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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


January 12, 2007  

Contact:  Ed Stege 719-486-0189
                 Barb Perkins 303-236-4588

Leadville National Fish Hatchery Certified Free of Whirling Disease

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Leadville National Fish Hatchery (NFH), located in Leadville, Colorado, was recently certified ‘free of whirling disease’ by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  The disease was first discovered at the Hatchery in 1995.  Eliminating the disease at the Hatchery is a result of implementing a new state-of-the-art water treatment plant and eliminating the use of earthen bottom rearing units.

In recent years, trout from the Leadville NFH could only be stocked in lower elevation whirling disease positive waters where they still contributed to recreational fishing, but did not further the spread of whirling disease.  After being certified free of the disease, the Leadville NFH can now provide fish to the upper Fryingpan-Arkansas reservoirs, support recovery of endangered fish in the Colorado River, and establish a greenback cutthroat broodstock. An annual fish health inspection will be performed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Fish Health Lab located in Bozeman, Montana, to ensure the Hatchery remains free of the disease.

The Hatchery implemented the water treatment system in June 2004, which is designed to remove or inactivate Triactinomyxons (Tams), the infectious form of the disease, from the water supply.  This water treatment system is the first of its kind used in a mass-production rearing facility to successfully rid incoming water of the disease. The technology utilizes a combination of filters and ultraviolet light reactors designed to treat the water before it enters the hatchery operation. Additionally, the hatchery eliminated the use of all earthen bottom rearing units, greatly reducing the threat of the tiny aquatic Tubifex worm, which are critical in the creation of Tams.

First introduced to the United States from Europe in the 1950s, whirling disease is caused by a metazoan parasite that penetrates the head and spinal cartilage of fingerling trout disrupting the equilibrium of the fish causing them to swim erratically, making it difficult for the fish to feed and avoid predators.  This highly infectious disease has gradually moved to lakes and streams in western States. Once entering a water body, the disease persists through spores that can live for up to 30 years, even in dried-up streambeds. 

“Established in 1889, the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, has a long proud history of providing trout for Colorado waters,” said Ed Stege, Manager of the Hatchery.  “We are pleased that we can fully continue that mission now that the Hatchery is certified free of whirling disease.”  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies


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