Disease Strikes SOCAL Trout Featured

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DeadLake Sabrina

University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, written by Will McCarthy.

When Jay Rowan learned in late April that trout in California hatcheries were exhibiting strange symptoms, he had been the hatchery production manager for California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife for less than a month. Already forced to rejigger operations after the coronavirus lockdowns, Mr. Rowan began to worry that a second crisis was on the way.

The employees at the Mojave River State Fish Hatchery noticed the trout were developing strange bubbles under their skin. Eyes bulged. Abdomens swelled. At first glance, the symptoms pointed to gas bubble disease, a condition that’s relatively common in hatcheries. Still, they proved odd enough that the state’s senior fish pathologist, Mark Adkison, sent a pathologist to run tests. Within a week, they had their answer: lactococcus garvieae, a rare bacterial infection. It was the first time the bacteria had ever been found in California.

As Mr. Rowan and his team were under statewide shelter-in-place orders, they moved to institute a lockdown of their own. The Mojave River hatchery, which holds about 860,000 rainbow trout, provides fish for most of the waterways in Southern California. Most fish on site had already been affected. If this bacteria somehow spread to other hatcheries, or spread in the wild, the reverberations could be devastating. It seemed surreal — a pandemic within a pandemic — but on May 4 the state quarantined the entire hatchery.

“It rarely, rarely comes to that,” Mr. Rowan said.

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