Since June, a large number of brown trout and brook trout at the Rome Hatchery have been suffering from a rare bacterial fish disease called furunculosis. I spoke with Rome Hatchery employees and DEC officials and they say in order to eliminate the disease and prevent it from spreading further, they had only one option: destroy the thousands of infected fish.
"Last time we had it here in Rome was in 1996 so furunculosis has been virtually nonexistent," says Andy Noyes, Rome State Fish Hatchery pathologist.
"we didn't seem to be getting the fish healthy and we were afraid the disease could spread," says Bob Lewthwaite, Rome State Fish Hatchery manager.
In an effort to eliminate the disease from the hatchery, over 130,000 brown trout and brook trout were destroyed. But employees say it was a short term sacrifice for a long term benefit.
"If we had stocked sick fish, it could spread to the wild and we're not gonna do that. We have strict fish health laws and we have to abide by them," says Lewthwaite.
In late June, furunculosis was first detected at the Rome Hatchery, but Noyes says they still don't know how the fish became infected.
"There's different ways things can pass around fish populations, everything from birds to water to other fish, there's a lot of different avenues so pin pointing the transmission of this is unknown," says Noyes.
And it won't just hurt the hatchery. Michael Papp is the owner of the West Canada Creek Campsites and he says this will affect his business
"They stock literally thousands and thousands of brown trout into this river and if Rome doesn't have the ability to do that, they'll have to import fish from other states to stock the rivers. And if they're unable to stock the levels like they normally do, obviously the levels will be off next year and that will make it for a bad fishing season," says Michael Papp, West Canada Creek Campsites owner.
The fish were humanely destroyed using carbon dioxide last week. Hatchery employees agree that it was a tough decision but producing healthy fish is their first priority.
"The goal of what we do is to provide enormous fishing opportunities for everybody and providing healthy fish for this is really, really important," says Noyes.
"Statewide we're stocking over 2.4 million fish so yeah this hurts, but we'll bounce back."
Rome hatchery employees say there are still 400 thousand healthy fish left on the property," says Lewthwaite.
The outbreak will reduce the numbers of fish they stock this Spring, but they have drafted a mitigation plan. They have over 2 million fish eggs coming in this Fall so although it's a set-back, employees agree it's for the best.