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.

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