How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

New rules to fight Great Lakes fish virus

By Todd Richmond
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin anglers can no longer use imported bait unless it meets strict testing requirements and they can't move live fish from the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River under an emergency rule adopted Wednesday to contain an exotic virus that causes fish to bleed to death.

The Great Lakes states have been bracing for the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which kills fish by causing massive internal bleeding. The virus poses no threat to humans, but wildlife officials warn it could wreak havoc with fish populations and commercial and recreational fishing.

Michael Staggs, director of the fish management bureau in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource, said the Great Lakes has become home to some 250 invasive species. But the virus is worse than any of them, he said.

"It doesn't just show up there and compete with the native species. It kills a broad range of fish," Staggs said.

The virus has caused significant muskie and walleye kills in Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario and probably has spread into Lake Michigan, where it could cause huge kills this spring, Staggs said. New York and Pennsylvania have adopted rules this year to contain the virus. Michigan is drafting similar measures.

Wisconsin officials fear the virus could spread to Lake Superior and into the Mississippi River through the Illinois River, which connects to Lake Michigan. From there it could spread to inland waters, endangering bluegills, trout, salmon, bass, muskies, northern pike, walleye and perch, according to the DNR.

The Natural Resources Board, which oversees the DNR, adopted the rule unanimously with little discussion Wednesday in a conference call. The measure will go into effect by Monday.

Under the rule:

-Possessing and using bait fish, including crayfish and frogs, from outside Wisconsin that haven't been tested for the virus is prohibited. Staggs said the state Department of Agriculture has been testing fish imported to Wisconsin by bait shops and bait wholesalers for the virus, but the rule is designed to stop individual anglers from driving to another state and returning with bait such as minnows.

-Possessing and using dead bait is prohibited except in Lake Michigan or the waters where the bait originated. The virus can survive in dead bait that has been frozen, Staggs said.

-Moving live fish and eggs from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, as in live boxes or buckets, is not allowed unless tests for the virus are negative.

-Boaters must drain all water from bilges, ballast, buckets and live wells immediately after leaving the Great Lakes or the Mississippi - the first time the state has ever required that. Staggs said the virus can live in water for up to two weeks.

The rule will be in effect for 150 days. The DNR can then ask the state Legislature to extend it another 120 days.

Bait sellers fear the rule will force them to raise prices.

Dave Gollon, owner of Dodgeville-based Gollon Bait and Fish Farm, which imports bait from other states, said he might have to spend hundreds of dollars per test and he's fed up with the government's inability to stop invasive species from pouring into the Great Lakes.

"Everybody's going to end up paying the price again because of our government's failure to respond in an arena they should be," Gollon said.

"I think people will just have to be ready for the price of bait to go up," said Scott Gartner, owner of Bob's Bait and Tackle in La Crosse, which gets its bait from Gollon.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, told the board the regulations make sense.

"We understand that these restrictions will cause economic dislocations on the bait industry and that truly is unfortunate," Meyer said in a statement he read to the board. "However the ecologic damage and the economic damage ... requires the imposition of these restrictions."

Michael Sanger of Oak Creek, a Great Lakes fisherman and the Wisconsin delegate to the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, said he hasn't spoken with the council about Wisconsin's rules. Speaking for himself, he said the new regulations are no big deal.

"If it stops that virus from getting inland, it's probably worthwhile," Sanger said. "Everything is slow motion on saving the Great lakes. Every year there's two or three more invaders."

Staggs told the board no one knows how the virus arrived in the lakes. One possibility is through ballast water discharge from oceangoing ships, he said.

The sheer number of jurisdictions in the Great Lakes makes drafting standard regulations difficult, Staggs said.

Meyer urged the Natural Resources Board to consider a resolution at its April meeting calling on Congress and the state Legislature to adopt "strong" regulations requiring treatment of international ships' ballast water.

Thomas agreed to place the resolution on the agenda. DNR Secretary Scott Hassett said the agency already is pushing such a resolution to state lawmakers.


At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Aveline said...

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