Feds set fish movement rules for the Great Lakes

Traverse City, Mich. (AP) – Federal regulators trying to contain
a fish-killing virus in the Great Lakes region have issued rules
for shipping live fish across state lines that some wholesalers say
will be financially devastating.

The requirements recently were announced by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. They
require testing and inspections of 28 farm-raised and live bait
species susceptible to viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS.

The virus, fatal for fish but not believed to affect humans, has
caused die-offs in all the Great Lakes except Lake Superior the
past couple of years. It also has shown up in some inland
waterways. Authorities say it endangers the region’s billion-dollar
sport and commercial fisheries.

Most of the eight states on the Great Lakes have taken steps to
prevent the disease from spreading. APHIS, the federal agency,
issued an emergency order on interstate fish transport in 2006 and
has modified it several times while developing the interim
rules.

They take effect Nov. 10. APHIS said it would accept public
comments until then and develop a final set of regulations. No
deadline for its completion has been set.

“There will still be a risk of spreading VHS, but we tried to
reduce it as much as possible while still allowing commerce,” said
Gary Egrie, an APHIS veterinary medical officer for aquaculture
programs.

But some suppliers of live fish said the complex package was
regulatory overkill that would eat away their profits on test and
inspection fees without solving the VHS problem.

“They are potentially destroying the Great Lakes aquaculture
industry,” said Dan Vogler, a board member of the Michigan
Aquaculture Association and operator of a Wexford County fish farm
that ships live rainbow trout to several states.

Among fish covered by the rules are brown and rainbow trout,
chinook salmon, walleyes, yellow perch, lake whitefish, and
muskellunge, as well as bait species such as emerald and spottail
shiners.

The new rules continue requiring wholesale production facilities
in the region that send fish across state lines to have the fish
tested periodically for VHS. They must undergo two tests a year, at
least three months apart, with 150 fish tested at a time.

But a new provision allows those drawing water from “closed”
sources such as wells to gradually reduce the number of fish
tested. If no VHS is found after four years, they’d have to test
just 30 fish.

Vogler said 283 of the region’s 425 fish farms – 66 percent –
use water from “open” sources such as streams or lakes. They would
have to continue testing 150 fish, which he said carries a hefty
price tag. Not only do they lose the fish, but producers must pay
veterinarians to remove the spleens and kidneys. They must pay
shipping costs and lab fees.

Another requirement: Live fish sent across state lines must be
inspected by a veterinarian for signs of VHS within 72 hours prior
to shipment.

Vogler, who draws water from a creek and a well, said the rules
would cost him about $37,000 a year, leaving no profit.

Ben Gollon, a live bait wholesaler in Stevens Point, Wis., said
he expected to spend $60,000 this year to comply.

“It’s outrageous,” he said.

The rule also sets testing requirements for live fish shipped
from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Despite the industry complaints, the new regulations don’t
appear to differ significantly from the previous federal order,
said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery
Commission.

While describing federal and state containment efforts as
“appropriate,” he said governments had not done enough to prevent
further introductions of invasive organisms. Scientists believe VHS
was among many species brought to the region inside ballast tanks
of oceangoing ships.

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