Skeletal deformations, like these in a mature Brook trout, are caused by whirling disease.
Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service
Whirling disease affects trout and salmon, resulting in deformations and neurological damage that cause the fish to "whirl."
None of the four-inch trout were stocked in Utah waters. Per DWR protocols, the population of 60,000 fish will be destroyed, and the hatchery will be shut down until a new water supply is secured. The infected fish, weighing approximately 6,000 pounds, are a small fraction of the one million pounds of fish raised annually in state hatcheries.
Surplus rainbow trout at the other hatcheries will ensure that plenty of fish are available to stock Utah waters in the coming year.
The discovery was made during routine disease testing of the young rainbows. While disappointed, DWR officials were not completely surprised. The Springville hatchery also experienced an outbreak in 2005 when whirling disease was discovered in the main water supply.
DWR Aquatics Section Chief, Walt Donaldson, notes that the agency is committed to stocking healthy fish, "Good science requires that we not stock infected fish. We discovered the problem, notified the Fish Health Policy Board and are committed to sustaining healthy fisheries."
The agency is taking another critical step as well. It is currently digging a well to secure a clean water source from an underground aquifer. Officials hope this measure will prevent future occurrences of the disease at the Springville site when it reopens.
The public can also help prevent the spread of whirling disease across Utah. Officials urge anglers to take the following steps when fishing in Utah waters:
- Remove mud from all equipment, including boats, trailers, waders, boots, float tubes and fins before leaving a fishing area. Thoroughly dry equipment in the sun if possible before reuse. If you are traveling directly to other waters, clean your equipment with a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach or use another set of equipment.
- Do not use felt-soled waders; they provide an ideal hiding place for the spores that cause whirling disease.
- Do not transport live fish between bodies of water.
- Do not dispose of fish heads, skeletons or entrails in any body of water. Fish parts should be disposed of in the garbage, by deep burying or by total burning.