Salmon virus making restaurant owners leery

Some people in the restaurant business in Nova Scotia say a recent outbreak of infectious salmon anemia has made them leery of having farmed salmon on their menus, despite the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's assurances the virus poses no threat to humans.

"My choices to not serve salmon were simply based on the fact that there are just too many unresolved issues right now," said Michael Howell, the author of the Maritime Seafood cookbook and the former owner of the Tempest Restaurant World Cuisine in Wolfville.

"Any time any customer hears there are issues, they're going to be scared away anyway."

Last week, salmon from a quarantined Nova Scotia aquaculture farm were moved to a fish plant in New Brunswick for processing, making Cooke Aquaculture the first company to process fish with infectious salmon anemia under a new set of rules from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, fish with the virus are safe to consume.

Andrew Lively, a spokesman for Cooke Aquaculture Inc., said the discovery of the disease at a fish farm in Coffin Island Farm near Liverpool has not affected the company's sales.

"Our customers realize that this is a fish health issue," he said.

Dennis Johnston, who owns Fid Resto in Halifax, said he has confidence in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is overseeing the processing of the infected fish.

He does not serve salmon at Fid Resto — choosing lesser-known species such as wild hake and farmed Arctic char instead — but Johnston said that decision did not have to do with any diseases.

"That is sustainability, using other species that are less used," he told CBC News.

Dr. Larry Hammell, a professor of aquatic epidemiology at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island, said humans have likely been eating wild salmon infected with the same disease in the past.

Hammell said there's no evidence infectious salmon anemia is harmful to humans.

"It's true that it's hard to pinpoint a study that says, 'Here, we've looked at it and we've proven it doesn't happen.' It's just that it's such a remote possibility, it's really just no evidence that this virus can survive above about 20 degrees," he said.

"This virus doesn't infect other fish species. It certainly doesn't affect other animals that are even cold-blooded and found in these local environments and certainly it's not going that huge next leap to mammals or humans."

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