Gill Lice Found on Trout in Virginia

According to a press release from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, biologists have recently identified gill lice on rainbow trout in a stream in southwestern Virginia.  DWR is now asking anglers to assist in determining the extent of gill lice by being on the lookout while fishing their favorite trout streams.

Trout infected with gill lice were observed on Blue Springs Creek, a tributary to Cripple Creek, located in Smyth County and also in Wythe County.  Blue Springs Creek has a wild rainbow trout population, but gill lice were observed on wild trout as well as trout of hatchery origin.

Gill lice are tiny parasites that attach to a trout’s gills, mouth and fins. A minor gill lice infection can generally be tolerated, but a heavy infection can have a negative impact on a fish’s ability to breathe. The degree of impact to a trout population can depend on the level of infection and the presence of any other stressors such as high water temperature.

The gill lice recently found in southwestern Virginia are likely a species that specifically uses rainbow trout and related species as its host.  Another species of gill lice only infects brook trout. DWR biologists collected gill lice samples and have submitted them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for identification.  Since they were found on rainbow trout, however, they are likely the species that poses little threat to native brook trout populations.

DWR staff are currently working to determine whether gill lice infections are isolated to Blue Springs Creek, are present in other parts of the Cripple Creek watershed, or have been introduced to other waters in Virginia. After the extent of the gill lice has been assessed, DWR will develop a plan to limit the spread to uninfected waters and to reduce the impacts in waters where gill lice are found.

Trout infected with gill lice can be safely eaten as long as they are properly cooked. Anglers can assist DWR by reporting trout infected with gill lice. Additionally, anglers are encouraged to clean and dry their fishing equipment after use, especially if they intend to travel to different waters.

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Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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