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Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirms whirling disease in Banff National Park fish

On August 23, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed whirling disease, a fish disease that affects salmonoids, in Johnson Lake in Banff National Park.

Whirling disease has been observed in the United States since the 1950s and is prevalent in the western and northeastern states.

While awaiting laboratory test results, Parks Canada implemented an area closure for Johnson Lake on August 18 in an effort to reduce any risk of the potential spread of the disease.

Upon initial notification of the suspected case of whirling disease, Alberta formed a response team consisting of biologists, hydrologists and emergency response personnel to ensure that detection of the disease is met with a swift and co-ordinated response.

Alberta Environment and Parks has taken approximately 700 samples from waterbodies downstream of Banff National Park since August 13 and sent them to a testing facility. This is in addition to ongoing testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Results are expected in early September.

Alberta Environment and Parks will leverage the Aquatic Invasive Species program and its Rapid Response plan will be used to assist with public education and support detection of the disease at our various watercraft inspection stations. 

Based on the recommendation of the CFIA, Alberta has put a proactive hold on fish stocking salmonoids until individual fish farms and hatcheries are tested for the presence of the disease. This is a precautionary measure that optimizes the chance of not spreading the disease in Alberta.

The Government of Alberta is contacting stakeholders to brief them on this issue and enlist their help in educating the public to prevent the spread of this disease.

This disease is not harmful to humans but can have a significant impact on some fish populations. It can be transmitted to other water bodies through gear and equipment used for swimming, paddling, boating and fishing.

The provincial response team is working with Canada to develop and conduct contingency planning to deal with all possible scenarios, including the positive confirmation of the whirling disease infection in Alberta water bodies.

Quick facts

  • Impacts vary between fish species and different water bodies.
  • Rainbow and Westslope cutthroat trout, salmon and whitefish are most susceptible to the disease.
  • Affected fish may exhibit any of the following signs:
    • behaviour
      • whirling swimming pattern
    • appearance
      • skeletal deformities of the body or head, for example, shortening of the mandible and indentations on the top of the head
      • tail may appear dark or even black

Reducing the Risk of Spreading Whirling Disease

Anglers, boaters and recreational water users can help reduce the risk of spreading whirling disease.

In order of potential risk, from highest to lowest, the movement of fish, mud or sediment, and water can spread whirling disease. It can be transmitted through equipment used for swimming, paddling, boating, water pumping, and fishing, or through infected fish and fish parts. Never move live fish from one body of water to another (that is illegal in Alberta).

  • Use fish-cleaning stations where available or put fish parts in the local solid waste system. Never move dead fish or parts between water bodies or dispose of them in a kitchen garburator.

Some basic routine precautions everyone should take:

After your day out:

  1. Clean your equipment

    Before leaving any waterbody, examine all equipment, boats, trailers, clothing, boots and buckets and remove all mud, sand and plant material
     
  2. Eliminate water from all equipment before transporting

    Most recreational equipment has spots that retain water and aquatic parasites. Ensure you remove all water from every item before you leave the area. This includes boats, motors, boat hulls, boots, waders, bait buckets and swimming floats. Once water is eliminated, cleaning and drying are required.

Before your next outing or move to new waters:

  1. Clean and dry anything that came in contact with water. This may not eliminate the spore life-stage of whirling disease, but it can reduce the likelihood of transferring it to another water body.

    Use hot water (at least 90° C) to clean your equipment and let dry. If hot water is not available, spray equipment with high-pressure water. Do not use a car wash or dispose of water in a storm drain. Clean equipment away from any water sources.

    It is important to dry equipment thoroughly. Allow for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before entering new waters.

    Wash dogs with warm water and brush them thoroughly.

If you suspect a case of whirling disease, call 1-855-336-BOAT (2628).


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