In 1996, it was discovered that Myxobolus cerebralis, the causative agent of Salmonid Whirling Disease, was decimating wild trout populations in the intermountain west. This focused the Nation on the fact that very little was known about pathogens or disease among wild fish. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requested and received funding for fish disease work beginning in fiscal year 1997.  Since then The National Wild Fish Health Survey (NWFHS) has been conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Fish Health Centers, and in cooperation with stakeholders such as Tribes, states, and the aquaculture industry.

Fish Health biologist
Fish health biologist sampling
wild fish

The most important weapon needed to control pathogens or prevent fish disease is knowledge. In the beginning there was very little information about the relationship between presence of a pathogen and the likelihood of producing disease in hatchery reared fish or wild fish. Since valuable wild stocks were at risk, it was important to gain some kind of understanding to help better manage our hatchery and wild populations in reference to pathogens and disease. To make this data collected comparable throughout different regions, a standardized approach was necessary. All procedures and protocols can be found in the NWFHS Laboratory Procedures Manual (PDF - 9.4MB). In collecting scientific information and the standardization of that information makes the helps fisheries managers make better decisions regarding stocking and transport of fish throughout a state or across state lines.

Because funds are limited, every effort is made to collaborate with federal, state, Tribal and local agencies collecting fish for other purposes. By establishing and maintaining partnerships, the Service maximizes efforts in pathogen and parasite analysis rather than sample collection. In addition, fewer fish may be taken by combining sampling efforts.