Whirling disease has been found for the second time in two years at the Springville Fish Hatchery, forcing state officials to shut down the entire facility.
"It's better we shut down, decontaminate and wait for a clean water supply," said Tim Miles, fish culture supervisor for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The closing eliminates the risk of spreading the disease.
Roughly 6,000 pounds of fish, which translates to about 60,000 4-inch trout, will be destroyed. None of the fish from the contaminated pond were stocked in Utah waters.
Whirling disease was first found in the hatchery's middle pond two years ago. Two other ponds were being fed by separate water supplies and continued to grow fish.
"Every six months we test hatcheries in those areas where whirling disease is found. Six months ago the Springville ponds tested negative. This week we tested 60 fish from each of the two ponds and one fish tested positive," said Miles.
"Rather than risk the disease getting into the third pond," he said, "we decided to kill the fish and wait."
The Legislature appropriated $2.5 million in its last session for water-supply renovation in the Springville ponds.
"We looked at a filtration system similar to the one being used at the Mammoth Creek Hatchery, but after seeing it in operation we decided to go in another direction. A system like that is very complex and costly to operate," he noted.
The new system will involve drilling a 500-foot test well to reach a confined aquifer that is free of whirling disease. Once the well has been dug, test fish will be placed in the water and periodically checked.
Miles said it would take about a year before the hatchery will be back in operation.
The drills are about 100 feet down.
The same thing is being done at the Midway Hatchery, which was hit with whirling disease in 2000. Several wells were dug before a clean water supply was found.
The Midway Hatchery is expected to be back in full operation next May.
Miles said the DWR is planting about a million pounds of fish per year, and that the 6,000 pounds lost at Springville will be made up by increased production at renovated hatcheries, such as Kamas, Mammoth Creek and the Whiterock Hatchery, which is being dedicated this week.
The new Whiterock facility will produce about 130,000 pounds of fish a year when in full operation.
Miles said finding the disease in a second pond at Springville was not a surprise. "We felt certain it would eventually spread. It was good while it lasted, but now we need to shut down and clean up," he added.
Walt Donaldson, aquatics section chief, said the agency is committed to stocking healthy fish, and "good science requires that we not stock infected fish. We discovered the problem, notified the Fish Health Policy Board and are committed to sustaining healthy fisheries."
Whirling disease affects trout and salmon and results in deformities and neurological damage that cause the fish to swim in circles.
Whirling disease was first found in a private hatchery in Loa in 1991 that was owned and operated by the family of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. The family has since gotten out of the fish-ranching business.
Since that time, the disease has spread to a large number of public waters, including such popular areas as Porcupine, Causey, Logan River, Provo River, Weber River, Ogden River and Otter Creek. It has also been found in the Green River above Flaming Gorge and more recently in waters on the south slopes of the Uintas, including the Duchesne River and waters around Altamont.
It was also reported last year that all but one of the state's 10 commercial fish growers tested positive.The disease starts with a parasite. It is spread by small worms that eat the parasite that in turn are eaten by fish. The parasite causes, among other things, a curving of the spine in fish, which causes them to swim in circles or whirl and eventually die. The disease does not affect humans.