Virus killing Lake St. Clair fish
WINDSOR — Thousands of fish have been dying in Lake St. Clair in what government officials in Michigan are attributing to the largest spread since 2006 of a highly contagious virus.
Known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSv), it does not pose a risk to human health but has been taking its toll this spring on different fish species in the lake — primarily gizzard shad.
Other dead fish found infected in smaller numbers include bluegill, largemouth bass and muskellunge, said Gary Whelan, research program manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, which this week issued a public alert.
The virus has been found in the Great Lakes since 2003 with the last noteworthy outbreak occurring 11 years ago in the St. Clair-Detroit River corridor, he said.
Early testing of dead fish has shown “very likely VHSv is involved,” Whelan said.
The virus makes the fish’s blood vessels leak and causes bloody patches, which are a common sign of fish infections, so testing helps confirm if VHSv is the culprit.
The fear in Michigan is the highly contagious virus will spread more rapidly than in the past to fish other than gizzard shad.
There are also concerns anglers on the water may unknowingly transport the fish virus farther downstream into the Detroit River and Lake Erie.
Anglers are being reminded not to move live fish between water bodies and to properly dispose of bait, Whelan said.
There were several citizen reports of large fish die-offs received this spring, including one from the Canadian side in Lakeshore, he said.
There have been concerns about the potential for VHSv on the Canadian side, but no reports so far this year in the Windsor region, said Jolanta Kowalksi, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Anyone coming across an unusual fish die-off of 25 or more is encouraged to call the ministry at 1-800-667-1940, she said.