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Great Lakes Article:

State adopts emergency rules to halt spread of deadly fish virus
By Ben Jones
Appleton Post Crescent
Posted May 17, 2007


MADISON — The largely unregulated wild bait industry will undergo scrutiny and fishermen soon will be banned from transporting live fish from the Lake Winnebago System.

The measures, adopted by the state Department of Natural Resources Board in an emergency rule Thursday, are part of a fast-paced effort to contain the spread of a virus deadly to many species of Wisconsin fish.

The virus made its first Wisconsin appearance in the Fox Valley.

Officials last weekend confirmed that viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, was present in two freshwater drum, commonly called sheepshead, that died May 2 in Little Lake Butte des Morts.

Tests are pending on additional fish taken from Lake Winnebago.

“We are seeing the beginnings of a fish kill possibly in the Lake Winnebago System,” said Mike Staggs, director of the DNR’s Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection.

Although the virus poses no health risk to humans, officials fear the virus could lead to large fish kills in Wisconsin.

“The sun is going to come up on fishing tomorrow in Wisconsin and on into the future,” Staggs said. “We are not trying, by any way, stretch or means sound any kind of death knell for any fisheries here in the state. … On the other hand there are reasons why we have to treat this as a very serious fish health issue.”

To avoid the spread of the virus into Lake Winnebago, officials closed the Fox River lock in Menasha this past weekend, although they plan to reopen the locks if VHS is found to already be in the lake.

Thursday’s action extended emergency rules in place in lakes Michigan and Superior and the Mississippi River. The rules require bait dealers to document where and when they harvest wild bait. Currently people who harvest bait must register with the state but aren’t required to document their harvests.

The rules also require fishermen to drain live wells and bilges after each fishing trip. Fishermen will not be allowed to transport live fish, including bait, from the Winnebago system.

The rules apply to the Winnebago system, including the Wolf River upstream to Shawano; the Fox River south to Montello and north to Green Bay; the Pine River to Poysippi; the Little Wolf to Manawa; and the Embarrass River to Pella.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a group of 155 hunting fishing and trapping groups, called for a statewide rule.

“We believe that the proposed regulations are not strong enough,” he said.

The board adopted the rule following Meyer’s testimony. It will be extended statewide if infected fish are found elsewhere. In the meantime, the DNR is crafting a permanent rule that could carry the regulations statewide.

The virus has the potential to kill a wide range of fish.

The World Organization for Animal Health and the United State Department of Agriculture identified 37 fish species susceptible to the virus. According to the state DNR, 19 of these species live in the Lake Winnebago system, including its tributaries. Some are popular game fish such as walleye, muskellunge and largemouth bass.

Ben Jones can be reached at 608-255-9256, or bjones@postcrescent.com.

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