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CFIA confirms Whirling Disease amongst fish at Banff National Park

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed cases of whirling disease in fish at Banff National Park.

Upon initial notification of the suspected case of whirling disease, Alberta formed a response team consisting of biologists, hydrologists and emergency response personnel to ensure that detection of the disease is met with a swift and co-ordinated response

Alberta Environment and Parks has taken approximately 700 samples from waterbodies downstream of Banff National Park since August 13 and sent them to a testing facility. While awaiting laboratory test results, Parks Canada implemented an area closure for Johnson Lake on August 18 in an effort to reduce any risk of the potential spread of the disease. Based on the recommendation of the CFIA, Alberta has put a proactive hold on fish stocking salmonoids until individual fish farms and hatcheries are tested for the presence of the disease.

Whirling disease has been observed in the United States since the 1950s and is prevalent in the western and northeastern states. The disease is not harmful to humans but can have a significant impact on some fish populations. 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).

The Alberta Government has supplied a number of facts about whirling disease and how to prevent spreading it:

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  • Impacts vary between fish species and different water bodies.
  • Rainbow and Westslope cutthroat trout, salmon and 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

To reduce the risks of inadvertently spreading Whirling Disease, anglers, boaters and recreational water users should ensure to:

  • 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.
  • Avoid using live bait and worms.

Some basic routine precautions everyone should take:

After your day out:

  • Clean your equipment
    • Before leaving any waterbody, examine all equipment, boats, trailers, clothing, boots and buckets and remove all mud, sand and plant material
  • Eliminate water from all equipment before transporting
    • Most recreational equipment has spots that retain water and aquatic parasites. 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:

  • 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.
    • 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.
    • It is important to dry equipment thoroughly. Allow for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before entering new waters.
  • Wash dogs with warm water and brush them thoroughly.

The Government of Alberta is contacting stakeholders to brief them on this issue and enlist their help in educating the public to prevent the spread of this disease.

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