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Deadly fish disease found outside Banff park for 1st time, including trout farm

Officials are voicing concern after whirling disease was detected outside of Banff National Park for the first time including a central Alberta trout farm.

‘It’s just a really uncertain time and I don't know what this is going to mean for our fisheries’

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says whirling disease has been discovered outside Banff National Park for the first time. (File Photo/John Hart/The Associated Press)

Officials are voicing concern after whirling disease was detected outside of Banff National Park for the first time, including a central Alberta trout farm.

The disease affects trout and salmon and can cause infected fish to swim in a whirling pattern and die prematurely.

The first known Canadian case of whirling disease in fish was found in Johnson Lake in Banff National Park in August.

Eight cases had been found inside the national park.

Now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says whirling disease has been detected in a commercial fishery in the Lacombe area north of Red Deer and almost 300 kilometres from Banff.

Another case was in Lott Creek (upstream from the confluence of Lott Creek and the Elbow River) in Rocky View County.

The trout farm owner isn't sure what his next steps will be, now that the disease has been found at his facility earlier this month.

Lacombe is north of Red Deer and almost 300 kilometres from Banff.

"We're positive so now what?" asks Jack Fraser,  owner of Fraser Trout Farm & Hatchery.

"Do I just sit here? I can't sell the fish, I can't buy a fish. Most of us we all hatch them right. You buy eggs and you hatch them. I can't do that either. I can't get more fish started for next year or whenever. So you're in limbo. In the meantime they quarantine you."

A biologist with the conservation group Trout Unlimited says Fraser's not alone.

"It's just a really uncertain time," Lesley Peterson told CBC News.

"I don't know what this is going to mean for our fisheries, our native fish, that some of these species [are] at risk already, the economics, the recreational fishery, the people that enjoy getting out in Alberta's waters. I'm just not really sure what the implications are going to be just yet."

More questions than answers

Travis Ripley with Alberta Environment and Parks says they have a surveillance program in place in provincial and private hatcheries and the department is working closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Still, he says there are currently more questions than answers.

"It is disappointing to find that the whirling disease is here in Alberta," Ripley said.

"It's in the waters particularly in Banff which leads us to wonder what is the full extent of it, how long has it been here? These are questions we still don't know yet. Has it run its course and are we just living with the results of the whirling disease infestation?"

Ripley says it's not clear how the disease got to this point, but the challenge now is managing it.

"I would suggest that it's going to be very difficult to control or get rid of," he explained.

"What ends up happening is that typically the fish that survive, if there's any impact to the population of fish, become immune and that will provide some level of assurance against the disease."

Peterson says dealing with the problem depends on the scope of the infestation.

"If it's contained in a smaller area I feel like that would be easier to contain or control or limit access or use other techniques, but it's hard to say," the biologist said.

"I think if it's in a wider area it just affects more people, affects more fish and just [has] more ways for it to move around."

Bad timing

Meanwhile it's bad timing for Fraser ahead of the selling season.

"It's just like bedding plants," he said.

"If you don't have your plants started in time for people to come and get them in the spring, you're not going to sell any."

With files from Colleen Underwood