Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Pawlenty signs legislation focusing on VHS into law

St. Paul – Legislation aimed at safeguarding the state from a
deadly fish virus was approved by Gov. Tim Pawlenty during the
final week of the ’08 session. The bill’s primary focus is the
movement of fish species – especially across state lines –
including minnows that are on the federal list of “susceptible”
fish species.

Anglers, officials say, should continue to do what they’ve been
doing all along – not moving fish, water, or vegetation from one
body of water to another. Commercial operators will be most
directly affected. House bill author Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South
St. Paul, said some fish producers voiced concerns about disease
testing.

“That’s why we put an amendment in the ag bill,” Hansen said.
“There were concerns about the costs and availability of
testing.”

Hansen called the legislation “prevention-oriented,” and said
the Legislature would like multiple testing options available,
especially in the event of an outbreak of the disease.

The amendment directs the DNR commissioner to work with the
departments of agriculture and health to develop a plan “for
detecting and responding to the presence of VHS in Minnesota.”

The plan must cover how the joint laboratory facility at the
departments of agriculture and health may be used to provide
testing needed to diagnose and respond to VHS.

The DNR commissioner is to report back to the Legislature.

“I am pleased we have passed a prevention strategy for dealing
with VHS,” Hansen said in a press statement. “The DNR needs to work
quickly and effectively with anglers and the industry to implement
the law.”

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia has been confirmed in the Lower
Great Lakes, as well as inland lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin. It
hasn’t yet been found in Lake Superior or the Mississippi River,
the two water bodies in the state deemed most likely to be
subjected to VHS.

The state DNR, meanwhile, is working to complete its own plan
that deals with VHS – from preventative measures to reaction,
should the disease be found.

Roy Johannes, of DNR Fisheries, said the department is in the
“final stages” of its plan.

VHS is considered a threat because of the dramatic effect it
could have on fish species including game fish like black crappie,
muskellunge, walleye, smallmouth bass, bluegill, lake trout, salmon
species, and more.

The disease, which causes fish to bleed, both internally and
externally, prefers cool water and usually affects fish during
periods of high stress, such as the during the spawn. Some
observers believe the disease – like many other invasives – first
entered the Great Lakes system via ballast water from oceangoing
ships.

The legislative bill in some ways expands on fish-movement laws
already in place, Johannes said. “We just added ‘VHS species’ to
it,” he said.

In general, the movement of any fish listed on the federal VHS
list is monitored in some way, and testing is usually required.

The states of Wisconsin and Michigan, where VHS was found in
inland waters, have greater restrictions, on both dealers and
anglers. And many of the states to which Minnesota minnows go have
had import restrictions since 2006, when federal rules first began
to restrict interstate movement of fish. In past years, Johannes
said, at least half of the bait harvested in Minnesota has been
shipped out-of-state.

Dave Spartz, of Longville Bait Co. in Longville, said the
legislation will have little immediate effect. Minnows – except the
spottail shiner, which is available only from Mille Lacs, Johannes
said – aren’t on the VHS-susceptible list, and Spartz doesn’t move
fish out of the state.

“It’s the bigger guys (in fish-rearing and export) that might be
affected,” he said.

Commercial fish rearers and hatcheries will be directly
affected. The bill states that a transportation permit will be
required for VHS-susceptible fish species and that the fish be
certified free of VHS. That’s for sales between hatcheries and
aquatic farms. Importation permits also will be required for fish
on the VHS list, and they must must be tested for the disease.

Furthermore, minnows brought into an aquatic farm must be
certified as VHS-free; and minnow transport throughout the state by
commercial operators may require disease-free status of the
fish.

Stocking of fish also will be affected by the rule, Johannes
said.

Once a lake is determined to be infected with VHS, fish that
have VHS or haven’t been tested may be stocked in those waters.
However, fish on the VHS list that are stocked into state waters
must be certified VHS-free.

Testing for VHS is done by veterinarians, the DNR’s lab, and the
University of Minnesota, Johannes said.

“The only change for the general public,” Johannes said, “is
that before, they could import fish for aquariums. That has been
repealed.”

With financial help from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, the Minnesota DNR has begun testing of state
waters for the disease. Thirty lakes were tested last fall; another
60 were slated for testing this year.

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