Wormy fish not a sign of problems in fish world

By Vicki Hyatt | Nov 15, 2012

Nora Smith’s excitement to cook the fresh fish caught just below Lake Logan recently quickly turned to dismay when she cut them open.

Instead of the delicate meat she expected to see, the sight was marred by small worms crawling throughout.

“I had never seen anything like that before,” Smith said, noting the fish dinner was scrapped for that night.

Wormy fish are a sign of disease, said Powell Wheeler, the district fisheries biologist covering counties north, south and west of Buncombe County for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Division.

“It’s not common, but you find that sometimes,” he said. “Fish are prone to diseases like people. The diseases work their way through the population.”

The most common cause of fish disease is stress, something that can be brought about by poor water temperatures, Wheeler said.

“Fish, like people, tend to get sick if they are stressed out. When we think of fish stress, we think of water temperature, or it could just be some natural fluke thing like kids who get chicken pox.”

Even though it is unlikely eating fish with worms inside isn’t likely to harm human health, Wheeler said he doesn’t recommend it.

“We always tell people not to eat fish if they don’t look healthy,” he said. “Some tapeworms can be passed on to humans, but the vast majority of fish diseases are ones people don’t get.”

Catching wormy fish in a mountain stream isn’t a sign of any long-term damage to the aquatic population, he said.

“It’s just a disease. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the world. Fish just get sick,” Wheeler said.