By Erin Malcolm
Colorado Parks and Wildlife sent out a news release in April to alert the public about a single walleye caught at Pueblo Reservoir last fall that was confirmed to have myofibrogranuloma, also known as “Sandy Flesh” disease. The release shared information about the rare degenerative muscle disease that causes the filets to look granular or freezer burnt on the inside, and warned people to avoid consuming fish that appeared to be infected.
But Carrie Tucker, CPW aquatic biologist based in Pueblo, said the media misconstrued the news release, making the disease seem like a much bigger problem than it actually is.
“They misinterpreted our press release and told people not to consume any walleye — and that is definitely not what we said or intended in that message,” Tucker said. “The media blew it out of proportion and ran with it.”
The reality is that Sandy Flesh is not a prevalent issue in Colorado at this time.
“Of course, we are obligated to alert the public about the remote possibility they might encounter this disease,” said Bill Vogrin, CPW public information officer, in a conversation with The New Falcon Herald editor, Marylou Bride. “But we don’t want to scare anyone either. Chances anyone will catch a walleye with this disease are wildly remote.”
Tucker said that CPW wants to stress that, at this time, all other “regular” walleye in Pueblo Reservoir are perfectly safe to consume, and Sandy Flesh disease has still only been confirmed in one fish in the entire state of Colorado.
Aside from those facts, there is still much to be learned about Sandy Flesh, including what causes it and how it arrived in Pueblo Reservoir.
“We don’t know how it got here. And even nationwide, the mode of transmission is unknown because they can’t replicate it in the lab,” Tucker said. “Some of the studies that have been done think it’s similar to muscular dystrophy in humans, but they haven’t been able to confirm that.”
Tucker also said that she is not aware of any current studies underway to find out more about the disease, since its prevalence is low in fish nationwide.
If anglers believe they have caught a fish infected with Sandy Flesh, Tucker recommended bringing the filets to a CPW office or sending a photo to CPW to be inspected. Then, the fish should be discarded.
“There are no other disease concerns with any other walleye in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said. Tucker also noted that there are other — more prevalent — fishing-related issues for the public to be aware of at Pueblo Reservoir, such as trash that negatively impacts wildlife.
“It’s kind of sad that we even have to say this, but please pack out your trash — especially used fishing line,” she said. “Because we do have birds, geese, ducks, and things like that who get entangled in a fishing line and then starve to death, get feet amputated, or get injured and die because of being caught in a fishing line.”
As a general update on fishing conditions at Pueblo Reservoir, Tucker said she was pleased to share that water levels have remained stable because of the recent rainfall; and fishing for black bass, walleye and wiper have lately been doing well.