Maine opts for quarantine as salmon disease spreads


Mar 11, 2001
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Friday, September 7, 2001

State opts for quarantine as salmon disease spreads

By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press  

More than 700,000 farm-raised salmon have been destroyed to stop the spread of a disease that could further harm aquaculture operations and the dwindling number of wild Atlantic salmon.

The situation has become so bad that regulators took the step Wednesday of imposing a quarantine on Cobscook Bay at the state's eastern tip.

The problems for New England's third-largest fishery have created anxiety for some workers in eastern Maine, where 12 salmon-farming companies employ 1,200 people. They harvested $79 million worth of salmon last year.

Steven Blake, a site manager for LR Enterprises in Lubec, said he and his six workers have watched helplessly as their salmon have died. Each day, divers retrieve more dead fish, which are then buried in landfills.

''Once they're all dead, all of us will probably be laid off,'' said Blake, who manages 12 pens that used to raise 200,000 to 300,000 salmon a year.

The disease, which has been around since the late 1980s in Scotland and Norway, was first discovered in Canadian salmon pens in 1997. It was first identified in March in Maine and has been spreading since.

Infectious salmon anemia is harmless to humans who eat the salmon, but the virus can be fatal to the fish by causing internal bleeding and destroying their kidneys and other internal organs.

The salmon that had been sacrificed as of July would have been worth $12 million at maturity. They accounted for 6 percent of the total number of farm-raised fish, officials said.

The 90-day quarantine imposed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources goes into effect Monday. The quarantine bans aquaculture boats from entering or leaving Cobscook Bay unless they are cleaned and certified.

Gov. Angus King said he regretted that the state had to impose the quarantine, but he said it won't back away from doing what it has to do.

Describing the situation as a ''slow-motion natural disaster,'' King predicted that some jobs will be lost temporarily and that the industry will go through a ''down time'' lasting six months to a year or more.

Some companies want to be compensated for salmon they must kill to stop the disease's spread as cattle farmers would have been if they had to kill livestock to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has never granted such assistance to the fishing industry. ''We're farmers. We just happen to farm in the water,'' said Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association.

Conservation officials also are worried about the spread of the disease from farm-raised fish into the dwindling numbers of wild Atlantic salmon, which have been placed on the endangered species list on eight rivers.

Three fish diseases including infectious salmon anemia, along with interbreeding between wild and farm-raised fish, were cited as concerns when the federal government last year declared wild salmon endangered.

Diseases can be introduced into the wild when salmon escape their pens. Biologists say 100,000 salmon escaped last December when a storm packing 120-mph winds wrecked a steel cage owned by Atlantic Salmon of Maine.

Compared to the millions of salmon growing to maturity on Maine's coast, the federal government estimated that about 300 wild salmon returned to the eight Down East rivers covered by the endangered-species declaration.

''Right now, we see this as potentially a very big threat to our salmon,'' said Mike Hendrix, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Fisheries Center in Pennsylvania.

The disease threatens both wild fish at sea and fish being raised by the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery, which raises fish that will be released into rivers where wild fish are endangered.

But state and industry officials noted that there has been no documented transmission of the disease into wild salmon.

Steve Page of Atlantic Salmon of Maine said local companies can learn from the experience of countries like Norway that have already dealt with the disease.

''This particular fish disease has been around the world. This is the first time in the United States, but we're confident that through good management, it's controllable,'' Page said.


Well-known member
Mar 12, 2001
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Bad news for sure ,and they won't be able to control it unlike their assertion.
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