There are currently more than 45,000 kilograms of rainbow trout at Bob Allen's trout farm — but he isn't allowed to sell them thanks to a deadly fish parasite found in Canada for the first time last summer.

​His operation on the western outskirts of Calgary is one of the fish farms in Alberta under investigation for suspected whirling disease, which affects trout and salmon, and can cause infected fish to swim in a whirling pattern and die prematurely.

Allen faces the possibility of going out of business.

"I don't know what to do," he said,. 

He said he has missed the fall season for fish stocking, which has already cost him about $100,000 in sales, and now it's costing him $200 a day to keep feeding the fish.

whirling disease

This rainbow trout displays the characteristic black tail and skeletal deformities indicative of whirling disease. (Stephen Atkinson/Oregon State University)

"It isn't even the money," Allen said. "I've been in business 55 years and it's kind of disheartening when you think you might lose your whole business."

Allen said he should be able to stay afloat the next few months, but then may have to start selling assets.

He's not the only one affected by the deadly disease.

Some Alberta commercial fish culture operations are under quarantine until each tests negative for whirling disease, while several others have been tested and cleared. The province has also ceased provincial fish stocking until each of the five facilities has tested negative for the disease.

Whirling disease first reached North America from Europe in the 1950s, starting in Pennsylvania and spreading to places like Montana, whose fisheries were severely impacted in the early '90s.

It hadn't been detected in Canada until Aug. 29, 2016, when it surfaced in Johnson Lake in Banff National Park, and has since been detected in more than a dozen other locations in Alberta.

Another fish farm running out of feed

Roland Lines with the Alberta SPCA says another fish farm has told them they are running out of feed.

"The quarantine has become a waiting game for the fish farmers," said Lines. 

"We're concerned about their ongoing ability to care for the fish in an adequate manner, but also we're concerned that if fish have been identified as being infected with whirling disease, that they're being told to wait as opposed to dealing with the disease."

Allen says his fish appear healthy, but if he is asked to euthanize them, he doesn't have many options left.

"I'll go on welfare, I guess."

Corrections

  • Initial reports stated that all commercial fish culture operations in Alberta were under quarantine until each tested negative for whirling disease. Several operations have now reopened after tests came back negative. As of November 22, four fish culture operations in Alberta were under quarantine, including one under a partial quarantine.
    Nov 18, 2016 11:54 AM MT
With files from the CBC's Natasha Frakes