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Eastern Utah fish test positive for disease caused by an invasive microscopic parasite

Local News

Photo courtesy of Utah DWR

VERNAL, Utah (ABC4) – Fish in a popular eastern Utah fishing spot have tested positive for whirling disease.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says fish in Jones Hole Creek, including adjacent to the Hones Hole National Fish Hatchery, have been found to have whirling disease.

In 2011, Utah DWR says whirling disease was first detected in the Green River, which Jones Hole Creek flows into.

Whirling disease is a condition in fish caused by an invasive microscopic parasite, first discovered in the state in 1991, that primarily affects trout and salmon species. DWR says small rainbow trout are especially affected.

The disease attacks the cartilage tissue of a fish’s head and spine. If sufficiently infected, DWR says young fish may develop symptoms such as the characteristic whirling behavior, a black tail, or even death.

If they survive, DWR says fish may develop neurological damage or skeletal deformities. The disease, however, does not affect or harm people.

DWR says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns and operates the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery, began sampling fish in the lower reaches of Jones Hole Creek on an annual basis in 2017.

In January, officials say rainbow trout samples taken from locations in the creek tested positive for whirling disease. All samples taken from the fish hatchery, however, have been negative thus far, and hatchery fish have not been infected. Brown trout sampled from the creek all tested negative.

“Fortunately, the fish hatchery does not receive any of its water from the creek, which has helped decrease the spread of whirling disease to the fish in the facility,” Travis Anderson, acting hatchery manager, says. “The water for the hatchery is piped underground from nearby springs, located just east of the creek on hatchery grounds. When we were first notified of the positive whirling disease sample results, we installed a temporary fish barrier at the downstream end of our flood bypass channel. This should help prevent potential whirling disease-positive fish from moving upstream into the bypass channel and Diamond Gulch pond, which are immediately adjacent to the hatchery.”

In order to keep the disease from spreading to other nearby streams and into the fish, the Utah DWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking anglers to do the following:

  • Do not fish the creek above the fishing closure signs adjacent to the hatchery. Fish have been removed from this location.
  • Avoid using felt-soled wading boots. These boots are more likely to transport the parasite that causes whirling disease to other water bodies. To get more traction in your waders, anglers can purchase studs for their wader boots.
  • After getting out of the creek, rinse all mud and aquatic plants from your boots, waders, and other equipment. Let all the equipment dry in the sun for a few days before using them again.
  • Do NOT transport fish, water or fish parts from this creek to other waters. Fish — dead and alive — can contain spores of the parasite that causes whirling disease.
  • Do NOT enter any other waterbody until you have thoroughly cleaned all your fishing equipment.

If you have questions about whirling disease at Jones Hole Creek, call the DWR’s Northeastern Region office at 435-781-9453.

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