When Nuu-chah-nulth Nations heard about a plan to survey salmon for infectious diseases, many were pleased by the chance to get more information about salmon health in their territories. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and industry, launched the two-year study in March. Its purpose is to better understand the prevalence of diseases in wild salmon and trout throughout the province.

Yet although the CFIA planned to sample almost 5000 fish annually, their study included very few salmon from the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It didn’t include any from Clayoquot Sound, where Katie Beach works as the Central Region Biologist for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

“Clayoquot Sound has mostly intact watersheds for salmon, and yet our populations are plummeting,” she says of the area. “There are likely a multitude of limiting factors, but infectious diseases may be one of them. Why not sample here?”

To remedy this oversight, Beach and others convinced the CFIA that a partnership with Uu-a-thluk (NTC Fisheries) and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations was a low-cost way to get samples from the area. The CFIA agreed and sent a consultant to Clayoquot Sound for two days.

“It was a little bit different because we were going up in the rivers themselves,” says Joy Wade, Research Biologist with Fundy Aqua Services. “Depending on the location, I’ve been doing a lot of sampling at hatcheries.”

Wade joined Beach and Ahousaht members to gather samples on the Cypre and Moyeha Rivers. On the Cypre, the crew worked in partnership with the Tofino Salmon Enhancement Facility to sample chum, chinook, and coho.

“The CFIA is focusing on anadramous salmonids, because those are the ones with significant commercial, social, and trade concerns,” says Wade.  “That doesn’t mean those will be the only fish ever tested, but that’s where they’re starting from.”

Later, they moved on to the Moyeha River, where finding samples proved more difficult—that is, until they lucked out. “As we were leaving, we ran into some Ahousaht fishers who were doing a set for chum for food fish,” Beach says. “We ended up getting samples from a pristine river and a minimally enhanced river, thanks to everyone who helped.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth samples will provide a small but wild perspective for the study, which gathers most of its other samples from large-scale hatcheries and commercial fishing boats. Beach is also pleased that the CFIA is offering to provide training on biosecurity and sample collection to Nuu-chah-nulth Nations. In the future, she hopes to see Nuu-chah-nulth Nations included in projects from the beginning.

“Right now the CFIA is only offering to contact First Nations if a positive disease result is found on a system that passes through a reserve. That isn’t good enough. They need to contact First Nations if there is an impact on traditional territories.”

Yet although she feels the system could improve, Beach commends the CFIA for working with Nuu-chah-nulth Nations on the disease survey. “This sampling provided a great opportunity to work and engage First Nations and Uu-a-thluk. I find that people learn best when doing field work together. That’s where relationships are formed and knowledge is transferred. “

What Diseases is the CFIA looking for?

Working in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Province of BC, and industry, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)is surveying BC salmon for three diseases: infectious salmon anaemia (ISA), infectious haematopoietic necrosis (IHN), and infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN). For more information on the study, visit www.inspection.gc.ca.