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Where medicine, fishery management merge

5/31/2006
James Henshall, M.D., called this home. It's now home of the USFWS's Montana Fish and Wildlife Management Assistance Office, located on the grounds of the Bozeman Fish Technology Center. 

The parallel is too curious to be overlooked. James Henshall, M.D., had his home just a short walk away from his work in a Victorian two-story that still stands. There on the grounds at a national fish hatchery in Bozeman, Mont., Dr. Henshall hit his stride in the late 1800s — not practicing medicine — but directing fish culture operations as the superintendent of a fledgling federal hatchery.

Henshall is probably best known as author of the classic Book of the Black Bass, which is still available at most any book store. Therein he posited about the "eminently American fish" and its behavioral traits: "the arrowy rush" of the "gamest fish that swims."

He waxed poetic about smallmouth bass, and argued that the spotted bass did not exist as a distinct species. Henshall gave up a career as a medical doctor for distinguished work in conservation and fish culture.

Today, modern fish culture and medicine again merge at the Bozeman station where Henshall once lived and worked.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Aquatic Animal Drug Approval Partnership (AADAP) program is based there. This national program is designed to generate, compile, and manage much of the complex information needed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for one purpose — to get new aquatic animal drugs and theraputants on the market and in use. No matter if the drug is to be used for treating parasitic infection in largemouth bass, gill disease in walleye, or bacterial infection in salmon and trout — fish you might find on the end of your line or under plastic at the grocery — AADAP plays a major role in channeling that information to the FDA.

It's an arduous process to get a new aquatic animal drug approved, and it can take years of research and millions of dollars. In some respects, getting new drugs approved for fish and other aquatic animals is more difficult than it is for people. Reason being, people eat fish and shellfish. New drugs must effectively target specific diseases and disease-causing pathogens. They must also be manufactured at the highest quality, and be safe for the target species, the environment, and for people — and all such claims must be supported by solid scientific data.

"With any new animal drug that's been approved by the FDA, you know it's met the gold standard," said Dr. Dave Erdahl, AADAP's director.
"Getting useful drugs and theraputants approved and into the hands of fishery managers and fish culturists results in healthy fish, healthy people, a healthy environment, and a healthy economy."

Recent examples of new drugs are worthy of note: The FDA approved formalin for controlling external parasites in all species of fish. The new animal drug Chorulon enhances fish propagation — it's used to induce spawning, and has utility in endangered species conservation.

OxyMarine is a new skeletal marking agent. With it, fishery biologists can quickly, safely, and with low cost, mark fish en masse so that they can more effectively assess fish populations. In fall of 2005, the FDA approved Aquaflor for catfish — the first new antibacterial drug approved in many years.

AADAP is a partnership; its scientists help coordinate the data generated from over 130 entities comprised of state and federal agencies, Native American Tribes, and private companies — all set on seeing new aquatic animal drugs approved.

The parallel continues. Henshall made a mark in fisheries conservation, and certainly influenced the pursuit of what is today America's favorite game fish. AADAP's work resounds in fisheries managed for public good or private gain. The science is manifest in the live-well, staving off extinctions, and even on your dinner plate. To learn more, visit www.fws.gov/fisheries/aadap.

Craig Springer may be reached at craig_springer@fws.gov