September 11, 2008

New Guidelines Posted for Fish Shipment in Great Lakes

U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced new guidelines for shipping live fish across state lines in light of a virus that is deadly for fish.

Fish wholesalers have already responded saying that the new regulations will deal a large financial blow to the industry.

The virus, called viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, doesn't affect humans, but it is deadly for fish. It has already accounted for several fish deaths in all of the Great Lakes except Lake Superior over the past couple of years. Authorities say it endangers the region's billion-dollar sport and commercial fisheries.

Regulators announced they will require testing and inspections of 28 farm-raised and live bait species susceptible to VHS.

In response to the virus 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 released this week. 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.

However, many wholesalers say the new rules reflect over regulation and claim it will lead to large financial consequences.

"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, walleye, yellow perch, lake whitefish and muskellunge, as well as bait species such as emerald and spottail shiners.

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

However, regulators seem satisfied with the new rules.

"It's crucial to keep them out in the first place," said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

"Once they're here, spreading and movement around is all but inevitable."


Image Caption: VHS disease in a gizzard shad (USGS)


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