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NY Steelhead Trout Need Their Vitamins, Says DEC

Jan 08, 2015 07:37 PM EST

A type of rainbow trout, called steelheads, are dying off in droves as they make their way from Lake Ontario to the Salmon River in Oswego County, and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says it all has to do an inexplicable vitamin B deficiency.

Vitamin B is kind of a big deal for most animals. A water-soluble vitamin, B is one of the key players that help facilitate normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. It is also involved in the formation of blood, keeping oxygen-carrying cells healthy. With too little of vitamin B12, humans often become very exhausted and even have trouble breathing. In fish, these symptoms could be disastrous, especially in the midst of a mass migration.

And that's exactly what DEC scientists are reporting, where the steelheads are exhibiting signs of exhaustion, stress, and elevated mortality rates. Initial testing has already revealed that fish pathogens are not the cause for these symptoms or the unusual deficiency, and the department is now in the midst of recruiting help from academia and other agencies to uncover the true cause.

"Lake Ontario steelhead are an important component of Lake Ontario's sport fishery and DEC is deeply concerned about reports of steelhead stress and mortality in the Salmon River and other Lake Ontario tributaries," DEC commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement on Wednesday. "Steelhead provide high-quality sport fisheries in the open lake and are especially sought after by anglers who fish in tributaries from fall through spring. DEC staff will continue to work closely with federal agencies, Cornell University and other stakeholders to identify the cause of the current situation and strategies to ensure a robust steelhead population."

The DEC reiterated that this is pressing issue that they will be giving their full attention to, especially as Lake Ontario's sport fishery - largely driven by steelheads - has been estimated to rake in over $112 million in angler expenditures for New York state annually.

As of this week, staff from DEC's Rome Fish Disease Control Unit and Salmon River Hatchery are preemptively injecting adult steelheads returning to the Salmon River Hatchery with thiamin (B1) to ensure that they will be healthy enough to successfully reproduce later this spring.

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