Friday, 12 May 2017 08:00

Whirling disease now in the Oldman watershed

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Whirling disease has been confirmed in trout in the Oldman Watershed. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials announced May 1 the Oldman River is infected with the disease.


In an online bulletin, it states the declaration covers all streams, creeks, lakes and rivers feeding into the Oldman River, including those in Waterton Lakes National Park. It also states the affected zone ends at the confluence of the Oldman River and South Saskatchewan River.
Anna Garleff, communications specialist with the Oldman Watershed Council (OWC), says this means there is yet another factor impacting the health of the watershed. OWC officials will encourage everyone to educate, communicate and make a serious effort to improve watershed health.
“There’s no way OWC can do this on our own. It will take commitment from everyone who lives, works and plays in the Oldman Watershed,” adds Garleff.
She says it’s important to understand there are no known treatment options for Whirling disease so the focus must turn to prevention.
All motorized boat users need to pull the drain plugs before transporting their watercrafts and ensure boats are cleaned and dried before being put in new waterways.
As well, this advice applies equally to any equipment that has been in contact with water. Stirring up mud and sediment contributes to the spread of the disease.
The province currently has an action plan in place that focuses on three pillars:
• Detection and Delineation: this is working with the CFIA to determine the full extent of Whirling Disease. A committee has been established to address the long-term management of the disease.
• Education: Public engagement, working with stakeholders and posting of educational materials
to prevent the spreading of Whirling disease. This includes the province’s “Clean, Drain, Dry” public awareness campaign.
• Mitigation: To receive CFIA permits to stock fish from the infected area to locations outside of the infected zone, all Class A fish farms and provincial aquaculture facilities must implement approved biosecurity protocols and test negative for Whirling disease.
Currently, there are no plans to make changes to fishing regulations in the Oldman River basin.
“Bait fish should never be released into waterways and anglers must clean their boots and all gear thoroughly when exiting a stream. The spores of the Whirling disease parasite are known to adhere to these kinds of materials and can potentially be carried on gear from one drainage to another. Careful cleaning will reduce this risk and will help prevent the spread of other diseases and invasive species,” explains Garleff.
All provincial aquaculture facilities and Class A fish farms will have to test fish for Whirling disease. In the meantime, Alberta Environment and Parks officials will take water samples throughout southern Alberta on a weekly basis.
“Whirling disease can eventually kill the great majority of trout in a river and our native trout, such as Westslope Cutthroat Trout, are already down to only about five per cent of their original habitat and are classified under the federal Species At Risk registry as ‘threatened,’” points out Garleff.
Whirling disease is everywhere in the Oldman River and had already been discovered in the Bow River in September 2016.
There’s no human health concerns in relation to the disease. The largest issue and worry is with fish.
“Love your watershed. Volunteer with the OWC and please donate toward our research and programs,” says Garleff. “Learn about this and other challenges we need to meet as watershed stewards so that future generations can enjoy the same natural beauty, recreation and prosperity that we have.”
For more information on the Oldman Watershed Council or to help in some way visit: www.oldmanwatershed.ca.

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