Bad publicity hurts entire B.C. shellfish industry

Many farms ‘down 50 per cent in sales’ following recent norovirus outbreak

A recent norovirus outbreak has taken its toll on the B.C. shellfish industry, but not for reasons one might think.

According to Darlene Winterburn, executive director for B.C. Shellfish Growers’ Association, multiple farms across the province are down 50 per cent in sales due to loss of reputation, regardless of the fact that the illness only came from oysters farmed in central and south Baynes Sound.

“The reason its impacting all of B.C. is because all of the notices and media reports around the disease were very broad sweeping,” Winterburn explained. “They said ‘don’t touch B.C. oysters,’ when the fact of the matter is, that business remains as usual across the province. The illness was in a very tight geographical area.”

She added that smaller farms in particular are being hit the hardest.

“There are many who will not be able to purchase seed, which means they will not have animals to harvest in 18 to 24 months,” Winterburn said.

Larry Hesketh, owner of Summer Breeze Agriculture, a small oyster farm located near Baynes Sound, said even though none of his oysters were carrying the virus, if this sort of publicity happens again next year it could be detrimental to his farm.

“The problem is in the way CFIA does their announcements. They said there’s been 172 sicknesses due to eating B.C. oysters, but they fail to say you can’t get sick if you cook the oysters, and they don’t say it was only coming from a few farms in a tiny area,” Hesketh said. “The CFIA needs to be more specific with their announcements.”

He said even though only four farms in Baynes Sound have been closed, most farmers in that area are now afraid to market their product in case they get closed as well. He added that he has lost thousands of dollars in revenue because of the lack of demand for oysters. “We haven’t been selling for a month and a half now. It’s a real problem.”

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating the illness in the Baynes Sound area to try and pinpoint the source of contamination. In the meantime, four farms in that region have been temporarily closed for cautionary reasons.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said there have been about 172 cases of the acute stomach upset between early March and mid April in Canada, and all those who became ill reported eating raw oysters from B.C.

No cases have been reported since last month.

“It looks like the virus spread has stopped, but the damage to reputation and to branding is significant,” Winterburn said. “When you make a sweeping comment that’s across the whole industry, there is an impact. And there is a great deal of uncertainty that comes from clients, as well as the farmers, wondering how do we move forward.”

Winterburn said there are a number of different reasons that could cause the illness, such as vessel discharge, failing septic systems, inadequate waste treatment facilities, or it could be caused from something as simple as someone getting sick off a boat in that area.

“This type of illness only comes from one source though and that’s human beings,” Winterburn said.

Norovirus is highly contagious and causes vomiting and diarrhea that can last for days, which can also lead to dehydration.

She said norovirus can be caught from consuming shellfish because they are “filter-feeders,” and while filtering water through their shell, they can end up with some particles of the virus in their system. So if someone eats an oyster when the virus hasn’t been filtered through yet, they can become sick.

“The oysters are never sick, they can pass those particles through their system. They are just telling us something; that we have to be very careful about what we are putting in to our water.”

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP investigating after parking lot carjacking in Langford

Man was thrown from his vehicle near Millstream Road McDonald’s Monday night

Catch last call and a cheap ride home: Late night buses coming to Victoria in 2019

New plan will extend service on weekends with last trip leaving downtown at 3 a.m.

WATCH: Booze, weed both have fatal consequences

Video shows how easily impairment affects driving

Mackenzie Interchange pump failure sends contaminated water into Colquitz River

Sediment release in salmon-bearing river a serious threat to aquatic life, says local activist

Uvic to launch app to link drug users with Naloxone kits

Researchers have spent the last year developing the Nal-Pal app

Santa visits some of Victoria General Hospital’s littlest patients

Santa flew in to the hospital via air ambulance helicopter

READER POLL: Do you have turkey or ham for Christmas dinner?

What are you having for Christmas dinner? Canadians gobbled up 3.3 million… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 18, 2018

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Lightning top Canucks 5-2 in feisty battle

NHL’s No. 1 team too much for Vancouver

Bear cubs try to take Vancouver Island woman’s Christmas cookies

Incident happened in the early-morning hours today, Dec. 18, in Nanaimo

FortisBC says you can return to normal gas use following pipeline fire

Utility says increased pipeline capacity, warmer weather have allowed supply to reach normal levels

CSIS collected info on peaceful groups, but only in pursuit of threats: watchdog

Security Intelligence Review Committee says fears unjustified after reviewing evidence, testimony

Canada ranks 16th on annual gender gap list

This is the second year Canada has placed 16th in the World Economic Forum’s list

VIDEO: Tornado rips through city west of Seattle

Reports indicate five to seven homes damaged in Port Orchard, Wash.

Most Read