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CFIA confirms whirling disease in Bow River

Today, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the lead federal agency responsible for preventing the spread of animal diseases within Canada, confirmed the presence of whirling disease in the upper Bow River, downstream from the confluence of the Bow River and Cascade River within Banff National Park.

In response to the detection of whirling disease in Johnson Lake, in Banff Nation Park on Aug. 23, Alberta Environment and Parks developed a three-point action plan to provide emergency response and early detection, education and mitigation.  

As part of the plan, the province issued a precautionary quarantine on all commercial fish culture operations until the facility is cleared of whirling disease. Sample results from the Sam Livingston Provincial Fish Hatchery in Calgary and the Cold Lake Fish Hatchery* have tested negative.

Detection sampling has been completed in the main stem of the Bow River. Work is underway to collect samples from basins immediately adjacent to the Bow River, Oldman River and upper Red Deer River watersheds. Results will be reported by CFIA as they are received.

“We are taking swift action to protect our fish populations. Our plan ensures continued testing, a strong public education campaign, long-term monitoring and a precautionary quarantine on commercial fish operations to manage whirling disease.”

Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Environment and Parks will establish a Whirling Disease Management Committee, with representatives from various federal agencies and stakeholders to implement procedures to identify, test and manage whirling disease as well as communicate with affected stakeholders.

The province has asked that whirling disease be added to the agenda at the upcoming Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment at the end of September due to its potential economic and recreational impact.

Whirling Disease Action Plan

The whirling disease action plan is focused on three pillars:

  1. Emergency Response and Early Detection

Alberta Environment and Parks is working with Parks Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to determine the full extent of whirling disease in the salmonid population. Actions include:

  • Testing of fish populations in the Bow River and tributaries continues. Sampling will continue in the Oldman River and upper Red Deer River watersheds.
  • Ongoing testing of government and private aquaculture facilities for whirling disease. Reinstating a multi-agency Whirling Disease Management Committee to develop management actions to mitigate the disease and communicate action to the public.   
  1. Education

Public engagement and education is essential to help stop the spread of whirling disease in Alberta. Actions include:

  • Posting educational materials and decontamination instructions on the Environment and Parks website and distributing through social media.
  • Utilizing Aquatic Invasive Species check-stops to disseminate education materials to boaters and fishermen.
  • Providing online updates of sample results and location.
  • Working directly with stakeholders, such as the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Alberta Angling Outfitters, to communicate with its members and the public about how to prevent the spread of whirling disease.
  • Utilizing existing “Clean, Drain and Dry” and “Don’t Let it Loose” education campaign materials to prevent the spread of whirling disease.
  1. Mitigation 

To help prevent the spread of whirling disease, Alberta is:

  • Quarantining all commercial fish culture operations through Ministerial Order until each facility has tested negative for whirling disease.
  • Ceasing provincial fish stocking until each of the four** facilities has tested negative for the disease. 
  • Examining potential legislative tools that could help stop the spread of the disease.

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 that 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.
     
  2. 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.
     
  3. It is important to dry equipment thoroughly. After equipment is thought to be dry, allow for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before entering new waters.
     
  4. Wash dogs with warm water and brush them thoroughly.

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

Quick facts

  • Impacts vary between fish species and different water bodies.
  • Rainbow, westslope cutthroat and brook trout, some salmon and mountain 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

Editors Notes:
* Corrections made to names of hatcheries
** Correction made to number of fish hatchery facilities from five to four


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