Once again, one of our outdoor resources is being threatened. Just as occurred with invaders such as lamprey eels, zebra mussels, round gobies, and diseases such as whirling disease in trout and chronic wasting disease in deer, the presence of a unique strain of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) could be devastating to our freshwater fish. Once a fish is infected with VHS, there is no known cure, and almost every species of warm or cool water fish in the state is susceptible to the virus. The virus is harmless to humans.
The VHS strain we're dealing with was initially discovered in Michigan's muskellunge in 2003 By 2005 it was found in the Bay of Quinte in Lake Onatrio's Canadian waters where it killed muskies, drum and gobies. In May 2006 there was a massive die-off of gobies in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. A month later, large muskies were found dead from the disease in these same waters. That same summer many other species of fish, both game and pan species, in those waters were found dead or dying from the virus. By August the VHS had spread to Conesus Lake, where a major die-off of walleye occurred.
The VHS viruses were initially discovered in Europe in the mid twentieth century, and in 1988 it was reported in spawning salmon in the Pacific Northwest and was determined to be a new strain of the virus (Type IV) that appears to be uniquely North American. It is widespread in the Pacific herring and cod populations in the Pacific Northwest and has also been found in Atlantic herring and Greenland halibut in the Atlantic Ocean. As far as anyone can tell, it was never detected in North American fresh waters prior to 2003. A strain of VHS in Europe infected rainbow trout reared in commercial ponds, and the mortality there was nearly 100 percent. But the virus strain we're dealing with can infect 40 different species of fish, making it potentially one of the deadliest aquatic diseases this continent has seen.