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September 20, 2001                        Ken Burton 202-208-5634


An extensive national database outlining the distribution of
disease-associated pathogens in
America's wild and free-ranging fish populations   viewed as critical to
fishery management
decisions throughout the United States   was unveiled today by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife
Service.  Scientists said it points to "a relatively healthy picture."

The National Wild Fish Health Survey is the first effort to develop a
readily accessible, reliable
and scientifically-sound database that documents the national
distribution of specific pathogens 
(organisms capable of causing disease) in free-ranging fish.  The project
was prompted in 1996,
in part, when whirling disease began killing trout in Montana and
Colorado.  Whirling disease
has also been found in trout populations in 20 other states.

Biologists have expressed concern about earlier theories that more fish
pathogens might be
infecting fish populations previously believed immune to certain
diseases, but the Survey does
not show that to be happening.

Cathleen Short, Assistant Director for Fisheries and Habitat
Conservation, said Senator Conrad
Burns deserved credit for being "a driving force" behind making the
Survey a reality.  "Without
the senator's leadership, the Survey would not have happened.  It is a
critically important piece
of work for which the entire nation can be grateful. 

"Healthy fish mean a healthy environment and a healthy economy," said
Short.  "This Survey
tells us about potential threats to the well-being of America's fish
populations and helps
managers see that this resource remains vital and abundant."

Short said that much of the present understanding of fish pathogens and
the diseases they cause
has been gained by observing captive fish populations in either
hatcheries or laboratories, and
that "surprisingly little is known about the prevalence of pathogens
among wild, free-ranging 
fish.  That's another reason why this Survey is very important."


Short said the Survey indicates that the overwhelming majority of fish
tested from the
wild are healthy, "and that's terrific news for the nation."

The Survey is conducted through a partnership of natural resource
management organizations,
including other Federal, Native American, State and private agencies and
groups. It becomes
available to fisheries managers and the public today on a Worldwide
Web-based internet site, at

The Survey divides fish pathogens into two main groups: Principal Fish
Pathogens and
Pathogens of Regional Importance. Principal Fish Pathogens are those
tested at all nine U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Health Centers across the country.  Many
of those tested for the 
Survey are also included within the Service's National Fish Hatchery
inspection program.  This 
group is extensive and includes the organisms that cause whirling disease
and bacterial kidney 
disease.  The other group of pathogens tested are those that the Fish
Health Centers deem 
important in their part of the country.  Those are called Pathogens of
Regional Importance and 
include largemouth bass virus in the Southeast and Asian tapeworm in the

Fish pathogens comprise a large and diverse group of organisms ranging
from microscopic
bacteria and viruses to large parasitic worms.  The severity of disease
caused by fish pathogens
also varies widely and depends on a number of important factors.  Some
pathogens cause only
mild effects, if any, on individual fish while others may cause
catastrophic die-offs of whole
populations.  Disease results from the unstable interaction of three main
variables: the fish host,
the fish pathogen and the water the fish live in.  Fish are continually
exposed to pathogens but
generally become diseased when stressed by contaminants, poor water
quality or other similar
factors.  A few pathogens may cause disease in healthy fish regardless of

Understanding the distribution of fish pathogens throughout the United
States will help
strengthen the biological basis of laws and regulations that govern the
sale and transport of
aquatic species as well as aquaculture products.  That information can
help protect such
industries from costly diseases and indirectly safeguard thousands of
American jobs.

The Survey also promotes recreational fishing, ensuring that both wild
fish and stocks enhanced
with hatchery-reared fish are healthy and sustainable.  Healthy
recreational fisheries provide the
base for 1.3 million jobs and $70 billion in economic output generated by
more than 50 million
anglers in the United States.

The Survey will also be an important aid to biologists working on
restoration and recovery of
threatened and endangered species.  Knowledge about pathogens of
imperiled species and the
ecosystems into which they are to be reintroduced will significantly
improve the  success of such
management actions in returning or restoring imperiled species to their
natural habitats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving,
protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for
the continuing benefit of 


the American people.  The Service manages the 93-million-acre National
Wildlife Refuge
System, which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges,
thousands of small 
wetlands and other special management areas.  It also operates 70
national fish hatcheries, 64
fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations.  The
agency enforces Federal
wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory
bird populations,
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores
wildlife habitat such as wetlands,
and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.  It also
oversees the Federal Aid
program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes
on fishing and hunting
equipment to state wildlife agencies.   

                             - FWS -