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Aquagen ISA outbreak: Cause unknown, but damage contained

As the genetics giant instigates numerous buffers and insurance plans, it talks to IntraFish about the potential knock-ons of its first serious disease issue.

The world's largest supplier of genetically-improved salmonid eggs, Aquagen, still doesn't know the cause of the recent infectious salmon anemia (ISA) outbreak that saw 2,000 broodstock culled and restrictions placed on several of its sites but is beginning to count the costs.

The situation began when broodstock in Aquagen's Merraberget sea location in the county of More and Romsdal were found to have ISA. As a result the Norwegian Food Safety Authority ordered that fish at the site be slaughtered.

In preparation for the cull, 2,500 stockfish were transferred to AquaGen's Rimstad land farm in Tingvoll municipality where they were killed and destroyed July 17.

Another 262 fish were transferred to a broodstock tank at the company's Vestseøra site in Hemne municipality in Sør-Trøndelag.

These fish were also killed and tested and only one fish with low virus levels was detected. As a result, however, all the remaining fish in this stemfish hall have now killed and destroyed.

There are several separate broodstock facilities at Vestseøra in Hemne and the others have been placed under restriction and intensive surveillance, but it is expected that these restrictions will be removed shortly.

Endemic disease in Norway

ISA is a serious and contagious virus disease in salmon, one that came close to destroying the Chilean industry 10 years ago. In Norway, farmers have lived with it for years but control it withe the fallowing and disinfection of sites and strict regulations around transport, site locations and stocking densities.

ISA infects two ways, either by diseased fish infecting other fish, or through mutations: some ISA virus variants are not dangerous and the fish doesn't get sick, but the virus mutates, becoming serious.

Serious situation

While Aquagen CEO Nina Santi told IntraFish the outbreak was not a "financial disaster", it is a serious situation for the breeder."We have established security schemes for both roe production and breeding work that is now being implemented," said Santi.

She said it was too early to estimate the financial cost. The company has insurance schemes that cover "situations like this," but there are expected economic consequences as a result of altered egg supply and slaughter plans, said Santi.

Transparency

The knock-on for customers should be minimal. 

Aquagen's updated production plans for H2 2017/H1 2018 will provide 1.5 times more salmon eggs that expected demand, and reserve stockfish can supplement the planned production as needed, according to information sent to Aquagen's customers, seen by IntraFish.

The only product affected will be high-end product GAIN, which will not be produced in the planned volumes during the rainy season of 2017/18. 

This product requires a large selection intensity and buffer capacity, and its production will not be prioritized in the current situation but deliveries will be resumed in 2018.

Delivery times will also be impacted and all customers affected have been notified.

In terms of internal effects, the company has lost some of its best breeders, intended to be used in the setting up of another 12th generation family group, but Aquagen's breeding program always has a hedging structure, so it will not impact breeding progress in any major way.

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