University of Toledo funded for VHS study

Toledo, Ohio – The Lake Erie Center at the University of Toledo
has been awarded a $209,126 federal grant to study a deadly fish
disease that has threatened the health of many species of Great
Lakes fish.

The grant, announced in July by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-
Toledo, will fund a two-year study into viral hemorrhagic
septicemia, or VHS. It is an infectious viral disease present in
several species of fish in the Great Lakes, including all-important
walleye and yellow perch.

VHS has been responsible for several fish kills in the Great
Lakes, including a kill of thousands of freshwater drum, or
sheepshead, and yellow perch in central Lake Erie in the summer of

It is regarded by government biologists as the most dangerous
fish virus in the world, though it poses no harm to humans.

For the first time, VHS recently was confirmed in fish beyond
the Lake Erie watershed in inland Ohio – among muskellunge at Clear
Fork Reservoir near Mansfield (Ohio Outdoor News, June 20).

No fish kill has been recorded at Clear Fork to date, but state
biologists are on guard to prevent the spread of VHS to state

A series of federal restrictions remain in effect on movement of
37 fish species in the Great Lakes basin.

“Lake Erie is the heart of our Great Lakes fishery, producing
more than all the other lakes combined,” Kaptur said.

“This virus not only harms our ecosystem, but could deal a
crippling blow to our commercial and recreational fishing
industries,” she said. “Arresting the VHS outbreak, possibly
through a vaccine, must be one of our top priorities.”

Carol Stepien, director of the UT lake center, said that among
other things a center research team will be trying to develop is a
rapid-detection system that would allow confirmation of VHS in a
fish sample within two hours.

Stepien added that so far this summer no VHS outbreaks have
appeared on Lake Erie.

Some biologists think that some fish may develop a resistance to
VHS over time (Ohio Outdoor News, July 4).

Reprinted by permission of The Blade of Toledo, July 2008.

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