May 24th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 21
Confirmed detections of whirling disease in Alberta’s watersheds
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Pass Herald Reporter
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Parks Canada and Alberta Environment and Parks are working together to address the confirmed presence of whirling disease in Alberta’s Bow River watershed and the Oldman watershed, including Crowsnest River.

According to Peter Giamberardino, Manager of the Whirling Disease Program with Alberta Environment and Parks, the disease is caused by a parasite that in Alberta, affects trout and mountain whitefish populations.

“There are two infectious spore stages and when one of these spores enters the fish, it attacks the cartilage of the fish. By doing that, eating away at the cartilage, you start to see some of the critical signs that are known as a result of whirling disease, such as a blackened tail, spinal deformities, a loped nose and that whirling swimming pattern,” he says.
Juvenile fish are most susceptible to the disease. In the United States, there have been mortality rates of up to 90% in fish populations as a result of whirling disease.

Whirling disease requires two hosts for the parasite to complete its cycle: a healthy trout or mountain whitefish, and a Tubifex worm, which is found in the sediment of water bodies. Without those two hosts, the parasite would not be able to complete its life cycle.
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In Canada, whirling disease was first found in Johnson Lake in August 2016.
“Before that detection, it was known to be present in the U.S,” says Giamberardino. “Even from the 1950s, they had it in their hatcheries and fish farms and it was thought to be a disease only of hatcheries. But in the ‘90s, they started seeing the disease in their wild populations.”

Giamberardino says the government remains committed to protecting the spread of whirling disease further. The government of Alberta has established a coordinated emergency response to conduct sampling all across Alberta’s Eastern Slopes and in areas that are known to have wild trout and mountain white fish populations.

There are a number of ways whirling disease can spread: through the water, through diseased fish, the movement of fish and through other vectors such as people moving sediment or infectious spores from one water body to another.

Strategies need to be built around mitigation and preventing spread once a water body tests positive for whirling disease, as once it is in the wild, it cannot be eradicated.

“We’ve developed and implemented a three-point action plan that is around delineation, education for the public and state stakeholders, and mitigation. Our main driver is education and public awareness for things that people can do to help limit the spread of whirling disease,” says Giamberardino.

He added that provincial hatcheries tested negative for the disease, but the government is considering implementing enhanced biosecurity protocols for those facilities and establishing best practices for the commercial industry.

Currently there are a number of commercial fish farms that are still under quarantine because they tested positive for the disease. Moving any fish from those facilities is suspended until they can test negative for the disease.

According to Giamberardino, there has been no evidence of significant decline in fish populations in the Bow river watershed and the Oldman watershed due to whirling disease at this time, but there is still a lot more to learn about the disease and how it will impact water bodies in Alberta.

“That is one of the questions we will need to answer. There are a number of hypotheses out there. How long has whirling disease been here? Has it been present and we’re seeing some resilience in our fish population? Or are we just seeing it now and has it just arrived and the impacts are coming? We need to answer those questions,” he says. “Knowing that there have been significant declines of trout populations in the U.S., it’s something that we need to monitor very closely.”
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There are no human, pet or animal health impacts to whirling disease, including ingesting fish, or recreating or swimming in areas where whirling disease is present.

There are a number of ways the public can help contain whirling disease and limit its spread through water bodies.

“To prevent the spread of diseases such as whirling disease and other invasive species, we’re asking Albertans to remember the clean, drain, dry messaging. That means cleaning any sediment off your boots and waders right at the shore, giving that equipment a thorough washing or pressure wash and draining all standing water from your watercraft or waders, and then obviously drying all equipment.

We ask people to do that in between trips before their next trip potentially into another area. When you’re moving your watercraft around the province, the other piece there is to make sure you pull your drain plug to release all that standing water.

Giamberardino adds that it is recommended to have a dedicated set of angling equipment for that specific area in places where we know whirling disease exits.

It is prohibited to move fish, alive or dead, from one water body to another.

There have been no changes to fishing regulations due to whirling disease.
May 24th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 21
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