Deadly fish disease now in Lake Michigan
Written by Ludington Daily News   
Friday, 25 May 2007 15:55

A dead brown trout on the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin was found to have viral hemhorragic septicemia, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The disease, which has caused fish kills on Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie in recent years, can cause freshwater gamefish of almost every known species to die of internal bleeding.

Officials from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources could not be reached by press time, but news that the disease had reached Lake Michigan sparked concerns in the area.

Jim Fenner, president of the Ludington Area Charterboat Association, said he’s concerned about the disease, but also concerned about perception.

“We want to make sure that everyone understands that VHS is a fish disease and is not transmittable to humans, but we think that information’s getting out,” Fenner said. “The DNR is working real hard to get that information out.”

Fenner said so far, the salmon season is looking fine.

“All the reports coming in from up and down the lake are that the fish are very healthy right now,” Fenner said. “Guys are finding limits at least as far up as Grand Haven right now.”

Fenner said even if the disease is in Lake Michigan, he’s hearing that in a worst-case scenario, the lake might lose eight or nine percent of its total fish population.

“It’s interesting to note that on Lake St. Clair where they had the big fish kill last year, there’s almost nothing going on now,” Fenner said.

Although the disease has only been found in one inland lake, Budd Lake in Clare County, residents on local lakes are concerned the disease could move easily to their lakes now that it is in Lake Michigan.

“We’re worried — I think every inland lake is worried about that,” said Bob Haupt of the Hackert Lake Association. “Personally, I do not think it’s like any other diseases. This is a virus, I don’t think it’s transported in water, I think it’s transported in bait. The No. 1 baitfish is the emerald shiner. I’m more worried about people buying bait and bringing it into the lake. This is prime crappie season.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has created rules about where bait purchased in the various Great Lakes watersheds may be used. If Lake Michigan is confirmed by the Michigan DNR to have VHS, anglers won’t be able to use bait purchased in the Lower Peninsula in Upper Peninsula waters or Lake Superior.

Dave Hall, a resident of Hamlin Lake and a member of the Hamlin Lake Preservation Society said it seems inevitable that every invader and disease will reach every lake eventually.

“We went through the effort of trying to keep the zebra mussels out with all the signs saying wash your boat and wash your baitwells and everything and it didn’t work,” he said. “I’ve gotten fatalistic about this and feel that the diseases are just going to move everywhere because people don’t care that much. It’s something small that you can’t see and we won’t get alarmed until the fish are gone. It’s kind of like any crisis that comes up, we don’t react to it until it’s really become a very difficult situation.

“We raise our saber-tooth tiger kitten because it’s cute and we finally decide it’s nasty when it eats our arm off.”

Hall said because Hamlin hosts so many transient boats and visitors it’s possible the disease and subsequent invasive species will reach Hamlin Lake sooner, rather than later.
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