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UPDATED: Whirling disease in North Saskatchewan watershed

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has declared the North Saskatchewan River watershed infected with whirling disease.

The CFIA’s declaration covers all streams, creeks, lakes and rivers feeding into the North Saskatchewan River and ends at the Saskatchewan border. Today’s announcement follows earlier declarations of infection in the Bow, Oldman and Red Deer River watersheds.

The province has ramped up its response to whirling disease over the past year. As part of its three-point action plan, the Government of Alberta opened a whirling disease laboratory in Vegreville last summer and hired additional staff throughout the province to support education and mitigation efforts. The province is also working with researchers at the University of Alberta to develop and validate non-lethal testing methods for the whirling disease parasite.

Areas in Alberta outside the Bow, Oldman, Red Deer and North Saskatchewan River watersheds were previously designated as  buffer areas and are not affected by today’s declaration.

In Alberta, rainbow, westslope cutthroat and brook trout, as well as mountain whitefish, are most susceptible to the disease. Whirling disease has no impact on human health.

Whirling disease action plan

Alberta’s whirling disease action plan is focused on three pillars:

  • Detection and Delineation: Working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to determine the full extent of whirling disease. A whirling disease committee has been established to address the long-term management of the disease and a new whirling disease laboratory was opened last summer to manage fish sampling and testing.
  • Education: Public engagement, work with stakeholders and posting of educational materials to prevent the spread of whirling disease. This includes the province’s Clean, Drain, Dry Your Gear public awareness campaign.
  • Mitigation: Actions taken to prevent the spread of whirling disease. This includes CFIA permits to stock fish from the infected area to locations outside of the infected zone, as well as all Class A fish farms and provincial aquaculture facilities implementing approved biosecurity protocols and testing negative for whirling disease.

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