Fish :: Natural Resources Board enacts Expanded Emergency Rule to curb spread of VHS

The State Natural Resources Board today unanimously extended the reach of emergency rules aimed at preventing the spread of a viral fish disease to include the Lake Winnebago System after preliminary tests showed two dead fish from those waters had viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

?I?m pleased with the NRB?s swift action on this serious issue facing our state?s fish populations,? DNR Secretary Scott Hassett said. ?The last thing we want is for this disease to be spread accidentally to any additional inland waters. We understand that some of the restrictions we?ve put in place may be inconvenient, but there?s a lot at stake here and we need everyone?s help in fighting VHS.?

The emergency rules adopted on April 7th prohibited anglers, boaters and other recreational users from moving live fish, including bait minnows, and water from the Great Lakes, Mississippi River, and those waters? tributaries up to the first dam impassible by fish. The rules also require that people fishing in those waters use minnows purchased only from Wisconsin licensed dealers, or, if harvesting their own minnows, that the bait is used only on the water it is caught in. Today?s action extends those safeguards to the Lake Winnebago watershed. Under the board?s action today, if VHS is found outside of the Lake Winnebago system the rules will automatically go into effect statewide.

In addition, today?s rules include a provision that requires bait dealers to have a state permit and tracking system in order to harvest wild bait from any water.

The Department has also suspended all stocking from state hatcheries, and transfers of fish within the hatchery system, until fisheries officials can assess the risks of the likely discovery of VHS in the Lake Winnebago System on its hatchery and field operations.

The DNR is asking for the public?s help in curbing the spread of the virus.

?Wisconsin?s natural resources belong to all of us, and we all have a stake in protecting them,? Secretary Hassett said.

The DNR is asking the public to take precautions similar to those used in stopping the spread of invasive species:

Put your catch on ice and do not move live fish (including unused bait minnows) away from the landing or shore;
Drain all water from bilges, bait buckets, live wells and other containers when leaving the landing or shore;
Use live minnows purchased only from registered bait dealers in Wisconsin or catch it yourself in the same water you fish; and
Before launching and before leaving for the day, inspect and clean all watercraft for visible plants and animals.
VHS is not a public health threat ? people can still keep and eat the fish they catch ? but it can kill a broad range of Wisconsin?s native fish and was responsible for fish kills in several eastern Great Lakes in 2005 and 2006.

On May 11th, the DNR discovered that two drum, or sheepshead, from Little Lake Butte des Morts had tested positive for VHS. Other dead fish collected from Lake Winnebago appear to have the virus.

Preliminary laboratory results for fish collected from Lake are not expected until Friday.

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