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Team of Fisheries Biologists Honored for Fish Drug Testing

Mon, 03/17/2014 - 8:07am
BEN PIERCE, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A team of fisheries biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bozeman Fish Technology Center has been awarded for providing high-quality data and guiding safe and effective fish drugs through the regulatory pipeline.

Aquatic Animal Drug Approval Partnership Program members James Bowker, Molly Bowman, Dan Carty and Niccole Wandelear were given the 2013 Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence.

The aquatic program was created in Bozeman in 1994 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began enforcing the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. New regulations established strict guidelines for the use of drugs in fish. The decision effectively stripped the National Fish Hatchery System of the majority of tools used to manage fish health and achieve fish culture, fisheries research and fisheries management objectives.

"We conduct research that is necessary to get new drugs approved by the FDA," said branch chief Dave Erdahl. "Our work is to ensure that these drugs are safe for fish, safe for people that may catch and eat them, safe for the environment, and that they perform as the label claims, that they are effective."

Antimicrobials and antibiotics are among the drugs used to combat external parasites, bacteria and systemic bacterial infections. The state stocks 500,000 westslope cutthroat trout annually. Of those fish, Bowker said fish from two of the three hatcheries responsible for stocking those fish are treated with an antibiotic.

Fisheries biologists use spawning hormones and fish sedatives during propagation and population surveys or while handling fish. On the Missouri River, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists use a spawning hormone to induce egg laying in endangered pallid sturgeon.

"There is a very limited population of pallid sturgeon out there," Erdahl said. "The chances of catching a ripe female are incredibly low. When they catch them and handle them, the fish won't release the eggs."

The use of a spawning hormone allows biologists to collect eggs that are then reared in a hatchery and released back into the river, buoying the population.

The aquatic program's work reaches well beyond Montana. Professionals across the country turn to the group for help.

"We are unique in what we do," Erdahl said. "We are the only place in the country that conducts this type of work 24/7."

Bowker said fish pathogens are ubiquitous, both in the wild and in fish hatcheries. Managing or mitigating disease in populations has a direct impact on fisheries and consumers.

"There are probably more fish pathogens in Bridger Creek than in this hatchery," Bowker said. "Wild salmon that end up in Pike Place Market, many of them come from a hatchery. Our work supports recreational fishing, commercial fishing, subsistence fishing, and there are economics that are associated with that."

Between 2009-2013, aquatic program biologists worked with federal, state and academic institutions toward the approval of three drugs. Since 1994, the FDA has approved a total of four fish drugs.

While the approval of a safe and effective drug is an accomplishment, the award committee commended the group for the long-term goals of the program, namely "putting needed tools in the hands of fisheries professionals."

"The number of people we are helping is huge," Bowker said. "We are in a position to help anyone that raises fish or that handles fish."

The aquatic program rose to the top of 25 submissions for the Rachel Carson Award. The award comes with a $50,000 prize that will be invested in the program.

Carty, who is retiring after 30 years with USFWS, said it feels great to go out on top.

"It is certainly nice to be acknowledged for the quality of research that we do," Carty said. "To be honest with you, we were stunned."

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