Outdoors

WDFW seeks hunter, public help in avian flu investigation

Northwest Washington waterfowlers are being asked to participate in two ways to determine the extent of this year’s avian influenza outbreak in Western Washington especially in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

State authorities are requesting that hunters as well as the public at-large report any wild birds, hunted or not, that are behaving out of character, an indication they could be sick, possibly with bird flu. Along with notification of ailing birds, officials are seeking reports of all dead birds (even apparent road kills) the public encounters.

Predator and scavenger birds are of particular interest since they are capable of coming in contact with multiple prey species.

For both legal and personal health reasons, neither live/sick birds nor carcasses should be handled or collected under any circumstances, just reported (location, date and time) immediately.

The second way waterfowl hunters can help in this important health investigation is, when asked by state or federal field technicians, to voluntarily allow the ducks and geese they bag to be sampled.

Collection of lab test samples is very quick and will not result in contamination of uninfected harvested bird tissues. Thorough cooking (to temperatures of 155-165 degrees) will destroy these and many other pathogens carried undetected in wild waterfowl.

Health and wildlife officials are quick to say that the strains of avian influenza that have, so far, been detected in this 2014 outbreak are not known to be a risk to humans. Only two viruses among many that cause flu-like maladies in birds, H5N2 and H5N8, have been identified to this point.

This pair of viral agents is extremely virulent in domestic fowl, though fatal illnesses in wild bird populations are rare, say wildlife and health officials. Free-roaming wild birds therefore are considered carriers or transmitters of these disease-causing agents.

The initial manifestation of the bird flu disease complex along the Pacific Coast this fall occurred in commercial domestic poultry operations in British Columbia where tens of thousands of chickens and turkey became ill and quickly died.

Following on the Canadian agricultural disease specialists’ confirmation that the highly pathogenic H5N2 was the causative agent in the commercial poultry outbreaks, several dead birds in Whatcom County were found.

Follow-up testing of two dead ducks, one a northern pintail found at Wiser Lake, found the same H5N2 virus present.

Also about the same time a gyrfalcon here, owned by a falconer, was diagnosed the avian influenza version caused by the H5N8 virus. That bird also died.

In mid-December a guinea fowl and several chickens in a backyard poultry collection at Winston, Oregon were found to have died as a result of infection with the H5N8 strain.

These viral strains of avian influenza up to now have been a much more significant problem for commercial and domestic poultry raisers and therefore have state and federal agriculture department officials on alert.

To reduce likelihood of transmission of the pathogens they recommend that domestic fowl owners and operators of commercial poultry facilities segregate as much as possible their flocks from wild birds and locales frequented by wild birds.

Though transmissibility of the avian flu strains to humans is not considered a significant risk, fish and wildlife managers recommend that hunters and others handling and preparing wild duck and goose carcasses use barrier gear (rubber gloves), isolation handling techniques (segregating uncooked bird meats) and regular field gear and kitchen surface disinfection practices.

Staff from at least seven state and federal agriculture, wildlife management health agencies along with a number of county health departments are involved in the ongoing regional avian flu investigation at the field, laboratory and facility levels.

State wildlife managers say that in the period from 2005-2011 after the outbreak of the avian influenza caused by the H1N1 virus (a strain harmful to humans) WDFW had tested swabs from more than 10,000 birds detecting bird flu strains in around 10 percent of those wild duck and goose samples.

PERSONAL USE CRABBING CLOSES

Personal use crabbing ends at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31 for the season in all Washington inland waters.

All personal use crabbing gear must be out of the water by that time. Members of the marine detachments of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Police will conduct sweeps of area waters following closure removing all lingering sport crab gear. If your name’s attached as it’s supposed to be, you could get a ticket.

Then also starting after midnight Thursday, Jan. 1 all holders of Puget Sound Dungeness Crab endorsements can make an on-line reporting of their late or winter season crab catches.

The reporting period lasts through Thursday, Feb. 1. after which endorsement holders are considered in violation of the mandatory filing regulation. Those tardy folks will be liable for a $10 civil penalty when they by their next crab endorsement.

For details about Puget Sound crabbing and a link to the reporting Web portal visit: https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wdfw/puget_sound_crab_catch.html.

HATCHERY STEELHEAD UPDATE

As of Friday, Dec. 26 state hatchery managers say they now have in hand more than 90 percent of the adult spawners needed for Nooksack system hatchery steelhead programs.

The good news for winter river anglers is that with spawning targets near being met, fishery managers are expected to rescind the emergency closure so sport angling can resume, perhaps as early as New Years Day.

The recruitment count for Kendall Creek Hatchery on the North Fork Nooksack just before Christmas was 133 adult marked steelhead. Fish culturists at the facility also already have taken the first 45,000 eggs of a target 200,000 eggs called for in the state and tribe’s hatchery program management document for the Nooksack.

An additional four adult hatchery steelhead have entered Whatcom Creek Hatchery.

To ensure needed numbers of adult spawners got to these facilities, state officials issued an emergency order closing until further notice both the Nooksack system and Whatcom Creek to all recreational fishing Tuesday, Dec. 16.

A total of 143 adult spawner recruits are being sought for current and future egg-take and yearling release programs. Offspring from 90 of this winter’s parents are scheduled to be raised to smolt size and released in May 2016.

However, next spring’s and any future steelhead releases are contingent on the issuance of a federal permit authorizing the state to produce and release hatchery steelhead in a wild chinook, bull trout and steelhead recovery zones.

The remaining 53 adults from this December will be held and raised in captivity for spawning next winter in an experimental effort to make up for an expected deficit in the return of mature adults resulting from the cancellation of 2014’s smolt release.

Settlement in April 2014 of a federal court suit forced the state to withhold release of at least one year’s production of hatchery steelhead juveniles into the Nooksack and other Puget Sound rivers.

The first of the adult fish of those ill-fated releases would have returned starting on November and December of this coming year.

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