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Parasite spreading concern on Klamath River
Published June 10, 2004
A parasite that is causing infection and death
among young salmon in the lower Klamath River is
raising concerns for federal and state officials
and other water interests.
"It has us real worried," said Dave Sabo, manager
of the Klamath Reclamation Project.
The parasite Ceratomyxa shasta, called C shasta
for short, is common in the main stem of the
Klamath River system, from the Pacific Ocean to
the Williamson River.
The worms find their way into the digestive tracts
of salmonid fish, which include salmon, steelhead
Inside the fish's intestine, the parasite feeds on
tissue and reproduces, often killing the fish by
causing an infection.
"We are seeing a high incidence of disease in our
out-migrant fish," said Toz Soto, fisheries
biologist for the Karuk Tribe, one of the
In early May, scientists on the Klamath River
started finding dead salmon fingerlings in traps
between I-5 and the Scott River, said Al Donner,
spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The parasite has killed 50 to 80 percent of the
young salmon in some places.
Officials and scientists couldn't immediately
estimate how many total fish the parasite might
kill. It's presumed that some dead fish can't be
seen in the murky water, and that birds consume
many dead fish before they are seen by scientists.
"The temperatures are good and the oxygen levels
are good for fish," said John Engbring, director
of the Fish and Wildlife Service's California and
Nevada Operations office in Sacramento.
"At this point, we don't know if this is more
natural, or if there are some human causes that
are making it more significant," Engbring said.
"We want to make sure that the fishery is as
healthy as it can be," Sabo said.
The California Department of Fish and Game
released more than 5 million fish from the Iron
Gate Fish hatchery over the past month.
The C shasta parasite is just one of the many
dangers salmon face in their life cycle. Larger
fish, birds, seals and fishermen all take a toll
on fish populations.
He said the average return for each run of adult
chinook salmon is 10,000 to 15,000. The hatchery
needs 8,000 adults to collect eggs.
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