VHS Disease                                Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS)

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New Federal Order Issued That Restricts Interstate Transport of Live Fish
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This was posted on November 3 2006 

The DEC now has a web page posted that has VHS information. The link to that page is http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/fish/vhsv.html  Please pass on this link to any person who would like more information on VHS. At the bottom of the page, there are links to the June 2006 DEC Press Release and several links to USDA-APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) pages that will provide additional information and a link to the Federal Order that was issued.

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For Release: IMMEDIATE 
Contact: Maureen Wren 

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

DEC UPDATE ON STATUS OF VHS IN NEW YORK STATE WATERS New Federal Order Issued That Restricts Interstate Transport of Live Fish

      The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is issuing this update on the presence of Viral Hemorrhagic Septecemia (VHS) Virus in New York State waters and a new federal order that restricts the interstate transport of certain live fish. The virus is a pathogen of fish and does not pose any threat to public health. It was first confirmed in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and has now also been confirmed in Lake Erie and Conesus Lake.

      VHS is a fish disease that causes the hemorrhaging of the fish's tissues, including internal organs. Often, fish do not exhibit any external signs of having the disease. The disease affects all sizes of fish and not all infected fish develop the disease, but can continue to carry it and spread it to others. There is no known cure for VHS. The impact of this particular strain of VHS on fish populations is uncertain. It has caused fish mortalities ranging from a few fish impacted to thousands of fish impacted.

     While VHS is relatively common in continental Europe and Japan, where it affects both freshwater and marine fish, prior to 2003 the disease was limited in North America to marine species in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 2005, a die-off of freshwater drum and round goby in Lake Ontario's Bay of Quinte (Ontario, Canada) and muskellunge in the Michigan waters of Lake St. Clair was attributed to a new strain of VHS. This is the same strain found in the infected fish in New York waters.

      VHS was first confirmed in New York waters in May 2006 when it was linked to the death of round gobies and muskellunge in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. More recently, VHS caused the death of walleye in Conesus Lake. The virus has now been confirmed in round goby, burbot, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, pumpkinseed, rock bass, bluntnose minnow, emerald shiner and walleye in infected waters in New York State. To date, the virus has not been confirmed in trout and salmon from these waters and it is unknown whether this strain of VHS will impact these species.

     DEC, in cooperation with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, is sampling a number of waters across the State including all waters used as sources of brood stock for DEC hatchery activities to help determine how far the disease has spread in New York. DEC is also exploring options for actions that could be taken to prevent the further spread of the disease in the State.

     Due to the potential adverse effects of this disease on fish populations and the desire to prevent or delay its spread to other states, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a Federal Order on October 24, 2006, that prohibits the importation of certain species of live fish from Ontario and Quebec and interstate movement of the same species from eight states bordering the Great Lakes, effective immediately. The states included are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

     Fish species included in the federal prohibition are: Atlantic cod, black crappie, bluegill, bluntnose minnow, brown bullhead, brown trout, burbot, channel catfish, chinook salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon, emerald shiner, freshwater drum, gizzard shad, grayling, haddock, herring, Japanese flounder, largemouth bass, muskellunge, Pacific cod, northern pike, pink salmon, pumpkinseed, rainbow trout, redhorse sucker, rock bass, rockling, round goby, smallmouth bass, sprat, turbot, walleye, white bass, white perch, whitefish and yellow perch. Additional fish will be added to the order as they are confirmed to be carriers of this disease. Additional information on the Federal Order can be found on the APHIS website www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/aqua/ 

      VHS can be spread from waterbody to waterbody through a variety of means, not all of them known at this point. One known mechanism is through the movement of fish, including bait fish. To reduce the likelihood of spreading VHS in New York State, DEC encourages anglers and boaters to abide by the following guidelines:

  •  Remove all mud, aquatic plants and animals from all gear, boats, motors and trailers before leaving a body of water;
  •  Drain your live well, bilge and bait tanks before leaving the fishing or boating water. Anglers or boaters using infected waters should disinfect their live wells and bait wells with a 10 percent chlorine/water solution. Rinse well to remove all residual chlorine;
  •  Do not transport fish from one body of water to another. Note that this practice is illegal without a DEC fish stocking permit;
  • Only use bait fish in the waterbody it was taken from. Bait purchased commercially should not be released into any body of water; and
  • Do not dispose of fish carcasses or by-products in any body of water.

      The public is advised to contact their nearest DEC regional office if they witness a large number of dead or dying fish (usually 100 or more). Questions about VHS and potential DEC actions to prevent its spread can be e-mailed to [email protected]  or by calling 518-402-8896. The public is also advised to regularly check the Department website www.dec.state.ny.us  for updated information on VHS in New York State.

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The following is more explanation on this disease as commented on by Bill Hilts Jr. in his Weekly Tuesday Niagara Outdoors column.

Niagara Outdoors for Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Federal Order on VHS To Restrict Fish Movement

By Bill Hilts, Jr.                                                  

     The discovery of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in the Great Lakes, from Lake St. Clair to the St. Lawrence River, has resulted in a Federal Order to prohibit or restrict the interstate importation or movement of some 37 live fish species in an effort to limit the introduction or dissemination. Due to these outbreaks of VHS, the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued this order as a result of the Animal Health Protection Act. This is being issued to help prevent the spread of VHS into aquaculture facilities. 

     Effective immediately, the importation of these fish from the provinces of Ontario and Quebec are prohibited for these 37 species. Prohibited domestic areas include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is serious stuff when it comes down from the Feds, so the State's Department of Environmental Conservation will undoubtedly be putting further restrictions into place. 

       Look for restrictions on bait dealers, especially, because some of the fish species on the list in include the emerald shiner and bluntnose minnow. There could be more restrictions to deal with. Too. Before we get into this any further, just a quick comment that was made time and time again by DEC Bureau of Fisheries Chief Doug Stang: "VHS poses no risk to human health." DEC was already taking a more cautious approach when it came to fisheries management and fisheries movements because of VHS. There was some changes to DEC's standard operating procedures in relation to egg taking, handling and fish transfers from the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. 

     VHS was first discovered in Lake St. Clair, Michigan in 2003. Since that time, it has been discovered in Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It was first discovered in the United States in 1988 with spawning salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It has since been found in both wild and hatchery raised salmon in the Pacific Northwest. All told, nearly 40 different wild fish species - both freshwater and marine - have tested positive for the virus. "We're not trying to be alarmists," said Stang. "However, we will be taking numerous precautions in our day-to-day operations to help us prevent the inadvertent spread of this virus. We simply don't know enough about it yet." 

       Some of the actions that will be taken immediately include: 
     1.] Suspend the transfer of Chinook salmon/steelhead eggs or fish from Salmon River Fish Hatchery to Caledonia or other hatcheries (including Powder Mill Park); 
     2.]  Obtain/test pre-spawning adult salmon from Salmon River Fish Hatchery for presence of VHS; 
     3.] Disinfect eggs collected from all Pacific salmon, steelhead, lake trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon for 30-60 minutes during water hardening process to reduce the risk of vertical (fish to egg) transmission; 
    4.]  Sample 60 fish per species used for screening Lake Ontario salmonids for routine fish health inspections; n Review/experiment with coolwater species egg disinfection procedures to determine feasibility of disinfection during water hardening; 
    5.] Test coolwater species (walleye and muskellunge) for presence of VHS and develop an action plan for spring 2007 activities.

      "Once we get a couple years under our belt with the egg purification process, we'll go back to moving eggs to other hatcheries," said Stang. "We're just not comfortable with that process right now. It won't impact us that much for the time being." One impact will be with the stocking of some 450,000 king salmon that have been reared at the Caledonia Fish Hatchery the last several years. Some stakeholders within the Lake Ontario sportfishery have argued that fish from this hatchery have been giving Western Basin ports a much better survival rate and a greater return through the imprinting process. Plans were underway to fin clip and pen rear Caledonia salmon in Oak Orchard in 2007 and Olcott in 2008. That program will have to be suspended for the time being, with all salmon now coming from the Salmon River facility. What could have serious implications down the road is the fact that between 30 and 40 walleye from Conesus Lake in the Finger Lakes tested positive last August. At the same time, Lake Erie and Niagara River emerald shiners also tested positive, along with some blunt nose minnows in the St. Lawrence in September - all through a quick test that was developed through Cornell University. While the Cornell procedure has never been proven wrong, this is still preliminary information and not confirmed officially confirmed through the World Organization for Animal Health. We'll have more information for you as this all unfolds

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Syracuse Post Standard

Lake diseases linked to invasive species Sunday, November 05, 2006
By Delen Goldberg
Staff writer

Paralyzed water birds drown and float dead to shore. Virus-infected fish bleed out of their eyes. Invasive mussels and fish interact to spread toxic bacteria.

It's not a worst case-scenario. It's what's happening now on Lake Ontario, and scientists say invasive species and diseases are to blame.

In recent weeks, a toxic form of botulism has killed more than 500 common loons on the lake. A virus that causes uncontrolled bleeding has infected thousands of fish, killing hundreds and prompting federal officials to ban the transport of more than three dozen species.

"It's a horrible feeling, walking around the beach and seeing a bunch of corpses," said Jack Manno, executive director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium at the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. "People who have a sense that something is wrong are right."

Botulism spores have long been found in the sediment lining the bottom of Lake Ontario, but until quagga mussels arrived in the early 1990s, no toxic outbreaks bloomed, according to Helen Domske, a Buffalo-based senior extension specialist for New York SeaGrant. Many scientists believe the outbreaks began when quagga mussels started interacting with another invasive species: round gobies.

"You can have quagga mussels, but until you have round gobies, it's no problem," Domske said. "It's the two working together that causes these outbreaks."

Quagga musselssuck oxygen from Lake Ontario, creating a perfect breeding ground for toxic botulism, Manno said. While feeding, the mussels absorb botulism spores and concentrate them in their systems. Round gobies feed on the mussels, then pass the toxin on to the loons, gulls and mergansers that eat them.

The disease that is killing fish, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, also has no roots in Lake Ontario.

"We think VHS is an exotic, a recent introduction to the Great Lakes," said Gerry Barnhart, director of fish, wildlife and marine resources for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. "The virus was likely transported in ballast water in vessels coming from the Atlantic, through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes."

The recent diseaseoutbreaks have the potential to affect almost every aspect of the lake, including baitfish sales, sport and recreational fishing, tourism and property values.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently banned the interstate transport of 37 species of live fish to try to curb the spread of VHS. The state Department of Environmental Conservation this week is discussing enacting similar rules, Barnhart said.

"It's an economic problem," said Manno, of the Great Lakes Research Consortium. "Much of the commercial fisheries on the Great Lakes are baitfish."

Anglers, boaters and tourists in 2003 spent $600 million in the regions bordering the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes, according to a 2004 SeaGrant study, the most recent available.

"All the communitiesalong the lake and at the tributaries rely very heavily on summer tourism for their economic development, whether it's boating, fishing or sailing," said Christine Gray, director of the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism. "When there's a lot of reporting about issues on the lake, it has an impact on whether people will come here. They often won't."

Said Manno: "Who wants to go to the lake and see a bunch of dead birds?"

Barnhart said VHS could crush sport and recreational fishing if species such as smallmouth bass and walleye, both popular local game fish infected by the disease, start dying off in large numbers.

It's too early to tell if that will happen. Since VHS appeared only a few months ago in Lake Ontario, biologists are holding out hope that the fish may build a resistance to the disease.

But with no cures in sight, scientists expect problems to get worse before they get better - if they ever do. Biologists at the DEC agree that outbreaks of botulism, viral hemorrhagic septicemia and other diseases likely will become yearly events on Lake Ontario, as they have on other Great Lakes.

"Even if it ends during this migration period, we could see it again next year," DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said.

Like many invasive species, neither quagga mussels nor round gobies have natural predators in Lake Ontario. Scientists' only hope is to stop the spread of invasive species before they begin to choke and sicken inland water bodies, too.

That, however, takes funding, legislation and international cooperation, the experts said.

"We're really at the turning point," Manno said. "We're either going to do it now or we're going to regret it later."

Delen Goldberg can be reached at [email protected] or 470-2274.

2006 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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