Tag Archives: Trout Fishing

Can Sport-Caught Fish Be Donated to a Food Bank?

Sport-caught fish can be donated to a food bank or soup kitchen as long as they were legally taken, don’t exceed the angler’s bag limit and as long as the food bank or soup kitchen will accept them. Be sure to check with them first! (CDFG photo)

Sport-caught fish can be donated to a food bank or soup kitchen as long as they were legally taken, don’t exceed the angler’s bag limit and as long as the food bank or soup kitchen will accept them. Be sure to check with them first! (CDFG photo)

Question: We often take folks out fishing while they are visiting the area and staying at hotels, bed-and-breakfasts or campsites. Unfortunately, they are often not able to consume all of the fish that they catch. We understand we are allowed to gift fish to friends and family members (as long as each individual does not possess more than one bag limit per person per day).

Are there restrictions on gifting extra fish to local food banks or soup kitchens as long as the food bank would want and accept them? This is a question from a traveler who is interested in planning a future trip. (Jenny O., Santa Cruz)

Answer: Yes, a person is allowed to donate (gift) any fish taken to a food bank or soup kitchen that does not charge money for the fish as long as the fish were legally taken and the daily bag limit was not exceeded. Since every person is only allowed to take or possess one daily bag limit of fish per day, anglers should individually donate their fish to avoid having someone transport more than a possession limit of fish at any time. Since many food banks and soup kitchens no longer accept donations of meat or fish that is not USDA-certified, you may want to check with them in advance.


Airguns and Upland Game Hunting?
Question: My buddy and I are part of the ever increasing population of airgun hunters. We typically take rabbits and ground squirrels, but would like to use these .22 caliber precharged pneumatics for turkey and other upland game, such as quail and dove. While we believe the regulations cover the turkey hunting explicitly, can you confirm if it is also legal to take dove and quail with these firearms? (Jason C., Windsor)

Answer: Resident small game (as listed in California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 257) may be taken with an air rifle firing pellets and powered by compressed air or gas. This includes: wild turkey (must use at least 0.177 caliber or larger), Eurasian collared doves, quail, non-protected squirrels, jack rabbits and cottontails, in addition to the other resident small game species defined in section 257.

Western mourning dove, white-winged dove and band-tailed pigeons are listed as migratory game birds and may not be taken with an air rifle.


Continue diving for fish after abalone limit reached?
Question: Just a quick question now that abalone season is upon us. I took up spearfishing last season and really enjoy it. I know the regulations state that once you reach your limit on abalone you must immediately stop diving. Does this mean stop diving altogether or just for abalone? I guess the question I am asking is can I continue to dive and spearfish after I get my limit of abalone? (Tom R.)

Answer: It is legal to spearfish after harvesting abalone. Abalone divers may take up to three abalone per day, and no more than three abalone may be possessed at any time. Nothing in the regulations requires you to exit the water after harvesting a limit of abalone. However, individuals “taking abalone shall stop detaching abalone when the limit of three is reached” (CCR Title 14, section 29.15(c)). This section also requires abalone divers to retain all legal-sized abalone they detach until they reach the limit.


Crayfish for bait?
Question: I was wondering if you can use crayfish as bait when fishing for freshwater fish, such as bass? (Jerry Y.)

Answer: Generally, crayfish may be used for bait statewide, with some exceptions (see CCR Title 14, sections 4.00 and 5.35). Even though crayfish are allowed as bait for bass fishing in most areas of California, if the crayfish were not caught and used in the same waters from where taken, many lakes prohibit anglers entering lakes with live bait. This is due to the potential for the introduction of exotic species, such as quagga and zebra mussels. There is no way to certify the bait and water holding the bait are free from these species. If you plan on using crayfish brought into a lake, it is important to check ahead of time with the operator of the lake to see if they allow importation of legally acquired bait.


Underwater camera to find trout?
Question: Is it legal to use an underwater camera to look for trout that may be hiding underneath the creek/river bank? Does it matter if it’s used while engaged in the actual activity of trout fishing or when not in possession of a fishing pole? (Jim B., Elk Grove)

Answer: An electronic viewing device, such as an underwater camera, would be legal but a non-electronic viewing device (such as goggles, scuba mask, etc.), would be prohibited for taking fish (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 2.09). There’s an exception, though, under the provisions of spearfishing (CCR Title 14, section 2.30).

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

 

Retrieving Game After Shoot Time

Waterfowl hunting at dusk (USFWS photo)

Question: This situation happened to me. Five minutes before the end of shooting time I knocked down a snow goose that fell out of range and started swimming. I waded after it in the flooded rice field but couldn’t catch it or get within range until after shooting time ended. In a case like that, do I shoot late or let it go and risk a waste of game citation? Do wardens consider “spirit of the law” as opposed to “letter of the law?” (Jim S.)

Answer: If you are “in hot pursuit” of the goose, you should be able to reach it before the end of shoot time, or at least within a minute or two! Bottom line answer is this: It is illegal to take the bird after legal shoot time. If a warden was watching you pursue the game and shoot late, they would use their judgment as to whether a crime was committed. On the other hand, waste of game only applies when a person does not make a reasonable effort to retrieve. If the hunter tries to catch it and it swims off, it is a reasonable effort. Breaking the law is not a reasonable effort. So, if the hunter doesn’t shoot late, no laws are broken!


Lures with glowing light attractants?
Question:I just saw some new trout lures containing little glow sticks to attract fish. Someone told me that using light to attract fish is illegal and hence these lures are illegal to use. What do you think? (Shawn A.)

Answer: These lures sound as if they are legal. There are no fish and game laws prohibiting using light to attract fish. Lights may be used at night when and where such fishing is allowed, and lights may be used on or as part of any fishing tackle (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 2.15).


Buying an extra license to keep handy?
Question: Several years ago, I lost my fishing license and could not locate the
duplicate, so I was forced to purchase a new license. About a month later, I found the lost license, and at that point technically had two licenses for the same year (with ocean enhancement validation, etc). I found that having an extra license gave me piece of mind because as I transitioned from my car to a friend’s, to a boat, to a sport fishing charter, I could keep one in my dry box (that goes from car to boat) and another with my fishing gear. Is there any regulation prohibiting me from doing this intentionally? From an economic point of view, it would be worth the extra cost to me to have the extra piece of mind, and I don’t mind that the funds go to an important state program. Can I purchase more than one fishing license so that I can always be sure to have one in my possession, no matter how forgetful I become? (Brent C., Santa Barbara)

Answer: Unfortunately, you cannot purchase more than one license intentionally. However, if your license is lost, you may purchase a duplicate license.

According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Sport Fishing Program Analyst Glenn Underwood, a person is prohibited from obtaining more than one license, tag, permit, reservation or other entitlement of the same type, except for certain short term licenses (Fish and Game Code, section 1053(1)). This section does allow a person to obtain a duplicate license, tag, permit, reservation or other entitlement upon the loss or destruction of the original with the payment of the duplicate fee.

CDFW has an Automated License Data System (ALDS) that keeps track of the licenses a person has purchased and makes obtaining a duplicate sport fishing or hunting license easy from any license agent. The ALDS enforces license rules regarding the number of licenses a person may possess and will not allow a person to purchase a second annual sport fishing or hunting license.


Starfish hunting
Question: Is it legal to take a starfish off the rocks in the ocean? If it is, do you need a license? (Mike H.)

Answer: Sea stars (starfish) may not be taken off the nearshore rocks in California if they are between the mean high tide line and 1,000 feet seaward of the mean low tide line. Outside of this zone you may take 35 sea stars, and yes, you’ll need a valid fishing license. And if you do still choose to venture out past the 1,000 ft. zone for them, and you’re north of Yankee Point, you can only take them while free diving (CCR Title 14, section 29.05(d)).

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

How to Fish the Lobster Opener?

California Spiny Lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

California Spiny Lobster (CDFW photo by Derek Stein)

Question: I know that lobster season opens at 12:00:01 Sept. 27, 2014. If the hoop wet time is a maximum two hours, can I drop my hoops at 10:15 p.m. Sept. 26, 2014 and pull them after midnight? (George G.)

Answer: No, attempting to take lobsters is “fishing” and so if you drop your hoop nets before the season officially opens, you will be fishing out of season. Lobster season officially opens during the first minute of the first day of the season (12:00:01 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 27). The two hour wet time requirement is designed to require the net to be checked every two hours once it is legally in the water. So this means that even if you legally drop your hoop nets in the water a second after midnight, they must be serviced by 2:00:01 a.m.!


Protocols for packing deer out?
Question: I am preparing for my deer hunt and planning to hike 2½ miles one way into a place to try to harvest my deer. If I am successful I will need to pack the animal back out by myself, and this may be an all-day sucker. If this animal is large enough, I am probably going to have to quarter it and hump it out. If this is the case, do I take the head and antlers out with the tag on them, then make successive trips back in, or how do people normally do this? I don’t want to take the head out and put it in the back of my truck, risking someone might take it, and then bring another load out and find I have no evidence. Do you have a suggested protocol I should follow? Thanks. (Rick L.)

Answer: Most hunters in your situation like to bring a small saw to cut the antlers and skull cap from the head as you are not required to keep the whole head of a deer you legally harvest. The law requires that upon taking a deer, you must immediately fill out the tag completely and attach it to the antlers (or ear if an antlerless hunt) and then keep it for 15 days after the close of the season. In your case, the antlers and skull cap could be placed in your locked car in a box or plastic bag until all your meat is hauled out. Depending upon the type of terrain and the size of the deer, many hunters either take out quarters of their deer, or elect to bone it out in the field.

You might also consider using a game-carrier with wheels so that you can keep your game with you at all times while packing it out. Any wildlife officer that contacts you during this process will likely want to check your tagged antlers, but wildlife officers understand that it isn’t always possible to carry the whole deer to your car in one trip.


Ocean salmon loophole?
Question: There has been a lot of discrepancy recently due to a bit of a loophole in the ocean salmon regulations. I have been given different answers by a number of people and would like to have it clarified. I live in Santa Cruz, and in the past few weeks there have been a lot of incidental salmon catches in shallow water while targeting rockfish or lingcod. Because it is entirely incidental catch, I don’t see a problem keeping it even though it was caught on a barbed hook. As long as it was of legal size and landed with a net, it should be ok. Of course, if you choose to keep it you would have to switch to salmon-legal gear, but until you did keep one, you can’t prevent one from slamming an iron as you’re reeling up. So basically, if I am targeting rockfish using the appropriate gear, and I catch a salmon while doing so, could I land it using the required net, and if it was 24 inches, keep it and then resume fishing with salmon legal gear? (Azure C., Santa Cruz)

Answer: You are incorrect about a loophole. It is unlawful to take salmon (north of Point Conception) with a barbed hook, period. No more than two single-point, single-shank barbless hooks shall be used and no more than one rod per angler when fishing for salmon or fishing from a boat with salmon on board. If an angler hooks a salmon while fishing for rockfish using barbed hooks, the fish must be immediately released.


Auto hook setter legal?
Question: I do a lot of fishing in lakes and the Delta. Can an auto hook-setter be used on local lakes and rivers? Please help! (Anonymous)

Answer: Yes.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Why Don’t Some Deer Shed Their Antlers?

Stag1

Deer that don’t shed their antlers are commonly called “stags”. This is usually the result of some kind of injury (or maybe deformity) of the testicles. Weird looking antlers can also result from injury to the antlers while in velvet. (Photo by Carrie Wilson)

Question: I recently heard about a few Southern California bucks that seem to carry their antlers year round. One person I heard from insisted they were mountain biking and repeatedly saw the same deer in January and in May with a 4×3 rack. While I disagreed with the person telling me this, I admitted I am no biologist and didn’t know what they were seeing. Do some deer out here not shed their antlers? I was under the impression that even though nutrition, water and climate might affect when they shed, that deer always shed their antlers. Can you share some info or point us in the right direction to learn more about the antler shedding process here in SoCal? (Al Q.)

Answer: Deer that don’t shed their antlers are commonly called “stags”. This is usually the result of some kind of injury (or maybe deformity) of the testicles. Testosterone plays a role in both antler development and shedding, so injuries can really affect the types of antlers they have. Weird looking antlers can also result from injury to the antlers while in velvet … but those kind usually fall off normally and are replaced the next year with “normal” antlers.

So, this proves there are indeed exceptions to every rule — even biological ones!


Incidental take while spear fishing?
Question: What happens if a spearfishing diver spots a large fish and shoots and spears it without realizing until too late that it’s a giant (black) sea bass or another prohibited species? Then after the fish is speared and brought to the surface, the spearfisher identifies they have a fish they can’t take or possess and promptly returns it to the ocean. Has the spearfisher violated any laws?

A fisherman (angler) who catches a prohibited species while fishing for other species can argue that the take was unintentional/incidental. Could the spearfisher successfully make a similar argument? (Steve H.)

Answer: Spear fishermen are responsible for identifying their targets before they pull the trigger and can be held accountable for shooting a prohibited species. They are also responsible for ensuring that any fish they shoot meets the minimum size limit requirements for that species, again, before they pull the trigger.

A short lingcod or illegal giant sea bass, for example, is unlikely to survive after being shot by a spear fisherman who has the ability to select his target carefully; a short or illegal fish is much more likely to survive being hooked and released by an angler fishing from a boat, who cannot selectively target which individual fish he wishes to catch.

If a diver is unsure about the size or identity of the fish he/she’s aiming at, he/she should choose a different target. Shooting a fish that you’re unsure of could be illegal, and we believe that many spear fishermen would consider it unethical, as well.

All of these same principles also apply to hunters. No one with a rifle, shotgun, spear gun or even bow should pull the trigger unless absolutely 100 percent sure that their intended target is of legal size, species, gender, etc. An accurate (or even lucky) shot made, but with an error in judgment, isn’t worth the repercussions of breaking the very laws enacted to protect the state’s fish and game.


Why the health warnings for brown trout?
Question: In the fishing regulations there are safe eating guidelines for Donner Lake. I am trying to figure out why there are different recommendations for brown trout compared to rainbow trout. The guidelines suggest people eat only one serving of browns vs. seven servings of rainbows. Why? (Tim Worley)

Answer: The recommendations in our regulation booklet are from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The recommendations are probably from actual studies done by OEHHA of mercury levels in edible flesh from these two species from Donner Lake.

According to Dr. William Cox, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Program Manager of Fish Production and Distribution, we do not plant brown trout in Donner and so those fish are essentially wild and older in the system. Therefore, they have been on natural diets and accumulating mercury from the naturally occurring insects and aquatic life that comprises their food chain.

CDFW does plant rainbow trout in Donner as part of what we call a “put-and- take” fishery. For most of their lives those fish are not eating natural feeds, and are generally not piscivorous like the brown trout, so they accumulate much less mercury. Humans, especially children and women of child bearing ages, need to limit their intake of mercury because it can have serious health effects, including death.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Salmon Trolling vs Mooching

Don Mah with daughter Tiffany on her first fishing trip (Photo by Tom Mattusch)

Don Mah with daughter Tiffany on her first fishing trip (Photo by Tom Mattusch)

Question: When trolling for salmon between Point Conception and Horse Mountain, are treble hooks allowed on spoons or lures if they are barbless? Or does the two single point, single shank hook regulation apply as if I were bait fishing? The rules are clear regarding when you are not trolling, but they do not seem to elaborate on allowable gear when you ARE trolling. (Rick S.)

Answer: No, you may not use treble hooks for salmon in the area you describe. Only single barbless hooks may be used, and whether trolling or drifting with bait (mooching), you may only use two single barbless hooks per line. The law says, “No more than two (2) single point, single shank barbless hooks shall be used in the ocean north of Point Conception when salmon fishing or fishing from any boat or floating device with salmon on board.” (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.80(a)(2)).

This section does not specifically address trolling or mooching, so it applies to all salmon fishing, including trolling or drifting with bait.


Trout limits while on multiday vacation
Question: My wife and I will be taking a two week vacation and plan to do a lot of trout fishing. Is our 10 fish bag limit the same as 10 fish possession limit? We will be out 10 days, and due to lack of ice in the remote area where we are going, we plan to can our daily limits of fish. Is there anything wrong with this?

I know people who fish and catch their limits daily, and then when they get home they process (can or smoke) the fish each evening in their homes. I know they possess more than a 10 fish limit, but is this legal? If so, why could my wife and I not do the same because when we are out camping in our RV, wouldn’t that be considered our second home? (Eric S.)

Answer: If the people you describe retain more than their allowed possession limits in any form, they are in violation. The law requires that each person may have no more than one legal possession limit in any form, whether it’s fresh, frozen, canned or smoked (CCR Title 14, section 1.17). Possession limits even apply in your home.

In most trout waters, the possession limit is the equivalent of two daily bag limits. There are also special brook trout regulations in many areas so you really need to know the body of water(s) where you will be fishing. Check out sections 7.00 and 7.50(a) in the 2014-2015 Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations to be sure of the limits you are allowed.


Lost Commercial Fishing Gear
Question: I have a question regarding what appears to be abandoned commercial fishing gear. My three dive buddies and I are all instructors and regularly find lost fishing gear snaring marine life. Generally, they are old lobster traps without any line or buoys still attached. Sometimes the traps still contain live lobsters in them. We have been afraid to touch them.

Can we release lobsters from what looks to be lost gear? Any help you can provide to help us understand what we can and can’t do, and under what rules, would be appreciated. We are tired of just swimming by them. (Randall Krueger, Visalia)

Answer: Thank you for contacting us. Lost fishing gear – both commercial and recreational – sits on the seafloor, gets caught on rocks, and can remain in the marine environment for years, harming habitats and continuing to catch fish and invertebrates.

You cannot keep the lobster caught in the lost traps, but you can let them go and leave the trap doors open so that they no longer trap marine life, then report the location of the lost gear to one of the following organizations.

If you are able, please report sightings of lost recreational and commercial fishing gear (even anonymous reports are accepted) by calling (888) 491-GEAR or visiting www.seadocsociety.org/california-lost-fishing-gear-removal-project/. You may also contact the Ocean Defenders Alliance at (714) 875-5881 or www.oceandefenders.org/.


150 yard safety zone around my own buildings?
Question: I live in a rural area. Can I legally hunt within 150 yards of my own residence? Can I hunt within 150 yards of anyone else’s if I have their written permission? (Jess K.)

Answer: Yes. These are safety zone restrictions but as long as there are no other local laws or ordinances that prohibit hunting or the discharge of a firearm, then you can hunt within 150 yards of your own residence or any other residence where you have obtained express permission of the owner or person in possession of the premises (Fish and Game Code, section 3004(a)).

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Feeding Wildlife May Actually Hurt Them

Young raccoons (Ohio DNR photo by Jerry Wilder)

Young raccoons (Ohio DNR photo by Jerry Wilder)

Question: I have a question about feeding raccoons. My good-intentioned neighbor puts large pans of dog food out every night for the raccoons. We live in a very close community and the raccoons keep me awake at night with sounds of their fighting over food. They also venture onto my patio to cause more commotion and damage. I’ve tried everything to discourage their visits – ammonia-soaked rags, cayenne pepper, lights, etc. Nothing works.

I’ve tried to talk to my neighbor, telling her it’s not good for wildlife to be fed by an unnatural food source, but she turns a deaf ear. Are there laws against feeding wildlife? Is there any other advice you can give me? (Anonymous)

Answer: While feeding wildlife makes those people doing so feel good, in the long run it is often to the detriment of the animal recipients. Although many animals will eat offered food, temporarily satisfying their hunger, in reality, many human foods lack the protein and nutritional components animals need for good health.

So, although your neighbor may be well-intentioned, she’s actually hurting the wildlife and her neighbors by encouraging wild animals to get too comfortable around humans. When animals concentrate around food, they are more likely to spread diseases to each other and to domestic pets. When wild animals lose their natural fear of humans, they can become very aggressive. Coyotes, in particular, are well-known for eating small pets because they do not differentiate between the food you leave for them and other prey items, like dogs and cats.

People often think they are just feeding cute, furry critters. But if they were to put a surveillance camera out, they would likely be surprised to find out what’s actually eating the food at night. They would probably be appalled to discover animals fighting over the food, and that they’re actually keeping the neighborhood rats fat and happy.

By feeding wildlife, your neighbor may be disrupting the animals’ normal behavior patterns in violation of California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 14, section 251.1. There may also be a local ordinance that bans feeding of some wild animals. Los Angeles County, for example, has an ordinance that prohibits feeding of “non-domesticated mammalian predators, including but not limited to, coyotes, raccoons, foxes and opossums.”

Feeding raccoons also presents a real human health risk. Raccoons are frequent carriers of a potentially fatal human pathogen, raccoon roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis. This roundworm is transmitted through contact with the feces of raccoons and has caused fatalities in humans, including toddlers who will put raccoon feces in their mouths.

For more information, please go to: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Documents/RaccoonRoundworms.pdf.


Using trout for bait?
Question: Can you please clarify whether trout can be used in California inland waters as bait? (Andrew G.)

Answer: Trout may not be used for bait. Statewide bait-fish regulations for all inland fishing districts begin with, “Except as provided below, live or dead fin fish shall not be used or possessed for use as bait . . .” (CCR Title 14, sections 4.00-4.30.) Therefore, if the species is not specifically authorized in that section, it may not be used for bait. Even though trout are not specifically prohibited from being use as bait in the law, neither are they specifically authorized, and are therefore included in the general prohibition against using (any) live or dead finfish.

In addition, there are only two districts (Valley and South Central) where any species of finfish that is lawfully taken may be used for bait. However, trout and salmon are specifically excluded (CCR Title 14, section 4.20(d)). This is the provision that authorizes the use of bluegill for taking striped bass in the Delta.


How often to check hoop nets?
Question: When fishing my hoop nets in the river or ocean, how often do I need to check them?

Answer:  Hoop nets are required to be checked at intervals not to exceed two hours (CCR Title 14, section 29.80). The owner of the hoop net or the person who placed the hoop net into the water must raise the hoop net to the surface and inspect the contents of the hoop net at intervals not to exceed two hours (CCR Title14, section 29.80(b)). Any hoop net abandoned or left unchecked for more than two hours may be considered abandoned and may be seized by any person authorized to enforce these regulations.


Picking up antler sheds?
Question: Is it illegal in California to pick up antlers found in the wild? I see it is legal in every other state pretty much as long as you are not harassing the wildlife or trespassing. I have no intention of selling them or using them in a harmful way. I just want a little decoration around the house. (Kristian D.)

Answer: Yes, it is legal to collect antlers that have been naturally shed or dropped by deer or elk in California. However, be sure to check local regulations because some areas (e.g. most parks) do not allow collecting of sheds in areas under their jurisdiction.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at Cal.Outdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Please do not reply to this e-mail. DFGNews@wildlife.ca.gov is for outgoing messages only and is not checked for incoming mail. For questions about this News Release, contact the individual(s) listed above. Thank you.

Culling Diseased Trout in Zero-Kill Streams?

Rainbow trout from Hot Creek. Does it have whirling disease or not? (Photo by Ray Found)

Question: We were fishing Hot Creek in Mono County last weekend, and my friend caught a rainbow trout that looked unhealthy. We thought it might have Whirling Disease (See photo above).

Based on the picture, is this a likely case of whirling disease? Have fish with this disease been found in Hot Creek before? Assuming this was a case of whirling disease, what should we have done? We never keep fish and Hot Creek has zero-kill regulations, but it would seem wise to remove a whirling-diseased fish from the stream to give to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) for examination. Since we were unsure, we released it. In the future, what would be the best practice for maintaining the health of the fisheries in the watershed if we knew this was a diseased fish? Could we have collected this fish to turn over to the DFG for evaluation? (Ray F.)

Answer: This may be a case of whirling disease (WD), but it’s impossible to make that determination based on the photo alone. Whirling disease afflicts juvenile fish causing neurological damage and skeletal deformation. Afflicted fish may not be able to swim in a normal manner. When startled, they “whirl” rather than darting away as a normal fish would. Survival rates for infected fingerlings are low (~10 percent), and those that do survive have difficulty feeding and become easy prey for predators. Humans cannot be afflicted with the disease.

According to DFG Senior Fish Health Coordinator Dr. Mark A. Adkison, whirling disease has a tropism for the cranial cartilage (e.g., the cranium appears turned or twisted). The disease is carried by the aquatic oligochaete Tubifex tubifex (a segmented worm) wherein spores (actinospores) develop and are released into the environment. These spores infect fish through the skin. The parasite develops in the skin for a few days and then travels through the nerves and spinal cord, eventually emerging from the nerves into the cranial cartilage where it grows and develops into its final spore stage (myxospores).

As part of the development process in young fish, the parasite consumes and deforms the cartilage. This causes the cranial deformities such as a sloped head, crooked jaw and shortened operculum so commonly seen in WD-infected fish. Since the fish in the photo does not have the characteristic cranial deformities that typically accompany such severe spinal deformities, the deformities may be due to some other cause.

Other possibilities include nutritional deficiencies or coldwater disease (CWD) which can also cause spinal deformities like the ones seen in the fish in the photo. Flavobacterium psychrophilum is a bacteria present in most, if not all trout waters of the state and is the causative agent of CWD. This disease is not a problem in the wild. It is a disease of concern in our hatcheries and it’s fairly easy to control by reducing fish densities and antibiotic treatment. Mortalities are typically acute.

Whirling disease is probably present in Hot Creek since it flows into the upper Owens River, and the upper Owens River is positive for WD. Therefore, it is likely that Hot Creek is positive for WD. The only way to tell for sure if a fish has WD is to test the fish for the presence of the WD parasite (myxospores) itself. The test is a terminal one though and not something you could do visually or perform stream side.

DFG Associate Fish Pathologist Dr. Garry O. Kelley adds that once Myxobolus cerebralis (which causes WD) is established in a natural system, it’s there for good. There’s strong evidence that suggest WD prevalence in the wild may be reduced by eliminating susceptible or infected salmonids and by reducing habitats for the other host, the aquatic oligochaete.

Reducing WD prevalence will help recruitment efforts since the parasite prefers the young of the year. If the regulations allow bag limits, then removing any deformed fish would be welcomed. Just keep in mind that a fish that grossly appears WD-positive may actually be negative, even in WD-positive waters. Specifically, the deformities could be genetic, an injury or some other pathogen (e.g., cold water disease).

As far as what to do with a diseased fish, from a biological point of view, if the fish was infected with WD to the point where it had severe deformities, it would probably be good to remove it from the creek to decrease the WD spore load in the environment. However, from the enforcement side, if it’s a no kill zone then it’s up to enforcement as to whether they would cite the fisherman for not returning the fish to the stream.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.