Aquaculture North America

Whirling disease detected in British Columbia waters

November 15, 2023
By Aquaculture North America staff

Whirling disease, a disease known for destroying salmon and trout populations has been detected in B.C., Canada for the first time.

According to a report by Cottage Life, the country’s first case of whirling disease was detected in 2016 but Parks Canada found B.C.’s first suspected case by testing bodies of water in Yoho National Park on Sept. 20.

“To limit the spread of whirling disease, Emerald Lake, Peaceful Pond, Lone Duck Pond, and the Emerald River shorelines, water bodies, and tributaries were closed until further notice,” Parks Canada said in an email to the publication. Further tests found more suspected cases in Kootenay National Park. All water bodies in both parks are closed until at least March 31, 2024.

The disease is caused by the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, and can kill up to 90 per cent of young salmon and trout in affected bodies of water, according to a study in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. It’s named whirling disease because of the “whirling” swimming patterns it causes in fish due to underdeveloped tails. 

Gail Wallin, executive director for the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, said these closures are the “first line of offense” to stop the disease from spreading further. Parks Canada is “taking proactive action, which is the right thing to do,” she said. “The problem with whirling disease is there’s not any management treatment that we have for it right now.”

Although it does not pose a threat to humans, Wallin said it can be easily spread if someone handling fish from infected waters. 

It’s unknown how the disease arrived in B.C. The affected bodies are connected to Banff’s waterways through the Columbia River, so Wallin believes the disease likely came from Alberta.

Dave Burns a fly-fishing guide in Golden, B.C. said although people blame anglers for transporting parasites across water bodies,  there are many other ways diseases can be transmitted.

Burns has also been advocating for the provincial and federal governments to research certain parts of the Columbia River.

“The governments should do more to study the headwater region of this very large, international water body,” he said. “This area has been ignored and overlooked for too long.”

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