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ENVIRONMENT REPORT- September 28, 2001: Virus Killing Salmon - 2001-09-26

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A virus that kills Atlantic salmon is spreading to fish farms in the northeastern state of Maine. The virus does not harm people. However, it is forcing the destruction of hundreds of thousands of valuable fish. It is also threatening endangered wild salmon.

The virus is called infectious salmon anemia. It spreads quickly in fish and can not be cured. It causes bleeding and usually death. It is known to spread to other fish in crowded cages in fish farms.

The disease was first discovered in the Nineteen-Eighties in fish farms in Norway and Scotland. It appeared in Canada in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. It was first discovered in the United States in March. Infected fish were found on fish farms in Cobscook Bay in Maine, near the border with Canada. The bay has one of the largest fish farms in the United States.

State officials in Maine have ordered emergency rules in Cobscook Bay to keep the disease from spreading. Boats are not permitted to enter or leave infected areas. Also, fish farmers are required to report when infected fish are found. Infected fish and fish exposed to them must be removed and killed. State officials say fish farmers in Maine have killed at least one-million fish since March.

The infectious salmon anemia has forced the destruction of millions of fish in Europe and Canada in recent years. Fish farmers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have tried to keep it from spreading.

State and industry officials in Maine say they have not been able to estimate the economic cost of fighting the virus. The industry is expected to lose millions of dollars.

Officials in Maine now are concerned that the disease may spread from the fish farms to wild Atlantic salmon populations. Wild salmon are already endangered in eight rivers in Maine. Some scientists say the large populations of fish farms could serve as breeding areas for the virus. They say some fish that escape the cages could mate with wild salmon and spread the virus.

The state’s fish farmers want aid from the United States Department of Agriculture. They want to be paid if they have to kill salmon to stop the disease from spreading.

Many environmental groups say fish farmers should not be paid. They say the crowded fish cages pollute the sea bottom and spread disease.

This Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.