Reynoldsburg, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Agriculture hopes to
prevent fish from moving out of the portion of northern Ohio that
has been affected by a viral fish disease on Lake Erie.
State Agriculture Director Robert J. Boggs issued a proclamation
the first week of May prohibiting the in-state transportation,
sale, or distribution of 36 fish species susceptible to Viral
Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) out of the affected region in northern
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) had already issued an interstate ban on
the same fish species for states in the Great Lakes region and two
Canadian provinces. The federal order was put in place last October
in response to the rapid spread of VHS in the Great Lakes region
and the potential impact of the disease on a growing number of fish
species, including species of fish raised commercially in the
United States, according to APHIS.
A large fish kill last spring on Lake Erie that involved
primarily sheepshead and yellow perch was blamed on VHS.
The driving force behind the state order, according to the
agriculture department, is Ohio’s aquaculture industry, which
includes commercial fish farmers, haulers, and processors that
provide fish for public consumption.
‘Aquaculture is a thriving business in Ohio, and this specific
proclamation will address the problem directly by containing
movement where it is necessary and allowing the rest of the state
to carry on its day-to-day operations,’ Boggs said. ‘What we’re
hoping is to get the rest of the state released from quarantine by
What the state’s order does is prohibits intrastate distribution
of VHS-susceptible fish or eggs, excluding channel catfish, out of
the area in Ohio north of U.S. Route 6 from the Indiana border to
the intersection of U.S. Route 6 and Interstate 90 near Fremont,
continuing on I-90 to the Pennsylvania border. This also includes
the Sandusky River south of U.S. Route 6 to the Ballville dam.
Sportfishermen also will not be able to purchase those baitfish
on the banned list, such as emerald shiners, inside the quarantine
zone and transport them to other parts of the state. The same
restriction also does not allow fishermen to transfer live fish
caught in the quarantine zone to other inland waters.
The state order, which was put into effect immediately for a
period of one year, does not apply to live fish or eggs removed
directly from production facilities that have tested negative for
VHS. It also excludes live fish or eggs that are being transported
for use by research scientists in closed research facilities with
Testing to date performed by the Ohio Department of
Agriculture’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory has revealed
that VHS is not present in the lower three-fourths of the state.
The department, which began testing just about a month ago, will
continue to test and monitor for the disease.
‘We’re trying to demonstrate to (the federal government) that
through very thorough testing in central and southern Ohio the
virus has not shown up and so our aquaculture should be released,’
Boggs said. ‘Where we know there is no virus, we’re trying to free
up the (aquaculture) industry to be able to export to other
VHS is a dangerously contagious or infectious animal disease,
which must be reported under state law. VHS was introduced into the
wild fish population by an invasive species. It is not harmful to
humans, according to the state agriculture department.
VHS-susceptible fish of concern in Ohio include: black crappie,
bluegill, bluntnose minnow, brown bullhead, brown trout, burbot,
emerald shiner, freshwater drum, gizzard shad, largemouth bass,
muskellunge, pike, pink salmon, pumpkinseed, rainbow trout,
redhorse sucker, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass ,
and yellow perch.
Meanwhile, on May 4 APHIS revised it’s order regarding VHS to
allow for catch-and-release fishing activities because they do not
unduly increase the risk of introduction and spread of the disease,
according to a statement from the agency.
The new order will allow for the catch-and-release of
VHS-susceptible fish in waters that cross state and international
boundaries. These activities include recreational fishing,
tournaments, competitions, fishing derbies or other types of
contests where individuals catch, compare, and release live
VHS-susceptible fish. Catch-and-release fishing activities do not
include the movement of VHS-susceptible fish intended to be used as
The largest and most prominent aquaculture sectors in the U.S.
(listed according to pounds raised) are catfish, oysters, trout,
crawfish, salmon, clams, tilapia, striped bass, baitfish, and
ornamental fishes., according to the National Aquaculture
Each of these industry sectors have developed over the past 30
to 50 years and, with the exception of baitfish and ornamentals,
are generally directed at production for human consumption. The
catfish sector is by far the largest with total production
exceeding 500 million pounds per year, according to the NAA.
Bob Calala runs Calala’s Water Haven in Huron County, a fish
farm that deals in baitfish, fish for wholesalers, and freshwater
shrimp. He’s also a member of a fish health advisory committee that
advises the Department of Agriculture on aqualture issues. Like
others in the industry, Calala has spent time in Washington and
other places arguing with the federal government over its original
‘It’s a bad disease and no one wants it in their facility,’ he
said. ‘But, I think APHIS jumped the gun when it issued (the
Calala said the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission was in the
process of developing a plan to deal with VHS when the APHIS order
came down, which effectively locked up the aquaculture industry
across the Great Lakes. DNR Division of Wildlife fisheries
administrator Ray Petering has also expressed similar frustration
with the order for similar reasons.
‘Without knowing how (VHS) is transmitted and without knowing
how far it has spread, (APHIS) put the state borderline regulations
in place because that’s the only thing it has jurisdiction for,’
Calala said. ‘But, there was nothing precluding bait dealers from
going up to Lake Erie to get known-infested emerald shiners and
taking them down to the Ohio River and selling them. There was no
containment. All (the original order) did was screw up a bunch of
fish farmers who were trying to move their fish from Ohio to New
York or Michigan or wherever. There was no clear plan of how these
things were going to be tested or any of that.’
Calala credits the Ohio Department of Agriculture for trying to
get ahead of VHS, particularly through the work of Tony Forshey,
the chief veterinarian for the department.
‘They’ve got their lab ramped up so they can test for (VHS), and
they did that without any funding,’ Calala said. ‘APHIS hasn’t come
down with any emergency funding.’