VHS disease has entered Great Lakes
By Michael Eckert
Port Huron Times-Herald
Published January 26, 2007
Canadian tackle shops are upset about new rules limiting the transport and sale of minnows.
Their Michigan counterparts worry they're next for what may go from restrictions to outright baitfish bans.
Biologists on both sides of the border had hopes that minnow restrictions would stop or slow the spread of a devastating new fish disease to the upper Great Lakes.
It's too late.
The situation became hopeless Thursday when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed that viral hemorrhagic septicemia is in northern Lake Huron. VHS was found in lake whitefish caught near Cheboygan, in whitefish and walleye from the Thunder Bay area, and in Chinook salmon taken from the Swan River near Rogers City.
VHS was first found in the region in 2005. That year, muskellunge and freshwater drum from Lake St. Clair were the first species to show the infection.
Until then, it was considered a disease that affected only salmonids grown in European fish-farming operations. How or exactly when it got to Lake St. Clair isn't known.
Lake St. Clair anglers, though, already know what it does.
It kills fish - lots of them and in sometimes gruesome ways.
Infected fish basically bleed to death internally. Some fish show no external symptoms, but others show signs of infection that include bulging eyes, bloated abdomens, bruised-looking reddish tints to the eyes, skin, gills and fins. Some infected fish have open sores that may look like the lesions from other diseases or from lamprey attacks.
In 2005, Lake St. Clair anglers were asked to look for muskies that might have the disease.
During the summer of 2006, they didn't have to look far.
Anglers reported seeing lots of dead fish last year along beaches and in canals. Biologists have confirmed most were killed by VHS.
Of particular concern is that the disease has infected a broad range of fish species. Unlike the virus' European cousin, VHS has killed trout and perch, gobies, emerald shiners and muskies in Lake St. Clair. Then the DNR added whitefish, salmon and walleye to the list Thursday.
Because of that, expect further bait restrictions as the DNR adds Lake Huron to the list of infected waterways.
As the agency steps up monitoring and testing efforts, it again begs anglers to help stop the spread of this disease and other imported threats to our fisheries.
Anglers are asked not to move live fish between the Great Lakes and inland waters, particularly minnow species, and to disinfect techniques for boats, live wells and equipment before moving them between lakes.
Thoroughly cleaning boats, trailers, nets and other equipment when traveling between different lakes and streams also helps. A solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water kills the VHS virus and other germs that cause disease in fish. It also kills a wide range of aquatic nuisance species such as zebra mussels.