July 2, 2008
Fish Disease May Trickle Down to Anglers
By ART HOLDEN
By ART HOLDEN
While some stories have called it "an escaped killer," the recent viral hemorrhagic septicemia disease discovered recently in fish in Clear Fork Reservoir isn't the concern some make it out to be, and definitely is not of concern for humans.
VHS was detected in Clear Fork back in April, making the Lexington-area reservoir the first inland lake in the United States to test positive for the fish-killing disease.
"Most importantly," said fisheries biologist Matt Wolfe with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, "it's not transferable to humans. You can fish even with VHS, and any fish you catch are safe to eat."
VHS is a fish disease first found in Europe. It causes internal and external bleeding in fish, and is at its worst when fish are under stress (such as during the spawn) and at low water temperatures.
"With where the water temperatures are right now, we're probably in the clear as far as any die-offs," said Wolfe.
Wolfe also said there is nothing the Division of Wildlife, or other agencies, can do to get rid of VHS. However, it's not as deadly of a virus as some may expect. That's not to say this outbreak shouldn't be considered serious.
"It's likely the disease has been around, but it takes certain conditions for it to become deadly," said Wolfe.
It's believed that VHS, like certain other diseases that affect animals, is one fish can develop a resistance to over time
"The ones that survive build an immunity to it," said Jeff Herrick, manager oh the DOW's District Three Office in Akron. "A couple of years ago we had a West Nile outbreak in birds. It's still around, but we don't have the birds dropping like we did then."
As far as VHS goes, though, it has already caused some problems and set a plethora of preventative measures in motion.
VHS was detected when the Division of Wildlife shipped eggs from muskies milked at Clear Fork to be raised at Ohio hatcheries. Those eggs were already at the London and Castalia hatcheries when the VHS was discovered in ovarian fluid. Tests are now being done to see if the VHS spread to the other fish at the hatcheries (kept in separate ponds), and if so, the hatcheries would have to be shut down, cleaned and sanitized before resuming operations. It could be a costly move for the DOW in terms of both money (nearly $500,000) and lost fish.
"It's unclear what will happen (at the hatcheries)," said Wolfe.
One thing that's already happening is that all the walleye eggs that the state collects are now being taken from inland lakes and not Lake Erie, where there was a VHS outbreak in 2006. And, The Ohio State University is working on a process to "decontaminate" eggs using an iodine bath.
Other repercussions from the VHS disease is that the United States Department of Agriculture has renewed an APHIS ban, disallowing the transport of certain fish across state lines. That may hit Lake Erie perch fishermen in the pocketbook as their favorite minnows may not be available, or maybe at a tad higher price.
"Bait dealers can't import some minnows," explained Wolfe, "so there is a trickle-down effect to the angler.
Biologists were out this week taking samples form the Clear Fork branch of the Mohican River, checking for VHS in captured fish. The Clear Fork branch flows out of Clear Fork Reservoir and into Pleasant Hill Reservoir, which is one of the many Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District lakes in Ohio. As a result, MWCD public affairs manager Darrin Lautenschlager wanted to make sure those using Pleasant Hill and all of the MWCD lakes understand what's going on.
"We are explaining the situation to the people using our lakes and making them aware," said Lautenschlager. "My personal concern is that we can keep it from spreading in the region."
The MWCD lakes were all built for the purpose of flood control. Connected by rivers, it stands to reason that the VHS disease could now be on the move -- all the way to the Mississippi.
Could it be devastating?
Possibly, but more likely the results would be specific die-offs when conditions are right.
"Over time," said Wolfe, "we hope the fish build up a resistance."
In another related matter, there was a fish die-off this spring at Silver Creek Metro Park just outside of Doylestown. In that case, all species in the lake were affected, including bass, bluegill, gizzard shad and catfish. Wolfe, though, said it's unlikely the problem was VHS.
"We really don't know what happened at Silver Creek," he said. "We sent test samples out to LaCrosse, Wisc., but we haven't heard back yet."
Originally published by By ART HOLDEN Daily Record Outdoor Editor.
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