ACCIDENT - Maryland Inland Fisheries Division will destroy about 80,000 rainbow trout being grown at Bear Creek Rearing Station and Mettiki Coal Co. that have whirling disease, reducing the number of trout to be stocked in waters west of Sideling Hill by about 20 percent.

"We discovered through routine screening in January that some of the trout at those facilities had whirling disease," said Bob Lunsford, director. "We are looking all over the East Coast right now trying to buy additional trout to stock to make up the difference."

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.

Lunsford said it has not yet been determined how the disease got to the Maryland facilities, though birds and bears can commonly ingest and transfer the parasite or move it by way of mud that attaches to their bodies, he said. It is possible that the disease spread to Bear Creek after it received a shipment of fish from Mettiki, Lunsford said. No trout had been transferred from Bear Creek to Mettiki.

Lunsford said that the agency will produce a stocking schedule next week that will reflect the loss of the Garrett County trout.

"We have decided not to stock trout this year in Deep Creek Lake, where we put 10,000 last year, or in Jennings Randolph Lake. Both of those lakes have a variety of other game fish that anglers can catch."

A day's shipment of about 2,000 trout headed to a stream will be reduced to about 1,250, according to Lunsford.

Statewide about 337,000 trout will be stocked this year, compared to 418,000 in 2006.

"There will still be plenty of trout to catch," he said. "None of the diseased fish are going out and this is not a disease that affects people."

At the end of stocking season, Bear Creek station will be disinfected with chlorine, according to Lunsford. "I expect it to be back in operation for next season. We'll monitor the situation at Mettiki."

Brown and brook trout are very resistant to whirling disease, Lunsford said.

Agency officials said anglers can help reduce the spread of whirling disease by refraining from catching fish in one stream and releasing them in another, by not discarding fish carcasses in the stream or on the bank, and by removing mud from boots and equipment before moving from one stream to another.

Trout fishing is a $30 million business in Maryland. The state sells about 140,000 licenses annually.

Michael A. Sawyers can be reached at msawyers@times-news.com.

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