Vancouver Island University researcher Timothy Green examines oysters with Natalie Khtikian, a post-graduate degree student, at the university’s Centre for Innovation in Fish Health lab on Jan. 14. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Vancouver Island University shows off new fish health lab

Provincially funded Centre for Innovation in Fish Health unique in B.C.

Nanaimo’s university is now home to a unique fish health lab.

On Monday, Jan. 14, the provincial government showed off a new $215,000 fish health laboratory at Vancouver Island University.

Dubbed the Centre for Innovation in Fish Health, the laboratory, funded by the province, will allow researchers to study the impacts of climate change on fish and shellfish populations in the province’s coastal waters.

Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, told reporters at VIU that work done at the new laboratory will help preserve fish stocks endangered by global warming. He said the laboratory will also serve as training ground for the next generation of scientists.

“We are going to train our own experts and keep them close to home,” Routley said.

Research conducted at the lab will be beneficial to indigenous people, who depend on healthy waters and fish for food, employment and spiritual well-being, according to Routley.

The new laboratory will be considered an aquatic animal pathogen Level 2 facility, allowing researchers the ability to also study diseases and pathogens affecting fish and shellfish. Ralph Nilson, president of Vancouver Island University, said the new lab is the only independent laboratory on the West Coast with that designation.

“We are going to be able to revolutionize fields of study in fish health here on the West Coast,” he said. “So from my perspective, adding this kind of research is going to be exceptional.”

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, William Litchfield, associate vice-president of university relations with VIU, said the fish lab is brand new and not fully operational at the moment.

“There is still more equipment that needs to come in. Once it does we will have the capacity to take on that research to support fish and shellfish industries,” he said.

Litchfield said Level 2 designation means researchers in B.C. won’t have to send their fish to other provinces or the United States for testing. He said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo can conduct similar types of research that VIU’s lab will be doing, but cannot work with the commercial fishing industry.

“They don’t have that capacity, so industry has to send any of those research projects to the East Coast because there is nobody on the West Coast that can do this,” Litchfield said. “By coming up to that Level 2, we can do some of that research right here. We can work with our local partners, look at local issues and how we support fin fish and shellfish and have students engaged.”

Timothy Green, researcher studying shellfish at VIU, said with water temperatures increasing and more and more globalization, it’s important to learn their impacts on the fish that live in B.C.’s coastal waters.

“Environments are changing and with water temperatures getting warmer, we’re seeing more instances of disease,” he said. “We’re also seeing increased globalization, where you’ve got increasing vessel movements around the world and with that, oysters stuck the side that are also bringing new diseases into the environment, so this will allow us to learn to respond to them.” 
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