Bleeding herring discovery alarms B.C. marine biologist
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has yet to reveal test results after accepting samples of bloodied Pacific herring two years ago from a Vancouver Island marine biologist, who again found hundreds of the sickly fish on Saturday. (PHOTO ALEXANDRA MORTON)
Scores of bloodied fish found in the water off northeastern Vancouver Island are alarming a B.C. marine biologist, who says Fisheries and Oceans Canada is ignoring the problem.
Vancouver Island marine biologist Alexandra Morton first spotted herrings bleeding from their dorsal and pelvic fins in 2011 and began monitoring the phenomenon, which she suspects is a disease or viral infection.
Using a seine net, she dragged up several hundred of the fish this past weekend and found the apparent infection had spread —instead of their usual silver colour the fish had eyes, tails, underbellies, gills and faces plastered with the sickly red colour.
“I have never seen fish that looked this bad,” Morton told 24 hours Sunday. “If you look only in one place, you really can’t say whether it’s happening along the whole coast … the concern is these are migratory fish. They don’t stay in one place.”
In June, the affected fish were only found in eastern Johnstone Strait, but have since spread to Alert Bay and Sointula, she said. Humpback whales, eagles, chinook and coho salmon are known to eat Pacific herring, further adding to the risk should the infection be contagious.
Morton has several theories, including three European-based viruses she’ll be personally testing the fish for. Another theory is it’s caused by the local viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus — a deadly disease transferable between different species.
According to emails from FOC, the federal authority had asked the marine biologist to send in 20 to 30 herring in September 2011, saying that would be “more than sufficient for the lab to look for clinical signs of disease and provide sufficient diagnostics.”
She did, and hasn’t heard back since.
“These are very strong disease symptoms that I’m simply asking (the ministry) to tell us, in a verifiable way, what is wrong with these fish?” Morton said, adding the answer could be found using an existing test that examines the immune systems of fish.
FOC officials did not respond to a request for comment by the 24 hours presstime.