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Great Lakes Article:

Bay fish pass VHS tests
By Brandon Veale -
Published June 1, 2007

ESCANABA — As bad news related to viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) continued to pile up in the Upper Midwest, local Department of Natural Resources officials have good news.

Fish tested for the disease from Little Bay de Noc remain healthy, at least for now.

“To date, all of the fish we’ve sent in from Little Bay de Noc are negative for VHS,” said Mike Herman, an Escanaba-based DNR fisheries biologist.

The test involves a complicated and expensive process of isolating DNA and RNA and requires five to seven weeks to interpret.

The negative test is a rare bright spot. Earlier in May, VHS-positive fish were found in Little Lake Butte des Morts in the Lake Winnebago system in central Wisconsin. Wisconsin DNR officials admitted to finding a VHS-infected brown trout in Lake Michigan near Algoma May 24.

Earlier this spring, a fish die-off in Thunder Bay near Alpena was also suspected to be caused by a VHS outbreak.

The Algoma discovery means the likelihood that VHS is coming or is here grows.

“If it’s in Lake Michigan and it’s south of us and it spreads, we’re probably going to see it,” Herman said.

VHS, which is believed to have arrived in the Great Lakes in ballast water from ocean freighters, causes deadly bleeding in fish. It is not harmful to humans.

Even if VHS does arrive in the Bays de Noc, it isn’t known what impact the disease will have on the local fishery.

Local DNR officials are hoping the fish will develop resistance and the disease will run its course.

Ohio officials are optimistic the disease has spared the Lake Erie fishery, where the disease appeared last spring. There have been no major fish kills this year, and with waters warming beyond the virus’s thriving range, the southern Great Lakes may soon be out of great outbreak danger.

The virus thrives in 37- to 54-degree water.

Ray Petering, head of fisheries management for the Ohio Division of Wildlife told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I’m cautiously optimistic VHS may have taken from Lake Erie what it’s going to take. We can go out there and find the virus in test fish, but it’s not killing them.”

DNR officials have been carefully cleaning their boats, draining live wells and other places where water might be stored.

“We’re being extra cautious about how we handle our equipment because we do not want to be the ones who spread this virus,” Herman said.

A solution of five gallons water to a half-cup bleach will eliminate the virus, and Herman recommended recreational boaters use it on their boats to prevent the spread of VHS.

At the moment, he said the most proactive thing the DNR can do to stop the spread of VHS is make sure they aren’t transmitting it and “beg anglers and boaters they aren’t doing the same thing.”

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