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March 25, 2007

Trout disease threatens Md. fish

While the Maryland Inland Fisheries Division was worrying about the impact that a kid with a hook and a worm can have on the native brook trout population in Garrett County, it’s crews moved an aquatic disease from one drainage to another that has the potential to wipe out the whole shebang, lock, stock and dorsal fins.

What do Neil Jacobs and John Astle have in common?

They both think that state fisheries managers need oversight so that proper decisions can be made.

These are not a couple guys sitting on bar stools, tipping back long necks and telling fish stories.

Jacobs is an officer with the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited and Astle is a state senator and founder of the Maryland Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

Jacobs and his TU cohorts have gotten Fisheries Director Howard King and his minions to agree to having a third party, an expert in the field of whirling disease, pass judgment on the state’s responses to deal with the malady.

Jacobs said recently that there has been a flaw in the system and that someone else is needed to take a look. Jacobs is a polite man and his words, in my opinion, make up a polite way of saying that an answer from the existing fisheries establishment cannot be trusted.

Whirling disease is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite and is named for the characteristic swimming behavior that results as the parasite multiplies in the head and spinal cartilage of the infected fish, according to the Whirling Disease Foundation.

In western states, the disease has decimated some wild trout populations. The disease is not a threat to humans.

It is whirling disease that has caused the destruction of about 80,000 fish from the Bear Creek Rearing Station. It is that disease that has shut down a trout rearing facility at Mettiki Coal Company and threatens to shut down another at the base of Jennings Randolph Dam and, in the worst case scenario, even the long-standing rearing station at Bear Creek. It is that disease that is making it more expensive than ever for the state to stock trout this spring because they have had to buy fish from private sources. It is that disease that was transported, though inadvertantly, according to one biologist, from Mettiki to Bear Creek by state fishery crews.

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