Mysterious deadly black fungus being found on fish in Pacific Northwest — Gov’t: There was some concern Fukushima radiation could be involved — Biologists investigating how this landbased mold is now appearing in ocean — Many reports of unusual rotting sores, growths, bumps, cancer (PHOTOS)

Published: May 21st, 2015 at 11:45 am ET
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Nome Nugget (pdf), Nov 27, 2014 (emphasis added): The Nome office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game received several reports of tomcod with black lesions this year… ADF&G fishery biologists speculate that the lesions are a fungus… Specifically, black mold, commonly found in houses… What the pathology lab finds interesting is that this fungus is landbased and yet it is appearing on fish… Fish pathologists would like to receive as many samples as possible so that they may adequately research what exactly is infecting these fish, as well as its affect on humans. Until further notice, ADF&G recommends that fish with lesions should not be eaten due to possible human health concerns (CAPTION: DON’T EAT THIS— ADF&G biologists are investigating black lesions found on tomcods in the region. Until it is known what the lesions exactly are, the department recommends not to consume fish showing these symptoms)

Brendan Scanlon, fishery biologist for North Slope Dept. of Fish & Game (pdf), Mar 17, 2015: Just a quick word on this fungus that people are seeing more and more of. It’s probably what’s called saprolegnia. It’s a water mold… It’s in the water at all times… healthy fish will swim around and never get it, but if the fish is stressed nutritionally or its immune system has been compromised… that gives a pathway for the mold to attack… It will eventually kill the fish… We saw something similar last summer. We had a very big die-off on the Kobuk River… we had thousands of dead chum salmon… and they had had presence of the same mold on them.

North Slope Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council (pdf), Feb 20, 2014:

  • Dr. Jayde Ferguson, Alaska Dept of Fish & Game: The first confirmed report was from fish caught on Oct. 12, 2013… There was some concern that radiation from the Japanese disaster could be involved, so the North Slope biologist measured ionizing radiation in fish with a geiger-mueller counter and found that there was no elevated levels there… There was no food in the GI track and there was no fat or very little fat internally… The external lesions… corresponded to saprolegnia… it can act as a pathogen particularly in stressed fish because their immune system is depressed… I wanted to touch on a totally unrelated fungal case that is of interest to our lab because there’s not a lot known about it and it’s distinctly different from the saprolegnia in that it’s very black and largethere’s not a lot out in the literature on this black fungus… There’s just not a lot known about transmission or anything else, so we’re wanting to get a better idea of what’s going on…
  • Dr. Todd Sformo, Wildlife Biologist: I think the main concern was that if this mold is really present in the environment… it’s been reported a lot… why is the mold coming up being on fish at this point? So we have very few records in the north slope and Jayde mentioned the one… in the 1980s, so that was just one fish with that mold that we had recorded up until this pointwhy is it occurring now if it’s so prevalent in the environment?… We measured a number of the fish that were caught that had the mold and that did not have the mold and the size of the fish didn’t seem to matter at all…
  • Ferguson: If we’re seeing it in juveniles that really does support some environmental issue… How many fish are affected?… It might not have an impact at the population level, but if there’s a large amount of fish that are affected, then that’s a different thing.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium:

  • 02-02-15 – Whitefish that had a bulged out eye ball [and] some type of growth around the cheekbone. Would like to know the cause of these observed abnormalities
  • 12-10-14 – Whitefish… has a brownish moldy growth all over it’s body. We would like to know more about what is going on with our fish and why this is happening
  • 10-24-14 – Trout appeared to have sores… rotting or decaying… [we] have never seen these sores before… We are still seeing a lot of fish with these kinds of conditions
  • 06-12-14 – A codfish that was caught with a deep cut or sore on it was pulled in… We are not really sure what happened to this poor cod, but we think it is unusual
  • 05-26-14 – Whitefish that had a growth… on its dorsal fin. Other fish were also caught with a similar condition… ADF&G: “This whitefish has… probably a neoplasm (cancer)”
  • 02-17-14 – Fish… found with lesions on them… Other people also said they saw these bumps… elders who said they have seen fish with skin bumps like this once before…  people are still worried because they are not sure what it is this time…. these bumps… were like puss. There are quite a few people who are worried…

View all North Slope Advisory Council Meeting minutes here

Published: May 21st, 2015 at 11:45 am ET
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