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Johnson Lake drained in effort to eliminate parasite

Alberta’s Johnson Lake drained in effort to eliminate parasite
WATCH: Parks Canada has partially drained Alberta's Johnson Lake in an effort to eliminate whirling disease and to save endangered trout in the area. Tiffany Lizée reports.

Parks Canada has taken a dramatic step in the war against whirling disease by partially draining Johnson Lake in Alberta.

SEE BELOW: The difference in Johnson Lake from October 2019 with low water levels to normal in September 2016.

Johnson Lake is currently closed to the public and will remain off-limits until May of next year while work is being done.
Johnson Lake is currently closed to the public and will remain off-limits until May of next year while work is being done. Global News
The first case in Canada was discovered in the reservoir near Banff back in 2016 and has since been confirmed in other Alberta creeks and rivers.
The first case in Canada was discovered in the reservoir near Banff back in 2016 and has since been confirmed in other Alberta creeks and rivers. Global News

They are lowering the reservoir water levels in efforts to eliminate the parasite and save endangered trout in the area.

Johnson Lake is currently closed to the public and will remain off-limits until May of next year while work is being done.

Bill Hunt, Banff’s resource conservation manager, said it’s very important that the disease doesn’t move from this water body into adjacent water bodies.

READ MORE: Alberta opening first whirling disease laboratory

Bill Hunt, Banff’s resource conservation manager, said eliminating the wooded, root habitat for smaller fish will help eradicate the last remaining salmonids.
Bill Hunt, Banff’s resource conservation manager, said eliminating the wooded, root habitat for smaller fish will help eradicate the last remaining salmonids. Global News

Johnson Lake reservoir sits adjacent to two other water bodies that tie into some of our critical habitat for salmonid like cutthroat trout.

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“This is a threatened species in Canada and these are some of the most important pure strains of Westslope Cutthroat Trout left in Banff National Park,” said Hunt.

READ MORE: World-class trout stream in Alberta infected by whirling disease: CFIA

Fish infected with whirling disease.
Fish infected with whirling disease. Colorado Parks & Wildlife

The name whirling disease comes from the erratic swimming patterns of infected fish.

“Whirling disease doesn’t affect people and it doesn’t affect your pets,” Hunt said.

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“It’s completely safe for humans and animals, but it does affect members of the salmonid family so those are trout whitefish and char.”

The disease is caused by an invasive microscopic parasite that requires a salmonid fish and aquatic-worm as hosts.

READ MORE: Alberta survey looks for impact of whirling disease on Bow River

Alberta Parks says the parasite has a complex life cycle that requires a salmonid fish and an aquatic worm, Tubifex tubifex, as hosts.
Alberta Parks says the parasite has a complex life cycle that requires a salmonid fish and an aquatic worm, Tubifex tubifex, as hosts. Alberta Environment and Parks

READ MORE: Whirling disease found in Banff lake fish spreads to Bow River: CFIA

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“Rainbow trout and cutthroat trout can have up to 90 per cent mortality at the juvenile stage if they’re infected.” said Jon Mee, a professor of biology at Mount Royal University.

“It’s very bad for these fish and can cause serious declines in population”

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The first case in Canada was discovered in the reservoir near Banff back in 2016 and has since been confirmed in other Alberta creeks and rivers.

  • Bow River
  • North Saskatchewan River
  • Oldman River
  • Red Deer River

READ MORE: Whirling disease in fish confirmed in Crowsnest River: CFIA

It affects several trout species, including cutthroat and bull trout which are both threatened species.

Crews have removed most of the fish from the lake, and are lowering the water level as a final step.

With no fish in the lake – officials are confident the parasite in Johnson Lake will die off within the next few years but are still asking people to help in the fight.

“Clean, drain and dry are the three key messages,” said Hunt.

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Alberta Parks saiid the Clean, Drain and Dry practices provide simple and effective direction on how to prevent the spread of whirling disease and aquatic invasive species.
Alberta Parks saiid the Clean, Drain and Dry practices provide simple and effective direction on how to prevent the spread of whirling disease and aquatic invasive species. Alberta Environment and Parks

“Clean off your gear before you bring it into a water body and clean it off as you leave a water body.”

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The Parks Canada website provides more information on how we can avoid the spread of aquatic invasive species, such as zebra or quagga mussels, from one water body to another.