VHS Disease   
Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia


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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 
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

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

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

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
  •  Do not transport fish from one body of water to another.
    Note that this practice is illegal without a DEC fish stocking
  • 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

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.

See more explanations below. 

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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

By Bill Hilts, Jr.

The discovery of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia
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)
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.
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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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

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

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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