DNR looks at ways to slow fish-killing virus in rivers, Great Lakes
Published in the Kalamazoo Gazette May 11, 2007
Michigan regulators hoping to delay a killer virus' march across the Great Lakes are proposing tighter controls on moving some fish species between waterways for activities such as stocking ponds and selling live bait.
Rebecca Humphries, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is expected to decide early next month whether to approve the rules, which would take effect June 28. The state Natural Resources Commission, which sets policy for the DNR, was briefed on the plan Thursday in Lansing.
``It's designed to slow the spread of various fish pathogens,'' said Gary Whelan, the DNR's fish-production manager. ``You really can't stop them, but we can slow them down.''
The primary target is viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, a microscopic invader from Europe that has caused fish kills in lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron and St. Clair, and in several rivers that link them. It doesn't harm people.
VHS is expected to soon make its way into Lake Michigan through natural movement of infected fish. State authorities hope to keep it out of Lake Superior and Michigan's inland lakes and streams as long as possible by closing off potential shortcuts while they develop a damage-control strategy.
The rules would require commercial operators to get certification before transporting or selling live fish or fish eggs within Michigan or releasing them into public waterways. Applicants for certification would have to have the fish or eggs tested at a state-approved laboratory.
The requirement would pertain only to fish on a list of susceptible species. The DNR periodically would update its list, which now includes 32 species, including such prized sport and commercial varieties as brown trout, chinook and coho salmon, walleye, whitefish and yellow perch.
Bait wholesalers and retailers would have to give customers a receipt stating where the fish or eggs were taken.
Another requirement: People who catch fish on the list of affected species could release them only into the water body from which they came.
In addition to general rules, the package has VHS-specific policies that differ among three management zones: areas where the pathogen is known to be present; areas where it's likely to show up in the near future; and areas believed free of the pathogen.
Whelan said one goal is to discourage amateur ``bait-bucket biologists'' from catching fish in one waterway and releasing them in another to promote growth of the species.