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Whirling disease in Bow River watershed

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has declared the Bow River watershed infected with whirling disease and the province of Alberta a buffer zone.

The CFIA’s announcement covers all streams, creeks, lakes and rivers that feed into the Bow River. This includes water bodies in Banff National Park, the Elbow River and the Bow River itself. The affected zone ends at the confluence of the Bow River and South Saskatchewan River.

The declaration requires that provincial aquaculture facilities and Class A fish farms, which cultivate salmonids, will have to test fish for whirling disease and implement approved biosecurity protocols in order to obtain a permit from CFIA to stock fish from the infected area.

Moving Forward

  • There are currently no plans to make changes that will affect fishing in the Bow River.
  • The ongoing objective, related to whirling disease in Alberta’s wild fish populations, is detection and delineation, and where possible, containment. 
  • Public engagement and education are 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 distribution through social media
    • Using Aquatic Invasive Species watercraft inspection stations to provide education materials to boaters and anglers
    • Providing online updates of sample results and locations
    • Working with stakeholders, such as the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Alberta Angling Outfitters, to communicate with its members and the public about preventing the spread of whirling disease
    • Using existing “Clean, Drain and Dry” education campaign materials to prevent the spread of whirling disease by anglers and boaters
  • Some of the ways Alberta is helping prevent the spread of whirling disease:
    • Examining potential legislative tools that could help stop the spread of the disease
    • Using existing legislation to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, such as the drain plug rule for motorized boats (all watercraft must have their drain plugs pulled while in transport), prohibition of releasing live fish and water and mandatory watercraft inspection stations
  • A Whirling Disease Committee was established to address the management of the disease over the long term. The committee includes members from the province, federal agencies and key stakeholders

Quick facts

  • Impacts vary between fish species and different water bodies
  • In Alberta, rainbow, westslope cutthroat and brook trout, as well as mountain whitefish are most susceptible to the disease
  • Affected fish may show no symptoms or exhibit any of the following signs:
    • behaviour
      • whirling swimming pattern
    • appearance
      • skeletal deformities of the body or head, for example, shortening of the mandible, sloped forehead and crooked spine
      • tail may appear dark or even black
  • There are no human health concerns for people using the bodies of water that contain whirling disease; it is not harmful to humans. There are no health concerns for anglers ingesting fish that have contracted this disease.
  • There are no treatment options currently available for whirling disease. Containment and prevention are the focus for responding to the threat of whirling disease.

For more information about whirling disease, please contact the Environment and Parks Info Centre at 310-ESRD (3773), toll-free in Alberta.

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


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