Select Committee on European Communities Second Report


20.  MINIMUM COMMUNITY MEASURES FOR THE CONTROL OF CERTAIN FISH DISEASES (11025/99)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Elliot Morley Esq MP, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  The Sub-Committee considered this Proposal at its meeting on 20 October 1999 and agreed to maintain the scrutiny reserve pending further information from the Government.

  The Sub-Committee believes that Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) is a serious disease, and they would be grateful for reassurance that the Government feels the same way. The Sub-Committee is not yet convinced that relaxing the policy of compulsory slaughter by allowing a delay will prove effective in combating the disease, and they would like to know on what grounds the relaxing of the policy has been justified, and whether ISA will remain a List 1 disease.

  In addition, the Sub-Committee believes that thorough investigations are required when outbreaks occur, and they are not yet satisfied that last year's outbreak has been fully explained. In relation to that outbreak, the Sub-Committee would like to know whether the origin of the epizootic has been determined by the Scottish Office investigation, and also what risks to wild fish have been identified.

  The Sub-Committee will reconsider the proposal once they have received the necessary clarification.

25 October 1999

Letter from Elliot Morley, Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 25 October asking for further information on the above proposal concerning the control arrangements for the serious fish disease Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA).

  In your letter you raised a number of queries which are addressed in turn in the attached paper. I hope that the information provided will allow Sub-Committee D to lift the scrutiny reserve on this proposal which, as you know, the Government fully supports.

18 November 1999

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION IN RESPONSE TO QUERIES FROM THE HOUSE OF LORDS SUB-COMMITTEE D

SERIOUSNESS OF INFECTIOUS SALMON ANAEMIA (ISA)?

  1. ISA is one of a number of serious fish diseases. Clinical outbreaks can cause high mortalities in farmed Atlantic salmon. There is no effective treatment or cure for ISA but a vaccine is currently under trial in Canada and under development in the UK. ISA was first identified in Norway in 1984 and in Canada in 1996 and both countries are taking action to try and eradicate the disease.

EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COMMISSION PROPOSAL IN COMBATING THE DISEASE?

  2. The Commission proposal, inspired by the UK, is consistent with Community legislation which requires action to eradicate outbreaks of List I diseases. The introduction of discretion in the timing of removal of fish from infected farms will allow the official service to take into account the particular circumstances on the affected site, including fish welfare considerations, in determining the period over which the fish must be removed. For example, a remote farm with low mortalities or few clinical signs in the fish might be allowed a cage by cage clearance programme based on mortality triggers. On the other hand, an infected farm close to other uninfected farms and suffering high mortalities would be required to clear as soon as possible.

  3. Effective disease control will remain the primary consideration in determining the timing of removal of fish from an infected farm and the official service will retain the option to order immediate withdrawal of fish if it is thought to be necessary.

  4. Norway has been operating an ISA control programme along similar lines to that envisaged in the Commission proposal and this has been successful in reducing the incidence from over 100 cases in 1990 to just 13 in 1998.

JUSTIFICATION FOR RELAXING THE CONTROL POLICY?

  5. The Commission proposal is not a relaxation of the control policy. It will allow a more practical and targeted control policy appropriate for the disease. The current requirement for immediate withdrawal of fish from infected farms has been found to be impractical where several thousand tonnes of fish are on the site; in such cases a programme for their phased withdrawal is necessary. In the Government's view, the changes proposed will, along with the other key measures in particular restrictions on movements of fish, people and equipment liable to transmit disease and site fallowing requirements, reduce the economic impact of the controls on the Scottish salmon farming industry without lowering their effectiveness.

WILL ISA REMAIN A LIST 1 DISEASE?

  6.  The Commission proposal does not affect the List I status of ISA. List I status is not indicative of the seriousness of the disease. It signifies a disease that is exotic to the Community and which poses a serious threat to the aquaculture sector. Clearly, if this perception were to change, the Commission would wish to revisit the matter.

PROGRESS IN DETERMINING THE ORIGIN OF THE OUTBREAK OF ISA IN SCOTLAND?

  7.  Work is ongoing in a number of different areas including the sampling of wild fish to test for the presence of the ISA virus, comparison of the Scottish ISA virus strain with that found in Norway and Canada and investigations of the circumstances of the outbreaks in Scotland to determine how infection might have been spread. As yet there is insufficient evidence to come to a definitive conclusion but the balance of evidence suggests that the Scottish outbreak has a point source and infection is likely to have been spread by movement of people and equipment. What led to the first outbreak remains unclear but the possibility of wild fish infecting farmed fish cannot be ruled out. Work on the origin of the ISA outbreaks in farmed Atlantic salmon is being carried out in Norway and Canada but there too no conclusions have yet been reached.

WHAT IS KNOWN OF THE RISKS TO WILD FISH?

  8.  Investigations carried out by scientists in Canada and in Scotland have found evidence of the presence of the ISA virus in wild fish. The presence of the virus has been detected in wild fish sampled during recent surveillance. These include:

    —  Sea trout in Laxo Voe, Shetland; and the River Snizort in Skye; and

    —  Eel in Loch Uisg, Mull.

  Other laboratory results indicate that the virus may also be present in other wild fish and farmed fish in freshwater. These include:

    —  Brown trout in the Rivers Conan and Easaidh;

    —  Atlantic salmon parr in the Rivers Conan, Easaidh and the Tweed; and

    —  Rainbow trout in freshwater farms in Aberdeenshire and Kinrosshire.

  There is, however, as yet no evidence of the disease itself in wild fish and it is not known what effect the presence of the virus has on wild fish populations. Nor is it known whether the virus has spread from fish farms or is naturally present at low levels in wild fish, although the geographic spread of the sites where the virus has been detected or is suspected suggests the latter.


 
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