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By STEPHEN SIEGFRIED
Daily Press Staff
It seems improbable that there has ever been worse news for New Mexico anglers and those who manage the state's trout fishery than the appearance of whirling disease in state hatcheries and the San Juan River.
Fish infected with the disease have been found in three state hatcheries: Lisboa Springs near Pecos; Seven Springs in the Jemez Mountains; and Parkview, near Chama.
It's "more than likely" trout from Colorado are the source of the disease in New Mexico, said Ernie Jacquez, New Mexico Game and Fish Department southwestern area fisheries manager.
"They're our closest neighbor that has it," Jacquez said, adding that whirling disease is prevalent "all over the country."
Some 225,000 hatchery trout in New Mexico were destroyed as a result of the infections.
Reports of the disease in the San Juan, which attracts anglers from all over the country to its quality waters, could seriously impact the economy of the area.
Of special concern to southwestern New Mexico anglers is a report that about 100 brood trout from the Parkview Hatchery were stocked in Lake Roberts in April.
"We know what lot they came out of. When they were tested, there was no suspicion they were infected," said Marty Frentzel, Game and Fish public information office.
According to Game and Fish stocking reports, all other hatchery trout released into southwestern New Mexico streams and lakes have come from the Glenwood Hatchery since the outbreak of the disease was reported in New Mexico. The hatchery has tested negative for the disease, the tubifex worms that serve as an intermediate host, and the spores which infect trout with the virus.
Jack Kelly, the department's chief of fisheries, has called for testing of all brood fish at the Parkview Hatchery.
"If the lot that the fish came out of tests positive, all areas where those fish were stocked will become a high priority for testing," Kelly said Thursday.
"We don't want to panic people. We don't know that (the fish put in Lake Roberts) are infected, but we would hope anglers would take as many precautions as possible," Frentzel said.
"The angling community is expecting us to take this very seriously, and we are. We hope they are, too," he said.
To that end, the department is putting out information to anglers, boaters, and others who are in and around trout waters, asking them to take steps to prevent the spread of a disease that has devastated trout populations in entire watersheds elsewhere in the country.
As a first rule, Frentzel said, under no circumstances should fish parts be returned to the water. Precautions call for fish heads, entrails and skeletons to be buried or otherwise disposed of in ways that ensure the virus that causes the disease is not returned to any water medium.
Whirling disease is not a public health issue in that humans are not affected, Frentzel said.
The department will hold a special meeting in Raton next week with Colorado officials, scientists and fisheries biologists from other agencies to discuss the disease.
Whirling disease is believed to have come from Europe with brown trout, which, in part, explains that species' resistance to the disease. Rainbow and cutthroat trout, and, to a lesser extent, brook trout lack natural immunity and are more susceptible to infection.
Trout are infected with the disease in the following sequence:
Microscopic spores of the disease are eaten by tubifex worms.
Once inside the worm, the spore becomes a triactinomyxon, or TAM.
TAMS are then released from the worm into the water.
Fish become infected when TAMS cling to them and work their way into the fish's nervous system. Once inside the fish, the TAM again changes form and moves into the cartilage in the head and develops into a mature spore.
After several weeks, the fish develops a "whirling" behavior, spinal deformities and a black tail.
When the fish dies and decomposes or is eaten, the spores in its body are released into the water and the cycle begins again.
Fisheries biologists recommend the following to prevent the spread of the disease:
Dispose of fish entrails, skeletons and heads in solid waste facilities, not streams, lakes or in-sink disposals;
Wash and dry waders, lines and other equipment after use;
Drain all water from boats, coolers and livewells before leaving a fishing area;
Remove all mud and aquatic plants from vehicles, boat trailers, waders and fishing gear before leaving a fishing site;
Dry boats and equipment thoroughly before reusing them;
Do not use trout, whitefish or sculpins for bait; and
Do not transfer fish from one body of water to another.