The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently revised its Federal Order on viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), a highly contagious disease of some fresh and saltwater fish, to allow for catch-and-release fishing activities because they do not unduly increase the risk of introduction and spread of VHS.
Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, or VHS virus, is not a threat to people who handle infected fish or want to eat their catch, but it can kill more than 25 fish species. It is a serious pathogen of fresh and saltwater fish that is an emerging disease in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.
The October 2006 Federal Order was established to prohibit the importation of 37 species of live fish from two Canadian provinces into the United States and the interstate movement of the same species from the eight states bordering the Great Lakes. This revision of the Federal Order will allow for the catch-and-release of VHS-susceptible fish in waters that cross state and international boundaries.
These activities include, recreational fishing, tournaments, competitions, fishing derbies or other types of contests where individuals catch, compare and release live VHS-susceptible fish. Catch-and-release fishing activities do not include the movement of VHS-susceptible fish intended to be used as live bait.
APHIS issued the initial action in response to detections of VHS for the first time in fresh-water fish in several of the Great Lakes and related tributaries. VHS is responsible for several large-scale die-offs of wild fish in the Great Lakes region.
The original Federal Order was issued in response to the rapid spread of VHS in the Great Lakes region and the potential impact of the disease on a growing number of fish species, including species of fish raised commercially in the United States. The intent of the Federal Order is to prevent the introduction of VHS into aquaculture facilities by controlling the movement of live fish species from the Great Lakes region at risk of harboring the VHS virus while APHIS gathers more information on the disease and puts in place a federal regulatory program that allows for the interstate movement of fish susceptible to VHS via testing and certification.
How VHS spreads
VHS virus is shed in the urine and reproductive fluids of fish into the water and the virus can survive in water for at least 14 days. Virus particles in the water infect the gills of the fish and within 2 days, the infected fish will start shedding the virus. Thus, water discharged from live wells, bilges and bait buckets can spread the virus from infected waters. Moving live, infected fish from one location to another will also spread the virus. Fish can also become infected by eating an infected fish. Other ways that the virus may be spread include natural fish movements, recreational boating/angling, birds, ballast water discharge, and research activities.
VHS virus is a rhabdovirus (rod shaped virus) that affects fish of all sizes and ages. It does not pose any threat to human health. VHS causes hemorrhaging of skin, muscle, and internal organs, and death follows. Some fish infected with VHS will develop antibodies to the virus and will survive. However, after a period of time the fish may start shedding virus again and spread the disease to other fish.
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