Parks approve Lake Superior VHS plan

Midland, Mich. – The fish-killing disease viral hemorrhagic
septicemia (VHS) hasn’t been detected in Lake Superior, and four
National Park Service units and the Grand Portage Band of Lake
Superior Chippewa Indians aim to keep it that way.

And, they’re ready to pounce if the virus does show up
there.

The four NPS units – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Isle
Royale National Park in Michigan, Apostle Islands National
Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and Grand Portage National Monument and the
Grand Portage Indian Reservation which contains it in Minnesota –
have issued an Early Detection and Response Plan for viral
hemorrhagic septicemia, which despite its title, aims at avoidance
first, and then detection and remediation if required.

The document outlines specific risk assessment, detection,
triggers, and steps for park managers, tribal managers, and
others.

It analyzes risks posed by the various pathways the virus might
take to reach the lake, and outlines measures that might be taken
to block them.

It also includes overall plans to prevent and, if necessary,
respond to the virus, and ways that the NPS units and tribe could
cooperate with each other and other tribes, agencies, and
organizations.

All this, despite the fact that the five entities control a
small portion of Lake Superior, generally no more than a
quarter-mile off their shorelines.

But the threat is real, the effort important, and the action a
challenge to other agencies to rise to the same level of readiness,
said Houghton-based NPS Great Lakes Area Fishery Biologist Jay
Glase, in a phone interview with Michigan Outdoor News.

In any event, he said, the law requires the agency to protect
the resources under its care.

VHS was first detected in the Great Lakes in 2003 and was
probably here a year or two earlier. It has been found in the other
four Great Lakes, and, “Eventually all the (Lake Superior) parks
realized that this (plan) is something they could and should do,
for both reasons – encouraging other agencies to plan, and because
they have a legal mandate,” Glase said.

The plan does not include new regulations, although Pictured
Rocks and Apostle Islands have enacted new regulations on the use
of bait, and plans are being drafted for Isle Royale.

The plan also outlines ways visitors and others can keep the
lake disease-free.

Because the parks draw lots of visitors – anglers and
non-anglers – “this seemed like a good way to perform outreach. It
is our ultimate goal to keep this virus out of Lake Superior
altogether,” Glase said.

Is that reasonable?

“In my heart I like to think so,” Glase said, “and I think it
can at least be slowed.”

A slower introduction would give people and fish more time to
adapt to it, with fish perhaps able to develop some immunity.

The fact that VHS hasn’t arrived in Superior yet is cause for
some optimism, he said. But the stakes are high: Specific threats
included potential loss of Isle Royale coaster brook trout, source
of eggs and milt for hatchery reproduction and restoration
work.

NPS is asking that states to impose emergency actions to protect
park fisheries resources (and indeed, Michigan has already enacted
bait restrictions and public information efforts).

Should that not be possible in the emergency timeframe, the NPS
and the Grand Traverse Band will collaborate with the states but
will act within their authorities.

Citizens, said Glase, are “pretty supportive of what we’re
trying to do to prevent this stuff. They seem willing to make
changes to help.”

Still, he said, “There are so many ways it could get into this
system.”

One, of course, is ballast water – the way experts figure VHS
came to the Great Lakes in the first place.

The highest recreation-related risks, the plan says, include
bait use, bait collection, and movement of boats and other
equipment that can hold water.

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