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Pequest Trout Hatchery to euthanize more fish as Open House nears

There will be less brown trout delivered to NJ streams this year as a disease has affected fish which are being euthanized.
There will be less brown trout delivered to NJ streams this year as a disease has affected fish which are being euthanized.
Duane Sedlock

Every year the Pequest Trout Hatchery and Natural Resource Education Center located in Oxford, Warren County, opens its doors to the public for its annual Open House. For 2014 the Open House will be held Saturday and Sunday March 29 and 30. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Admission is free, as is parking. No pets are allowed at this event - only service dogs are permitted on site.

The Open House is usually held the week before the start of New Jersey's Opening Day of Trout Season (April 5) and gives visitors the opportunity to see how hundreds of thousands of brook, brown and rainbow trout are raised for stocking at fishing spots throughout the state.

There will be numerous environmental and conservation exhibits, historical re-enactors, wildlife artists, carvers and taxidermists. Activities will include fishing, archery hunter education and crafts for children. A Sportsmen's Flea Market will also be held, offering some good deals on both new and used equipment, lures and gear.

But many at this years’ Open House will be asking about the re-occurrence of a fatal fish disease called furunculosis, which will cause 114,000 brown trout to be euthanized by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. The disease, caused by a bacterium known as Aeromonas salmonicida, affects cold water species of fish such as trout. Furunculosis was discovered last year in September at Pequest and 25,000 fish had to then be euthanized.

The 114,000 trout to be euthanized now are a portion of the more than 600,000 trout the Pequest Hatchery raises every year. The fish are being humanely euthanized by introducing carbon dioxide into the water.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife believes the disease was transferred to the hatchery by ospreys and herons. These birds, feeding on infected fish in the wild, may have spread the bacteria through contact when feeding on fish in the affected pool at the hatchery.

The disease is not transmissible to people but it is never advisable to eat any diseased-looking fish or animal. Signs of furunculosis include darkening of the skin of affected fish as well as large boils and lesions.

All affected areas of the hatchery will once again be drained, steam cleaned and disinfected.

The hatchery uses several methods to deter birds, including air cannons, electrified fencing, and cables strung out over the pools. But the birds have figured out ways to still enter the pool area. The hatchery is investigating other more effective methods.

The Division still will release healthy trout in state waters in time for the Opening Day of Trout Season scheduled for April 5, at 8 a.m. None of the trout being stocked this spring have the disease. Some may have been exposed to the bacterium that causes furunculosis but were effectively treated. Others that will be stocked have tested negative.

Rainbow trout appear to be resistant to the disease, so the hatchery is increasing production of these species for stocking in future years. Brown and brook trout tend to be more susceptible and these fish will be vaccinated to provide protection against the disease. The Division also is considering acquiring brown and brook trout that have been bred for resistance to furunculosis.