shareholders, investors and the general public what diseases and viruses are affecting farmed salmon on sale for human consumption?” wrote GAAIA in a letter addressed to Marine Harvest’s CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog. “There were no reports of disease risks in Canada other than Kudoa.”
“Why has Marine Harvest not informed shareholders, investors and the Oslo Stock Exchange on the risks of ISA and HSMI in British Columbia?” continued the letter. “It is abundantly clear from submissions to the Cohen Commission and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that the financial fallout from the release of disease data is significant. In fact, Marine Harvest's lawyers in Canada have been desperately trying to prevent the release of damning disease data for years.
In 2008, Marine Harvest claimed in a submission to the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner that release of disease data “would cause significant commercial harm”, “undue financial loss” and that “Marine Harvest Canada’s reputation could be tarnished and sales volume reduced”. The letter stated further that disclosure of disease data would be so damaging that people would stop buying farmed salmon and that Marine Harvest’s share prices would be affected.”
A series of investigations by Intrafish journalist Laura Cutland lifted the lid on BC’s worst-kept secret back in 2002. According to IntraFish, the kudoa parasite affected 20-50% of all salmon farmed in British Columbia, costing the industry at least $30 to $40 million annually. In 2002, Laura Cutland reported via the article “A 'well-known secret' that could tarnish the whole industry”:
“US Importers, brokers and buyers of farmed Atlantic salmon from British Columbia have told Intrafish that the region’s problems with kudoa are a well-known “secret” within the seafood industry and that there is a price-differential offered to buyers of infected salmon. In addition, Omega Salmon Group Ltd - a subsidiary of Pan Fish - acknowledged that it uses a severity-of-infection grading system for kudoa-infected fish, which segregates the product into heavily infected or 'industrial grade' (K3), 'moderately infected' (K2) and minimally infected or 'kudoa-free' fish (K1). According to Omega’s chief financial officer Keith Bullough, K1 and K2 fish are sent to buyers in frozen or value-added form to be used in such products as fish and chips, while K3 is discarded.”
Omega Salmon and Pan Fish are now part of Marine Harvest Canada - the largest salmon farming company in British Columbia with 75 licences accounting for 55% of production capacity.
Intrafish’s investigations into Kudoa prompted a backlash from the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) – including this November 2002 letter signed by Mary Ellen Walling.
Another article by Laura Cutland published by Intrafish in 2003 warned:
Intrafish also reported in 2003 that: “one major company has infection rates of up to 50 percent of its stocks and brokers of the product say that the BC industry is giving farmed salmon a bad reputation by selling infected fish.” In 2003, Intrafish reported that British Columbia “appears to suffer the highest infection rates in the world and chalked up an estimated CA $30 to $80 million in losses last year from the disease.”
In 2001, Norway denied that Kudoa was present on Norwegian salmon farms but Intrafish reported that Kudoa was found in salmon farms in Chile, Ireland and Spain.
Read more articles on Kudoa via Intrafish’s extensive archive online here
“Beware milk jelly” warned Fishing News in 2002. “When the fish dies, post mortem changes and release of enzymes by the parasite result in massive liquefaction of the muscles to produce a milky white mush or jelly.”
“Kudoa is an emerging problem,” continued Fishing News. “Most of us would hope that it emerges very slowly, as it is a threat that could wipe out the salmon farming industry if it took a real hold on salmon stocks. Salmon flavoured blancmange or milk jelly is all that even the most gifted chef could make from the mush left by a Kudoa outbreak. I am sure that would never catch on as an alternative product.”
Kudoa has caused problems in BC salmon farming since the 1980s. A scientific paper published in 1991, for example, reported that Kudoa-infected farmed Atlantic salmon had “poor-quality flesh” and was an “inferior product”.
Over 20 years later, the BC salmon farming industry has still not solved the problem and, as last night’s CTV News investigation graphically showed, Marine Harvest is still allowing infected farmed salmon into supermarkets. Like a bad smell, the Kudoa problem is not going away.
A scientific paper published in 1998 reported that Kudoa infected up to 77% of farmed salmon. Ten years later, the Centre for Aquatic Animal Health Sciences still described Kudoa as an “ongoing challenge”. A paper – “Managing soft-flesh syndrome among British Columbia farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)" – presented at the APICS conference in 2011 reported that:
“Soft-flesh disease, caused by Kudoa thyrsites, costs the BC industry about $50M annually. The disease cannot be treated, but can be managed. Prevalence of soft-flesh disease varies along coastal Vancouver Island, being low in part of north and severe in Campbell River area. Temporary rearing of smolts at a northern site with low infection pressure (‘low risk’) results.”
The Aquaculture Association of Canada reported in 2011 via “Kudoa thyrsites – increasing our knowledge” that: “At low levels of infection the pathology of Kudoa thyrsites infection can go unnoticed, but at higher levels it produces extensive myoliquefaction and the fish meat is no longer commercially viable. Marine Harvest Canada and the BC Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences (BC CAHS) have embarked upon a 3 year joint research and development project to increase our understanding of Kudoa thyrsites. During the first year, two saltwater farm sites will be monitored to determine when the fish become infected and how the infection develops throughout the production cycle.”
Another report – “Control of post-harvest myoliquefaction in farmed Atlantic Salmon” (funded by DFO and Marine Harvest Canada) – published by the Aquaculture Association of Canada in 2011 stated that: “Soft-flesh syndrome presents a significant challenge to the fish farming industry by compromising product quality and lending to a negative consumer stigma of farmed fish products.”
Until the salmon farming industry addresses their parasite problems, the simplest solution is to take a hard-line stance against Kudoa. Don’t go soft - stop buying farmed salmon full stop, period! For many people, last night’s shocking investigation by CTV News will surely be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
As Alexandra Morton puts it: “People don’t want to consume their salmon through a straw.”
This blog is also available as a PDF online here