VHS effort focuses on movement of baitfish

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — Proposed regulations designed to halt the spread of the
VHS virus into other New York State waters are identical to the
emergency rules put in place last month.

And while a public comment period on the proposed regulations
will run from Dec. 6-Jan. 22, DEC officials have already heard from
many of those affected by the restrictions that particularly target
the movement of baitfish between waters.

“We’ve already received quite a bit of feedback from folks,” DEC
Fisheries Bureau Chief Doug Stang said late last month. “Obviously
there’s a great deal of dispute; bait dealers and anglers are
concerned about the regulations.”

The rules prohibit the commercial collection of baitfish from
New York waters where VHS – Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia – has been
detected, and also limit anglers to possessing no more than 100
baitfish and restricts their use in only the waters from where they
were collected.

Bait dealers are also subject to strict regulation of their
supplies, which must be tested for VHS and other diseases. The
regulations are expected by many to drive up bait prices during the
ice fishing season and also may result in some shortages.

“We’re trying to control the movement of baitfish,” Stang said,
previously calling baitfish “probably the biggest vector (carrier)
of VHS.”

In addition to the emergency regulations established by DEC, a
federal order is in place that restricts the importation of several
species of live fish from the eight states bordering the Great
Lakes – including New York – as well as from the Canadian provinces
of Ontario and Quebec.

Stang said DEC is setting up a series of meetings across the
state to discuss VHS – which poses not risk to humans – and the
regulations.

“They’ll be public information meetings to talk about VHS and
the regulations. It won’t be an official public comment period on
the regs, although we’ll accept public comment. It will be a
presentation followed by a question-and-answer period,” he
said.

DEC at presstime was finalizing the meeting schedule, but Stang
said most will likely be held early next year.

In New York, VHS has been confirmed in several waters – Lake
Ontario, Lake Erie, Conesus Lake and the St. Lawrence River. The
regulations target those waters as well as their numerous
tributaries.

The virus, fairly common in Europe, causes internal bleeding in
fish that ultimately leads to death. Species involved thus far in
New York include muskellunge, walleyes, emerald shiners and
bluntnose minnows.

Stang said the good news, outside of the spread of VHS into
Conesus Lake, is that it has remained in the Great Lakes
system.

“There have been no new cases of late,” he said, noting that
tests on Lake Ontario chinook salmon and coho salmon were negative,
as well as tests on Oneida Lake walleyes, lake trout from Cayuga
and Raquette lakes, and landlocked salmon from Little Clear Pond,
used by the DEC to raise brook stock.

The regulations have also impacted private hatcheries that
provide fish to other states. Stang said DEC is assisting with VHS
testing in some cases, “but we don’t have unlimited staff and
unlimited resources.”

The emergency regulations went into effect Nov. 21. A text of
the regulations – as well as the proposed regulations – can be
found in DEC’s Web site at www.dec.state.ny.us. Comments can be
sent by mail to Shaun Keeler, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY
12233-4750 or by e-mail by going to the Web site and clicking on
the VHS link in the upper left corner of the DEC home page.

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