Grand Forks Herald | CATFISH DIE-OFF: DNR results cite two bacterial infections

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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CATFISH DIE-OFF: DNR results cite two bacterial infections
By Brad Dokken, Herald Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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Preliminary results from the Minnesota Department of Natural indicate a near-dead catfish captured for testing from the Red River near Grand Forks suffered from two bacterial infections. Staff from the DNR's pathology lab in St. Paul said Monday they had found columnaris bacteria on the gill of the catfish, and a second bacteria, aeromonas, from a skin lesion and from samples of the kidney and intestine. Both bacteria occur naturally but typically don't affect fish unless there's some other stress factor present to weaken the fish and make it more susceptible to infection. In the case of the recent fish kill near Grand Forks, which has affected only channel catfish, water temperatures and low river flows could have created the right conditions to produce the dieoff, pathology staff said. News of the die-off surfaced Sept. 8, when a local angler and fishing guide reported counting about 300 dead catfish in a stretch of river upstream from Grand Forks. Sept. 10, a crew from the DNR's area fisheries office in Detroit Lakes, Minn., counted 1,600 dead catfish in a nine-mile stretch of river upstream from Grand Forks. The fish ranged in size from 5 inches to about 30 inches. The next day, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologist encountered dead catfish as far upstream as Belmont Park in Traill County, which means the size of the die-off stands to be considerably higher than 1,600. The DNR crew also captured the single live fish that was sent to St. Paul for testing. Besides skin lesions, the fish had swollen kidneys, a hemorrhaged liver and necrotic, or dead, tissue in the gills. The fish's head was badly discovered, and one eyeball was beginning to decay. In an e-mail circulated to DNR staff Monday, Ling Shen, fisheries health specialist for the agency in St. Paul, said it's difficult to say which infection occurred first. The likely scenario, she said, is that columnaris affected the gills and weakened the fish's immune system, and aeromonas occurred as secondary infection and caused the rest of the damage.

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Grand Forks Herald | CATFISH DIE-OFF: DNR results cite two bacterial infections

Additional tests are planned to confirm the diagnosis and rule out the possibility of viruses such as channel catfish virus or viral hemorrhagic septicemia, also known as VHS. Results from the viral tests won't be available for some time, Shen wrote in her e-mail. Monday's preliminary diagnosis is consistent with earlier predictions that columnaris likely had triggered the die-off. Lynn Schlueter, Red River fisheries biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake, said he wasn't surprised by the aeromonas finding, either. “Both of those are fairly common diseases, both in hatchery situations and in the wild,” Schlueter said. “And with any disease like this, you've got to have all of the factors in place and just right for the stuff to really blossom. Typically, a lot of this is temperature dependent. It's out there and doesn't show up until you get that first blast-off of cold.” For managers and others studying the die-off, the next step is to figure out what made the catfish susceptible to infection. “Let's take a look at what conditions were ahead of the outbreak,” Schlueter said. “While we might not be able to prevent it, at least we can start being aware of what triggered it.” Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or

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