Whirling Disease Spreading in Utah

A disease that can deform trout, cause them to chase their own tail and eventually lead to their starvation, continues to spread swiftly through Utah's waterways.

SALT LAKE CITY — A disease that can deform trout, cause them to chase their own tail and eventually lead to their starvation, continues to spread swiftly through Utah's waterways.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced Thursday that six of 30 brown trout taken from Huntington Creek last fall were found to have whirling disease, said Chris Wilson, director of the Fisheries Experiment Station.

Huntington Creek is a Blue Ribbon fishery that runs along State Road 31 north of Huntington. The designation means the creek has a viable population of wild fish.

The discovery of whirling disease in Huntington Creek was not a surprise, but it illustrates how quickly and easily the disease can spread. Last year, officials at the DWR's Fisheries Experiment Station in Logan found fish infected with the disease in Huntington Creek's tributaries.

"It is hard to predict at this point in time, but I don't think we are going to see any major impact," said Paul Birdsey, aquatic director for the DWR's southeastern region out of Price.

"Brown trout evolved with whirling disease and it is not likely we will see a significant impact in Huntington Creek. The main thing is that anglers who use Huntington Creek recognize that it exists here and that they need to clean their gear very thoroughly to help prevent spreading whirling disease," he said.

Wildlife officials say there is no danger to human health from eating whirling disease-infected fish. But the key to stop the spread of the disease is vigilance by anglers.

"It is the same scenario we are seeing elsewhere. Many of the places with whirling disease are close to the road and get a lot of angler traffic," Wilson said.

The DWR is asking anglers and others to slow the spread of whirling disease by disinfecting boats, trailers, waders, boots and float tubes before transporting them to a new body of water.

Equipment can be thoroughly dried in the sun or cleaned with a strong chlorine bleach solution . Use of felt-soled waders or boots, which are difficult to clean, is discouraged.

The division said fish parts should be buried, burned or thrown in garbage instead of dumped back into a lake or stream. Live fish should not be transported between bodies of water. Anglers who observe symptoms of diseased fish should contact DWR.

Whirling disease hits native rainbow and Bonneville trout even harder than it does brown trout, which were introduced from Europe a century ago and have developed of way of coping with the disease, said Walt Donaldson, Northeastern Regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Resources.

The trout malady has cost millions of dollars at three state hatcheries that tested positive and had to be shut down for lengthy decontamination periods. Thousands of pounds of trout were destroyed, reducing the number available to anglers.

Whirling disease was first discovered in 1991 at a private fish farm managed by former Gov. Michael Leavitt and his family.

The Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee has said it will study the disease this summer to determine if legislation is needed to control the epidemic.

Source: Associated Press

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