- Hatcheries are often perceived as a source of pathogen amplification, potentially increasing disease risk to free-ranging populations; at the same time, free-ranging fishes may introduce pathogens into hatcheries through untreated water sources. Many pathogens exist naturally within the environment (with the exception of introduced pathogens) and the presence of a pathogen does not guarantee infection or disease (Naish, Taylor III, Levin, Quinn, Winton, Huppert & Hilborn 2007). Infections can be acute, chronic, or asymptomatic, fish may die, recover, or become carriers (Naish et al. 2007), and pathogens may be shed from any of these stages (Scottish Executive 2002).
Most salmon and trout hatcheries along the Willamette River Basin, Oregon, USA, utilize an untreated river water supply for their rearing ponds and release this water, untreated, back into the river. This creates a potential for waterborne pathogens present in free-ranging hosts to be transmitted through the water supply to hatchery populations. Moreover, any hatchery epizootic can amplify pathogens and release these into the water, which could have a direct impact on free-ranging populations exposed to those pathogens in hatchery effluent. The goal of this thesis was to assess transmission of the pathogens Flavobacterium columnare, F. psychrophilum, Aeromonas salmonicida, Renibacterium salmonicida, and Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis
Virus (IHNV), at selected hatcheries in the Willamette River Basin. To accomplish this, I considered historical data and hatchery-specific and pathogen-specific factors involved in transmission and disease. Additionally, I conducted sentinel fishes exposures (Oncorhynchus mykiss and O. tshawytscha) at hatcheries during both epizootics and non-epizootic periods. Naïve sentinel fish were placed in hatchery influents and effluents to determine transmission direction and pathogen prevalence associated with hatcheries.
I found that sentinel fishes developed infections downstream of hatcheries that were undergoing specific bacterial epizootics, or had low levels of pathogen prevalence within the hatchery, but not at any other time. Infections and mortality were due to the same pathogens responsible for hatchery epizootics, indicating the hatchery as a potential source. This may be a limited effect dependent on distance, dilution, and pathogen. The presence of large numbers of returning, congregating adult fishes may also contribute pathogens to the river in hatchery areas. Sentinel fishes held in hatchery influents did not, at any point, become infected with target pathogens, even during hatchery epizootics. Although I was unable to identify the pathogen entry point leading to hatchery epizootics, I determined that pathogen transmission appeared to be dependent on the pathogen, species, and location where sentinel fish were held. This thesis identifies routes and risks of pathogen transmission at selected Oregon hatcheries, with applications to inform state-wide fish health management.