Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

VHS likely to spread in region

By Mike
Moore

Editor

Columbus – A fish virus that was responsible for a large fish
die-off in Lake Erie last spring will likely become widespread
throughout the Great Lakes basin in the coming years, according to
a researcher from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

But, there is somewhat of a silver lining in regard to viral
hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), said Yan Zhang, who has studied the
disease extensively.

‘This virus is here and it’s going to stay but it probably won’t
be as explosive as we’ve seen it,’ Zhang told attendees of the Ohio
Fish and Wildlife Conference in February. ‘There will be carriers,
but not widespread outbreaks.’

Hundreds of thousands of freshwater drum (sheepshead) and yellow
perch succumbed to the virus last spring on Lake Erie. Ohio
fisheries managers sent samples to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lab in Wisconsin, which confirmed the VHS virus.

‘More fish kills are to be expected, but it could be that in
time further outbreaks will be attenuated as surviving fish exposed
to the virus become immune,’ said Robert Bakal, a veterinarian who
is the aquatic animal health coordinator for the National Fish
Hatchery System.

But, the strain in the Great Lakes seems to be a heartier
version than its European counterpart, according to Zhang.

‘The virus (in the Great Lakes) seems to have a broader spectrum
of hosts than those found in other places, such as Europe,’ he
said.

VHS first showed up in the Great Lakes in 2005 when it killed
scores of sheepshead on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. The
virus struck the muskellunge population of Lake St. Clair, also in
2005, and affected multiple species last spring in Lake Ontario,
Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Lawrence River.

Jim Winton of the U.S. Geological Survey, a leading VHS
researcher, said the virus has been known for some years in Europe
and Japan. It is widely believed that VHS made its way into the
Great Lakes via the ballast water of ocean-going ships or as
hitchhikers in shipments of hatchery raised fish.

Researchers, Zhang said, were aware of VHS before 2005.

‘We know that this virus has occurred in the Great Lakes since
2003 but it didn’t get much attention because there were no large
die offs,’ he said.

The federal government last fall issued a ban against any
interstate shipment of live fish throughout the Great Lakes basin,
ostensibly to stop the spread of VHS (Ohio Outdoor News, Nov. 10).
The embargo includes emerald shiners and fathead minnows, two live
baits widely used by anglers on Lake Erie as well as inland lakes.
Still to be determined is the effect the bait ban will have on the
dealer industry, particularly on Ohio’s north coast where bait
dealers are worried that costs will soar.

The economic impact of such a ban, however, could go well beyond
just the bait dealers on the lake, said Clarissa Reynolds, who with
her husband, Frank, regularly fishes Lake Erie and Mosquito Creek
Lake in northeast Ohio.

‘If shiners go to $5 or $6 a dozen, am I still going to buy
them?’ said Reynolds of Cortland, Ohio. ‘I probably will but I’m
going to cut back somewhere else. I’m not going to stop and have
lunch on the way home anymore … It’s going to affect many
people.’

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