Officials from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) confirmed the presence of whirling disease in one of Utah’s most pristine and popular waters.

Here is a quote from last Friday’s news release from the UDWR:

“VERNAL — If you have been to Jones Hole Creek, you are familiar with its towering landscape, tranquil waters and lush trees lining the riverbanks, which make it a great place for fishing. Just a few miles away, the creek flows directly into the Green River, where whirling disease was first discovered in 2011. Unfortunately, the disease has now been confirmed in fish in Jones Hole Creek as well, including adjacent to the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery.”

The confirmation of the presence of whirling disease in waters that within a few miles enter the Green River is great cause for concern.

What is whirling disease?

“Whirling disease is a condition in fish,” reported by UDWR officials,” caused by an invasive microscopic parasite. It was first discovered in Utah in 1991, and primarily affects trout and salmon species.”

From my research, I have learned that small rainbow trout (like those in hatcheries and smaller streams) seem to be most susceptible.

Whirling disease attacks the cartilage tissue in the head and spine. The fish quite literally move in circles, develop black tails and deformed spines. Many fish die as a result of their infection but even if they survive the physical characteristics mentioned above persist.

The Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery is adjacent to Jones Hole Creek thus the concern for future infections, but the water used in the hatchery comes from springs, according to Travis Anderson, acting hatchery manager.

“The water (for the hatchery) is piped underground from nearby springs located just east of the creek on hatchery grounds,” Anderson said.

In an effort to stop the spread in the immediate area, Anderson continued: “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.”

It is crucial to understand that the Jones Hole fish hatchery has NOT tested positive for whirling disease, so all the efforts of managers and officials is to stop the spread.

Since there might be a bit of confusion when a national fish hatchery is technically threatened due to the proximity of the positive tests, I spoke with Ryan Mosely, program coordinator for the UDWR on Flaming Gorge, to learn more about the relationship between state and federal fish hatcheries and what might be the possible effects If the national fish hatchery at Jones Hole were to become infected with whirling disease.

“If the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery were to test positive for whirling disease and had to change its stocking program, it would definitely impact stocking programs at Flaming Gorge and other bodies of water in Utah and surrounding states,” Mosely said. “That hatchery provides cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon to Flaming Gorge, and kokanee salmon to Strawberry along with cutthroats to Scofield.”

Mosely explained that several UDWR fish hatcheries also provide fish for Flaming Gorge, Jordanelle, and other impoundments but the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery is “critical” to overall stocking programs locally and regionally.

Can anglers help slow the spread?

Anglers can reduce or even stop the spread of whirling disease by being a little more careful when they fish multiple waters on the same day. Here is a short list of ways to help.

• Do not wear felt-lined wading shoes because the parasites can hitchhike on the felt.

• Thoroughly clean your waders and fishing gear after each trip to a lake or stream and be certain they are clean BEFORE entering another stream.

• Do not transport fish parts to any other body of water.

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

Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.

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