Virus may be killing Lake St. Clair fish

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

State officials are investigating citizens’ reports of several fish deaths in Lake St. Clair.

Some of the fish may have been affected by viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, a contagious pathogen, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

This gizzard shad died from the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus.

Officials with the agency said Wednesday they have collected samples and are waiting for confirmation.

“Thanks to the public’s vigilance we are able to get timely samples from these fish mortalities, and it is very likely (the virus) is involved,” Gary Whelan, research program manager for the DNR’s Fisheries Division, said in a statement. “(The virus) has been detected in these waters since at least 2003, and when conditions are right the pathogen will cause disease events like this one.”

Some of the fish showed signs of the virus, such as bloody patches on the skin. It causes the fish’s blood vessels to leak and results in the patches.

The virus is known to infect more than 30 species of Great Lakes fish. It first caused fish mortalities in the St. Clair and Detroit rivers in 2006. It's been detected occasionally in those waters since then, according to the DNR.

Many fish recover from the virus, but there is no cure from it, officials said.

“The public is encouraged to continue to provide us with reports of fish kills with a focus on kills of more than 25 fish,” Whelan said. “The public can provide the reports to our fish kill email address. This information helps us track this event and determine where best to collect additional samples.”

Whelan also reminds fishermen to refrain from moving live fish between water bodies and to properly dispose of bait.

Boaters also should make sure their bilges and live wells are emptied prior to leaving a boat launch, and equipment must be cleaned and disinfected after use.