Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

August 7th, 2000

More Questions

I've got a mystery going on. The details however are becoming as elusive as a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Most of you are aware of the problems caused by Whirling Disease (WD). It seems to affect mostly rainbow trout while they are young, attacking the forming cartilage causing the fish to swim in circles. Very detrimental to eating and avoiding predators. Hence the name Whirling . . .

This is of course of great concern to anyone interested in the fisheries, and especially of concern to fisheries biologists. This is not something new. WD has been in Europe for many years and to my knowledge there are no efforts there to eradicate it. Perhaps they know something we don't.

At any rate, there are massive efforts here in the U.S. to find the solution to eradicate it. There is still no research data which will absolutely pin point how the average fisherman is involved in all this. We have been advised to wash our waders and wading boots, boats, boat trailers when leaving any stream or lake. Another advisory is to wash the waders, wading boots etc with a "weak" solution of water and bleach. A 10% solution is suggested. That is 9 parts of water to 1 part ordinary household bleach.

A few weeks ago I received a 'Press Release' from Scott Rod Company touting the wonders of their product BrightWater for it's effectiveness in killing the WD spore. I had some questions about the study Scott paid for, and made some phone calls.

The study did absolutely indicate the BrightWater did kill nearly all the spore. But! The test was run with spore being covered with the solution, in a closed test tubes, for twelve hours. No testing was done using the product as recommended on the BrightWater bottle!

So I called the Whirling Disease Foundation, in Bozeman Montana. They had a disclaimer of sorts on their website, which I was lucky enough to grab on Friday the 4th. Following is the statement, exactly as it appears:

"Following is a statement from the Whirling Disease Foundation regarding Scott Fly Rod Company's BrightWater and comments on the recently completed BrightWater study.

"Statement: The movement of infected fish within and between drainages has been responsible for much of the spread of whirling disease. However, the parasite can expand its range through a variety of other vectors, even on angler's equipment, boats and trailers. Use of Scott Rod Company's BrightWater after proper rinsing of all fishing gear is one way anglers can take part in slowing the spread of whirling disease. The Whirling Disease Foundation supports all efforts to reduce the spread of the whirling disease parasite."

Study Comments: Although the experiments clearly demonstrate that the active ingredient used in BrightWater is effective in killing spores of Myxobolus cerebralis, scientists who reviewed the study for our Board of Directors have several concerns about the experiment and the ultimate use of the product. This caused us to temper our recommendations. The first was that the study design did not test the product as it will ultimately be used, i.e., it was tested by immersing the spores for 12 hours in a dilution of the spray rather than a more realistic short exposure on a surface that dries quickly. Therefore, it is difficult to assess whether the compound actually "kills on contact." The data also demonstrate that the lower concentration of the compound was more efficacious. It would be interesting to know if this pattern holds true for the concentration applied by spraying. However, both treatments did result in a 99% reduction in spore viability, as determined by resulting actinospore release from the worms. A final concern is that the product instructions may not be sufficiently explicit to insure that maximum exposure occurs. If the angler sprays this on at the fishing site where the spray would quickly dry, will there be sufficient contact time to kill spores?

Given all of these concerns, we felt it important to include in the Foundation's statement the need to thoroughly rinse all gear in conjunction with use of the product, and also to create the understanding that the disease is spread in many other ways, not just by anglers on their equipment.

We applaud Scott Rod Company for helping anglers to take part, and for contributing some of BrightWater proceeds to whirling disease research."

It doesn't exactly say they don't endorse BrightWater, and it seems to indicate that the Whirling Disease Foundation is getting a percentage of the sale of the product. They aren't! But the powers that be in the Foundation didn't want to seem to discourage 'research' and a portion of the sales do go to WD research - actually to the same guy who did the study for Scott on the product!

The red flags just keep popping up. In research, at least when I was involved in it, it is an absolute conflict of interest to have that situation. Any reputable scientist would walk away from that one! What was called for here was an INDEPENDENT study, not one paid for by Scott, and not done by the 'scientist' who was going to profit from the sale of the product,"portion of the sales do go to WD research." His research!

Additionally, the W.D. Foundation offered to help direct research toward those areas where they feel it is most needed and relevant, without receiving any of the funds. Scott refused.

What brought this all to the front burner is an editorial in my favorite fly fishing magazine, The Fly Fishing and Tying Journal. Editor Dave Hughs wrote an editorial promoting the use of BrightWater. I called Dave and asked if he had more, new or different information than I did. He wrote the editorial based on a concern that he personally might be infecting his favorite water inadvertently by the fact he did not do anything to clean his waders after fishing a stream which is now known to have WD in Utah. Dave received the same press release I did. And he believed it and wrote the editorial.

According to a spokesman at the Whirling Disease Foundation, a person would need about 3 bottles of BrightWater per use to have any effect. And just washing off your gear with water is as effective. And - there is no solid research data that says you and I are transmitting the disease from one water to another.

So what is happening here? Whirling Disease is a mystery. The scientists don't have the answers. At one point birds were thought to be the guilty transmitter of the disease since they eat the worms which host the spore, hatcheries another, it goes on and on. Is it wrong to want to try and do something that might help prevent more streams from being infected? Of course not.

My objection here is the hype about a product that was tested under very different circumstances than it would be used. I don't think fly fishermen are going to immerse their gear for 12 hours in anything other than the stream they are fishing. Then promoting that product via press release to unsuspecting writers as the "magic potion" that would somehow solve the WD problem. Frankly, Dave Hughs should have done some investigating on his own. He didn't, and passed on mis-information. Shame on Dave, and frankly shame on Scott. They have been a reputable company, and in their enthusiasm jumped the gun. I also can't help but wonder if Scott also didn't want to capitalize on the publicity Orvis has received for their financial support of the WD Foundation.

I would hate to think this is all about money and prestige.

I have asked the folks at the Whirling Disease Foundation to write an article for FAOL on what the anglers can do to help prevent the spread of WD.

For now, their suggestion is to just thoroughly wash your gear in water. ~ LadyFisher

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