DAO 33:209-219 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/dao033209

Prevalence and distribution of QPX, Quahog Parasite Unknown, in hard clams Mercenaria mercenaria in Virginia, USA

Lisa M. Ragone Calvo*, Juanita G. Walker, Eugene M. Burreson

School of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: In July 1996, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science initiated a sampling program to examine wild and cultured hard clams Mercenaria mercenaria for QPX, Quahog Parasite Unknown, a protistan parasite associated with severe mortalities of hard clams in localized areas in maritime Canada and Massachusetts, USA. The sampling program set out to seasonally monitor wild clams from one site, James River, Virginia, and cultured clams from 2 sites, Chincoteague Bay and Mattawoman Creek, Virginia. Histological examination of initial samples revealed 8% prevalence of the parasite in 1-2 yr old cultured clams in Chincoteague Bay. This is the first documentation of QPX in Virginia. To ascertain the distribution of the parasite in Virginia, the survey was expanded between August 1996 and July 1997 to include 16 additional sites. A total of 1305 wild and cultured clams was sampled from Chesapeake Bay tributaries and coastal areas where harvest and culture occur. QPX was not found in Chesapeake Bay, but was present in cultured clams from 3 coastal embayments--the original Chincoteague Bay site, Burton Bay and Quinby Inlet. The parasite was found in Chincoteague Bay at each sample period at prevalences ranging from 8 to 48%. Infections were generally light to moderate intensity and were most often observed in mantle and gill tissues. The maximum prevalence was observed in May 1997 and coincided with notable clam mortalities. QPX prevalences at the other sites were low, ranging from 4 to 15%. To date QPX has not had a significant impact on Virginia's hard clam fishery and aquaculture industry; however, the presence of the pathogen in 3 of the state's most productive hard clam growout areas warrants continued monitoring and research.

KEY WORDS: QPX · Hard clams · Quahog · Mercenaria mercenaria · Virginia · Disease · Parasite

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