Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Virus infects, dooms trout raised at Warren County’s federal hatchery

Deborah Weisberg Contributing Writer

Warren, Pa. — Federal and state wildlife officials will decide
by the middle of this month what to do with almost one million
trout at the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery near Warren infected
with a virus that either kills fish or makes them carriers.

Some of the trout could be moved to waters known to already
contain the virus, but, given the number of fish involved, the
majority will probably have to be destroyed, said hatchery manager
Tracy Copeland. “We’re very upset. We spawned most of the eggs last
November and raised them up. Just looking at them now in the
raceways, they look very healthy. But even though they don’t
display outward signs, they could infect other fish and, if they
make it to adulthood, transmit it to their offspring.”

Last month, a tissue sample showed evidence of IPN (Infectious
Pancreatic Necrosis) — a common, highly contagious virus — among
the hatchery’s 620,000 lake trout slated for spring stocking in
Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, 2,500 brood stock lakers, and 100,000
rainbows and brook trout the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat
Commission planned to put into northwestern streams.

Most of the fish are fingerlings, which means they are likely to
survive. The virus is deadlier to fry, which would face almost
certain mortality. But surviving fish become carriers who can
transmit IPN to their offspring, said Copeland. They can’t be put
into Lake Erie or Lake Ontario but they could be planted in waters
known to already contain the IPN virus.

“We’re working with the fish commission to try to identify those
waters and work out an agreement,” said Copeland. “But we have a
lot of fish here and my gut feeling is, there won’t be enough
places to put them.”

Fish & Boat Commission spokesman Dan Tredinnick said the
agency is now working to find streams for the brook trout and
rainbows this fall. However, lake trout — a Lake Erie native —
require very deep, cold water to survive and there aren’t many
inland lakes that contain even healthy populations. Raystown Lake
is one of them.

Copeland said the source of the virus is probably fecal
droppings from ducks and seagulls, though the cause hasn’t been
isolated yet. Once the fish are relocated or destroyed, raceways
will be cleaned with a chlorine solution and covered so future
droppings can’t cause problems, Copeland said.

Millions of gallons of water —about 6,000 gallons of well water
per minute — flow into the hatchery. “We’ve got a big cleanup on
our hands,” Copeland said. Once water goes through a settling pond,
it is discharged into the Allegheny River, which will have to be
tested. “The Department of Environmental Protection will probably
get involved,” she said.

The hatchery raises lake trout for continuous stockings in Lake
Erie, where the native population in the last century was decimated
by over-fishing and invader species. Natural reproduction has never
rebounded, though scientists hope that annual plantings will help
maintain populations.

Some anglers target lake trout, though not nearly as many as
those who fish for walleye, steelhead or perch. Lakers are
typically targeted in spring. Brook trout are related to lake trout
and are native to Pennsylvania streams. A few years ago, the
hatchery began cultivating them and rainbow trout in a joint
project with the Fish & Boat Commission, for plantings in
streams around the Warren area.

The virus poses no threat to humans who consume infected fish,
said Copeland, who expects that the trout will be destroyed and/or
moved by mid-November.

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