Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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VHS regs hit baitfish price, offering

Waddington, N.Y. – Bait shops across New York are being affected
by new DEC regulations designed to stop the spread of the
fish-killing viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

Indications around the state are that the regulations, which
require testing of baitfish to make sure they’re disease-free, has
impacted both the price and availability of baitfish, notably
emerald shiners.

Emerald shiners are among the several species of fish that have
been identified as being a VHS carrier.

Ed Sheffield, owner of Ed’s Bait and Tackle, Waddington (St.
Lawrence County), says his baitfish prices are higher than before
VHS struck New York, and that the variety of bait he sells has been

“The bait prices vary just like gas or produce prices. Some
weeks they are higher than other weeks, just like any fresh
commodity. So any price I give now might be higher or lower next
week,” Sheffield said.

He added that bait prices tended to be higher after the onset of
VHS in New York waters, mainly due to the availability of bait.

“Because of the testing costs, many bait dealers opted not to
test the minnows, so those minnows aren’t available in New York any
longer,“ says Sheffield. “As a result, fewer minnows available to
the dealers means they can charge more for them. It’s also hard to
say how much of the increase is VHS testing-related or just the
higher fuel costs.”

Sheffield said the introduction of VHS has affected his shop in
a number of ways. He has a harder time getting different kinds of
minnows like emerald shiners and smelt so “it cuts down on what I
can offer customers.”

Golden shiners and fatheads are mostly available, says
Sheffield, who adds that in order to keep the prices reasonable he
has assumed some of the increased cost by lowering his markup.

Sheffield says the biggest impact he’s felt is taking the time
and educating the fishermen who come into his shop.

“Many of them have questions about the disease, the effects, the
new regulations, etc. So I find myself in a position of being the
one to inform them on all aspects of VHS and being an ambassador
for the DEC in getting people to comply with the regulations. I
also have to dispel the misinformation that many have,“ he

Some anglers feel the VHS regulations are a way for the bait
shops to raise the prices on minnows and make a profit.

“Many people get mad at me and say the whole VHS thing is just a
way for the bait shops to make more money on the minnows. It is
amazing to me that many people think that, but many do. When I try
to tell them it’s costing me money because my markup is lower they
don’t seem to believe it, so we really try to give the customers
accurate information about VHS and the intent of the regulations in
order to get everyone on the same page and in compliance,”
Sheffield said.

Larry Ditzel, owner of Pembroke Bait & Tackle in Corfu
(Genesee County), says the new regulations have been a hardship on
his business.

“We used to sell locally caught bait such as suckers, fatheads
and emerald shiners. We have not been able to find a supplier for
suckers and can’t sell locally caught fatheads or emerald shiners.
Fatheads and emerald shiners used to be one of our best money
makers,” Ditzel said. “Bait sales have fallen by 40 percent, along
with buckets and minnow nets.”

The prices at Pembroke Bait & Tackle for bass bait was $4.50
a dozen, and pike bait was $7.50 a dozen last month.

“We have only raised prices for bass and pike bait by 50 cents
per dozen, even though our prices have increased by more than that.
My bait prices will go up this spring,” said Ditzel, explaining his
bait comes from Arkansas, which shortens its life span.

“Bait that’s being transported to New York from Arkansas is
usually in poor condition when we receive it and its tank life is
too short to make a profit,“ he said.

Ditzel predicts the new regulations will cause some shops to
close their doors or cut back on hours of operation.

“I think you’ll see many small shops closing in the next couple
of years or cutting back hours to work other jobs,” said

While the DEC regulations have been added inconvenience to bait
shops, Jeff Goldberg, owner of Fish307 in Lake George (Warren
County) says the rise in costs can be attributed to other things,
as well.

“It’s more due to the cost of gasoline than the certification
costs of baitfish,” said Goldberg, adding that the baitfish trucked
from a supplier is not only shipping bait, but a lot of water. “All
of that will weigh down the truck even more and cost more.”

What has been affected by the onset of VHS is the availability
of certain species of baitfish, according to Goldberg.

“Emerald shiners will be on a short supply this year. I’m secure
enough, I believe, for the winter,” said Goldberg, whose business
is located near one of the top ice fishing waters in the state,
Lake George.

Suckers are also hard to get, but Goldberg says he believes he’s
got enough to last the ice fishing season. Goldberg says that will not be offering
any hunt shiners this year.

VHS made its first known appearance in the Great Lakes and St.
Lawrence River in 2005, killing a number of freshwater drum and
muskellunge. Since then it has spread to Lake Erie, the Niagara
River, the St. Lawrence River, Conesus and Skaneateles lakes, the
Little Salmon River, the Seneca-Cayuga Canal and a farm pond in
Niagara County.

DEC instituted new regulations last June to try to stop the
spread of VHS. Bait shops can now sell three types of bait fish –
uncertified, certified and preserved.

Uncertified baitfish have not been tested for fish diseases like
VHS and can only be used in the same body of water where they were
collected to reduce the risk of spreading disease. They also cannot
be transported overland by motorized vehicle.

Certified bait fish can be transported overland and can be used
in any body of water where it is legal to use baitfish. When buying
certified baitfish, a sales receipt that states the bait is
certified and has the name of the selling vendor, date sold,
species of fish sold, and quantity of fish sold must be issued by
the bait vendor. The angler must have this receipt available while
transporting or using the bait fish, according to DEC.

Preserved bait fish are dead and have been preserved by a method
other than solely freezing. Preserved baitfish do not have to be
certified and may be transported overland.

According to DEC’s Web site, bait stores can only sell
uncertified or certified baitfish and cannot have a combination of
both. If a bait store has even some uncertified bait fish, all bait
fish will be considered uncertified to avoid the risk of
miscommunication or cross contamination that could spread VHS.

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