Whirling Disease Found Above Kamas Hatchery

(Courtesy DWR)

Biologists are concerned about a sinkhole that was discovered recently near a creek that flows past the Kamas State Fish Hatchery.

“Whirling disease has been detected in the creek above the hatchery,” says Walt Donaldson, Aquatic Section chief for the Division of Wildlife Resources. “We don’t think whirling disease made it into the hatchery. But we’re not taking any chances.”

The sinkhole developed recently on the bank of Beaver Creek. The hatchery does not receive any water directly from the creek. (Water for the hatchery comes from several springs in the area.) However, biologists are concerned that water that entered the sinkhole may have mixed with water in the aquifer that feeds the hatchery springs.

Whirling disease -- a disease that doesn’t affect people but can be fatal to fish -- was found in Beaver Creek in the 1990s in a stretch below the hatchery. The sinkhole, which workers from a local irrigation company have since blocked off, is about three-quarters of a mile above the hatchery.

After the sinkhole was discovered, biologists sampled trout from the hatchery. They also sampled trout from a section of the creek that’s above the hatchery and sinkhole.

Fortunately, none of the fish sampled in the hatchery had whirling disease (WD). But two of the 30 trout from the creek did have the disease.

Donaldson says that’s not surprising, since fish with WD have moved to various parts of the creek over the past 15 years.

Donaldson says all of the DWR’s hatcheries are tested routinely for disease.

Not taking chances

DWR biologists were happy to hear that the fish in the hatchery did not test positive for whirling disease. But they’re still not taking any chances:

- All of the fish that are currently in the Kamas hatchery will be stocked immediately, but only in waters where WD has been previously found. As a precautionary measure, the fish will not be placed in waters that don’t already have WD.

“The DNA test used to analyze the sampled fish is very sensitive and accurate at catching whirling disease in fish,” says Chris Wilson, pathologist at the DWR’s Fisheries Experiment Station.

“Even though the fish in the hatchery appear to be free of the disease, we’ve learned to be extremely cautious when dealing with fish diseases,” Wilson says. “We don’t want to spread disease from one hatchery to another, or from a hatchery to the wild.”

- The Kamas hatchery will be closed until the entire facility has been disinfected and a special ulta-violet filtration device has been installed. This device will remove WD if the disease ever gets into water sources that flow into the hatchery.

The public will not be allowed to tour the hatchery while it’s closed.

Donaldson says the Kamas hatchery will not produce fish again until late 2011 or early 2012. Fortunately, the DWR’s refurbished Springville State Fish Hatchery will take up some of the fish-production slack. (The Springville hatchery was closed in 2007 after WD was confirmed in the hatchery.)

Donaldson says the installation of a UV-filtration device is nearing completion at the Springville hatchery. “We’re hoping the hatchery will be producing fish again soon, maybe as early as November,” he says.