New Wisconsin Rules Aimed at Containing Deadly Fish Virus

All boaters, anglers and people who harvest bait from the wild must follow new rules regarding moving live fish, requiring water to be drained from boats after being used on potentially infected waters, and how they use and move bait, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced.

The emergency regulations aim to contain a deadly fish virus that already has caused huge fish kills on several Great Lakes waters. They were adopted April 4 by the state Natural Resources Board and went into effect on April 8.

The regulations seek to prevent the spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, by prohibiting anglers, boaters and wild bait harvesters from moving live fish or even water from the potentially infected waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The virus can be spread from fish to fish and can survive in water for more than a week; freezing or refrigerating fish does not kill the virus, although chemical and other treatment can.

VHS is not a human health threat, but more than 25 species of fish are susceptible to it. State officials say the virus presents a very serious potential threat to fish populations and fishing opportunities in Wisconsin inland lakes and streams.

"We're very worried," said Mike Staggs, who directs Wisconsin's fisheries program. "VHS virus can survive in the water without the fish and it can kill a broad range of species -- all of which could allow it to spread quickly in our inland waters and have potentially devastating effects.

"We want you to continue to enjoy fishing and boating, but we truly need your help to protect Wisconsin's waters and fisheries," Staggs said.

VHS caused widespread fish kills in 2005 and 2006 in lakes St. Clair, Erie, Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and was confirmed in early 2007 in Lake Huron chinook and whitefish collected in late 2005, Staggs said.

Because certain fish move widely in and between the Great Lakes, DNR biologists say the virus is "almost certainly" in Lake Michigan, and it also may be in Lake Superior, which is connected to Lake Huron. VHS also may be in the Mississippi River or the waters that drain to that river, which connect to Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal.

More information on viral hemorrhagic septicemia is available on the DNR Web site at http://dnr.wi.gov/fish/pages/vhs.html.

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