Rifle hatchery free of whirling disease
Post Independent Staff
RIFLE – Whirling disease has been banished from the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife received results in May verifying that the disease – a parasitic infection that deforms the cartilage and nervous systems of young rainbow trout and other salmonids, causing young fish to swim in circles – is completely gone from the hatchery.
“Everybody was pretty happy,” hatchery manager Dave Capwell said, adding that the new designation means the hatchery is now much busier.
“Now that we’re negative, we can stock virtually anything,” he said. “We’re running all over the state.”
The hatchery, located north of Rifle above Rifle Falls, is the DOW’s largest trout rearing facility. This year it will raise 700,000 catchable-size trout – from 10 to 12 inches in length – and over 1 million fingerlings, a DOW news release said.
Whirling disease does not pose a threat to humans, mammals or other fish species.
DOW research in the mid 1990s showed that the disease did wipe out young trout in several of Colorado’s rivers and streams.
In response, the DOW attempted to eliminate the parasite at every hatchery where there was a reasonable chance for success.
The DOW spent more than $10 million modernizing fish hatcheries by switching their water supply from rivers that may carry the parasite to uncontaminated springs and wells.
“Most units in the state cut off surface water flows,” Capwell said. “In Rifle, we had spring collectors and we renovated them.”
After such projects are completed, it takes more than a year of testing before a hatchery can be certified disease free. Tagged fish must be tested at 10 months and again at 14 months to make sure they do not have the parasite, the news release said.
The Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery, located on Mitchell Creek, is also whirling disease-free, but that’s because it never had the disease in the first place.
“We’ve never been (whirling disease) positive,” hatchery assistant manager Dave Davis said. “It kept itself out, it’s never been in Mitchell Creek.”
Davis guessed that the creek might have avoided whirling disease because of its steep gradient.
“The creek flushes itself out,” he said. “Also, it’s our policy never to transfer fish into the unit from another unit, and all eggs are disinfected.”
Two other hatcheries, Roaring Judy, north of Gunnison on the East River and Pitkin east of Gunnison on Quartz Creek, are awaiting certification as disease-free hatcheries.
This year, Colorado hatcheries are expected to produce 3.1 million catchable trout, 8 million sub-catchables and more than 50 million warm-water species fingerlings.
More than two-thirds of the catchable trout are whirling disease-free. The other third are stocked in Front Range reservoirs where fish cannot escape to native trout habitat.
Now that the Rifle Falls Hatchery has tested negative it can go back to producing more than one third of the state’s whirling disease-free trout, the agency stated in a news release.
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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