VHS cause for concern, vigilance, not panicWith the recent discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) in Lake Superior, it’s not time for panic but it is time for vigilance, said state Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
With the recent discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) in Lake Superior, it’s not time for panic but it is time for vigilance, said state Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior.
Milroy worked as a fisheries biologist before taking office.
Milroy and state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said the recent discovery of VHS in Lake Superior warrants concern and should prompt vigorous efforts by researchers and users to prevent the spread of the invasive species during a mid-day press conference at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
The northern lawmakers said they had been in touch with Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank, who informed them that his departments was working with counterparts in Michigan and Minnesota to conduct additional monitoring to prevent the spread of the disease.
Researchers at Cornell University announced earlier this week, they found the fish-killing virus in fish samples from Lake Superior, including the Duluth-Superior harbor. The virus has been responsible for fish die-offs in the eastern Great Lakes.
Fish from the Superior and St. Louis bays along the Minnesota and Wisconsin borders, and Paradise and Skanee bays in Michigan have tested positive for VHS.
The northern lawmakers said Wisconsin rules concerning VHS had already treated Lake Superior as though the disease had been found in anticipation that it would only be a matter of time before the species invaded the largest, northernmost of the Great Lakes. The rules prohibit the transport of live fish, bait and water from one body of water to another.
Still, Jauch said, the discovery of the virus in Lake Superior is an issue of concern, one that warrants additional research and monitoring, and more vigilance by recreational users.
“We have to do whatever is possible to contain the spread,” Jauch said.
The state doesn’t have unlimited resources to solve this problem, Milroy said. However, he said vigilance by the recreational users and volunteers who work at boat landing sites to monitor boats will help to prevent the spread of the disease.
“It is clear that the disease was discovered in otherwise healthy fish,” Milroy said “The fish were not killed by the virus; it was merely present in their bodies.”
No one knows how it got here, Jauch said.
“Clearly, the best way to prevent the spread, or the rapid expansion of this disease, or any invasive species is to make sure people are spraying their boats, that they not moving bait from one lake to the next,” Jauch said. “They are not taking a fish from one lake and putting it in another lake; that they are carefully removing weeds when they take their boats out of the water.”
Last year, the Wisconsin Legislature strengthened state laws to prohibit the transport of invasive species on Wisconsin highways. The new law increases penalties for violators, expands the number of prohibited species and gives law enforcement officials – in addition to conservation officers – the authority to enforce the law. Jauch and Milroy were authors of the new law.
An additional $250,000 in funding was also provided to in the current budget to assist with boat landing monitoring efforts managed by volunteers.
VHS is harmless to people but can be lethal to fish. It can cause bleeding in fish tissue and internal organs. It spreads in infected water or fish. Even if a fish doesn’t become ill, it can spread the virus if it has it. Native to the Pacific Ocean, Milroy said the virus has adapted to the freshwater.
“We have to make sure that we limit the transportation of any aquatic invasive species,” Milroy said.