EDMONTON -- Anglers are once again able to fish at Hermitage Pond Park and Fort Lion’s Community Fish pond after the province and the Alberta Conservation Association stocked the waters with rainbow trout for the first time in several years.

After Whirling disease was discovered at Johnson Lake in Alberta in August 2016, the province stopped restocking those two locations and started monitoring and testing the fish and sediment there instead.

“Mostly because those ponds were very close to the North Saskatchewan River. So there was concern that if Whirling disease had already been established in these ponds that if we put new fish in, those fish would become contaminated with the disease,” said Todd Zimmerling, President and CEO of the Alberta Conservation Association. 

“And if those fish happened to escape from that pond and into the river, it could then spread the disease.”

According to the Government of Alberta website, Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite that affects salmonid fish such as trout, salmon and whitefish.

It requires two hosts: a Tubifex worm and a fish and affects the fish’s nerves, destroying their cartilage and causing them to swim in a circle. Zimmerling said the disease has the potential to severely impact fish populations.

“Fortunately over the last couple of years the government has done a really good job of following up on this and checking the ponds and checking the sediment for the Tubefix worm which is required for the whole life cycle to occur,” Zimmerling said. 

In 2019, the province put some trout back into Hermitage Park Pond to monitor the population. Tests of the sediment and fish came back negative, so two weeks ago the pond was stocked with 1,500 rainbow trout and hundreds more brown trout. Fort Lion’s Community fish pond was also restocked with 2,700 rainbow trout.

Zimmerling said Hasse Lake west of Edmonton was also restocked with trout with the first time in about 10 years. The problem there, he said, wasn’t whirling disease but water quality due to a lack of oxygen in the water. He said an aeration system was going to be added to keep the oxygen levels high enough to sustain a fish population. 

Dozens of anglers could be spotted at Hermitage Lake this weekend. While the ACA is encouraging people to go fishing, it’s also reminding people to practice physical distancing. 

“I think I can’t stress that enough that fishing opportunities could easily disappear if we end up standing side by side,” Zimmerling