The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has declared the Red Deer River Watershed infected with whirling disease.
While not harmful to humans, whirling disease can severely affect juvenile trout and whitefish populations. The declaration covers all streams, creeks, lakes, and rivers feeding into the Red Deer River, ending at the Saskatchewan border.
The CFIA’s announcement follows declarations of infection in the Bow and Oldman River watersheds. Whirling disease was first discovered in Banff National Park in September 2016.
The province recently announced $9.3 million to fund Alberta’s three-point whirling disease action plan. As part of that plan, the Government of Alberta opened a whirling disease laboratory in Vegreville, a unique facility dedicated to determining the extent of whirling disease. Additional staff have so been hired throughout the province as part of education and mitigation efforts.
New declarations of whirling disease are not necessarily evidence, the disease is currently spreading, but reason for increasing awareness of the need to clean, drain, and dry any equipment that comes into contact with water.
Impacts to wild trout and whitefish populations are significantly reduced when prevalence of the disease in the environment is low. Maintaining low prevalence of the disease where possible reduces the threat to wild trout populations. There are no plans to change fishing regulations at this point.
Areas in Alberta outside the Bow, Oldman, and Red Deer River watersheds were previously declared as a buffer area and are not affected by today’s declaration.
Whirling disease action plan
Alberta’s whirling disease action plan is focused on three pillars:
- Detection and Delineation: Working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to determine the full extent of whirling disease. A whirling disease committee has been established to address the long-term management of the disease.
- Education: Public engagement, work with stakeholders and posting of educational materials to prevent the spread of whirling disease. This includes the province’s Clean, Drain, Dry public awareness campaign.
- Mitigation: Actions taken to prevent the spread, such as: CFIA permits to stock fish from the infected area to locations outside of the infected zone, as well as all Class A fish farms and provincial aquaculture facilities implementing approved biosecurity protocols and testing negative for whirling disease.