Columbus Ohio — The deadly fish virus commonly known as VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) has apparently entered the Mississippi River drainage, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Elmer Heyob, ODNR state fish hatchery administrator, confirmed that VHS was detected in a muskie captured in Clear Fork Reservoir, north of Columbus. Because that impoundment is hydrologically connected to the Ohio River, Heyob concluded that the virus is now in the Mississippi River watershed.
Experts from several Great Lakes states had hoped to prevent VHS from entering the river and its tributaries.
Unfortunately, the Mississippi could now act as a pathway for the virus to spread to fish hatcheries and fish farms in Midwestern and Southern states.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) officials had been concerned that VHS would reach the Mississippi River from Lake Michigan.
"A significant amount of Lake Michigan water enters the Illinois River system through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal," explained Steve Pallo, the IDNR chief of fisheries.
Resource agencies in a number of Great Lakes states have been relying on strict angler compliance with elaborate VHS containment procedures to prevent it from spreading.
So far, VHS has infected approximately 30 different freshwater fish species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Hyob facetiously suggested that the only foolproof way to prevent VHS from spreading to additional water bodies would be for anglers to completely immerse their boats, trailers and fishing equipment in chlorine bleach immediately after fishing.
Wisconsin, however, has had encouraging results from strictly enforcing angler adherence to more practical measures that ensure that no water or natural bait is transferred from one water body to another. Wisconsin tested 67 state fisheries this year and determined that it had not spread at all since 2007.
"It seems we have been successful, and we're thankful for the public response," said Wisconsin's fisheries director Mike Staggs.
"We just need boaters and anglers to keep up the good work, now and in the future, [in order] to contain VHS."
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