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County low on fish that eats pests

Lack of supply hampers efforts against virus-spreading mosquitoes

Posted: October 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.

County officials who rely on a minnow-sized fish to help them fight the spread of deadly West Nile virus are hampered these days because the fish are in short supply, one official said.

The fish is called a mosquito fish and officials with the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District have been using it for years as a natural and effective way of controlling mosquito populations.

Mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus, but the mosquito fish eat the mosquito larva.

The problem for Vector Control officials recently is that there’s not enough mosquito fish to go around.

“The mosquito fish are harder to come by these days,” said Vector Control spokeswoman Truc Dever. “It’s a huge problem.”

The Mosquito fish, or Gambusia affinis, is native to southern and eastern portions of the United States.

Although it is not technically indigenous to the Santa Clara River watershed, the mosquito fish was introduced to the state 85 years ago.

Since then, public health officials have reported that the tiny fish is one of the most effective non-insecticidal and nonchemical methods of controlling mosquitoes.

Mosquito fish do not lay eggs, but rather give birth to live young and need no special environment to thrive.

As far as the county is concerned, mosquito fish are intended to be used for stocking ornamental ponds, animal water troughs and neglected swimming pools, called “green pools.”

Reasons for the mosquito fish shortage, according to Dever:

n Golf courses with water facilities used by the county to harvest mosquito fish are “allowing algae blooms to take over, making it difficult to re-capture the fish and making it difficult to re-stock” those facilities.

n The county’s supply of mosquito fish in Sylmar never recovered from the Sayre Fire of 2008 that destroyed fish stocks there.

n The company that shipped mosquito fish to Los Angeles County no longer ships here.

Mosquito fish remain crucial in the fight to reduce the number of people who fall victim to the virus by reducing the number of mosquitoes that carry it.

Public demand for the fish peaked in 2008 when county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich issued a statement calling for “renewed action to prevent a West Nile virus epidemic.”



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