VHS found in gizzard shad in Port Washington Harbor fish kill

Boaters and anglers urged to help stop the spread

MADISON – Test results have confirmed that VHS as well as one other pathogen was found associated with a late January fish kill of gizzard shad in Port Washington Harbor, according to state fish health experts. DNR officials have also looked into a report of gizzard shad mortalities in the Menomonee River (Milwaukee). Samples were collected and sent for testing. The testing period takes approximately 28 days. We will have further updates once test results have been received for the Menomonee River fish.

VHS has been confirmed in gizzard shad tested after a late January fishkill in Port Washington Harbor on Lake Michigan.  - Photo credit: Danielle Godard
VHS has been confirmed in gizzard shad tested after a late January fishkill in Port Washington Harbor on Lake Michigan. Photo credit: Danielle Godard

VHS, or viral hemorrhagic septicemia, is a virus deadly to fish and has been present in Lake Michigan for more than a decade. In addition to VHS, Enteric Redmouth was found to be associated with the Port Washington fish kill. While the potential for the transmission of Enteric Redmouth to humans is unclear, VHS is not known to be a threat to human health and safety, says DNR Fisheries Veterinarian Danielle Godard.

The test results have been reported to the necessary health authorities under protocols for handling incidents of the infectious and fatal fish disease.

Godard and other DNR fisheries officials call on anglers and others on Wisconsin waters to be vigilant in taking required precautions to avoid spreading the VHS virus to inland lakes and rivers. VHS is not a threat to people who handle infected fish or want to eat their catch, but it is threat to more than 25 freshwater fish species in Wisconsin, including musky, walleye, yellow perch and northern pike.

“This is a reminder that VHS is still present and a threat,” Godard says. “It’s very important that anglers and everyone else on the water do their part by not moving water or live fish away from waterbodies.”

Previously, VHS was most recently confirmed in Wisconsin in 2017 in a private Fond du Lac County lake close to Lake Winnebago, Godard says.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia was first diagnosed in the Great Lakes as the cause of large fish kills in lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie, Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River in 2005 and 2006. The virus was first discovered in Wisconsin waters in Lake Winnebago in 2006.

Wisconsin test results from 2006 to 2012 show that the virus has been detected in fish from the Lake Winnebago system, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Green Bay but it hasn’t spread more widely in Wisconsin, as originally feared.

VHS Chronology in Wisconsin

To keep Wisconsin’s inland lakes and rivers VHS free, all boaters and anglers must follow simple precautions to prevent the spread of the virus and other invasive species. Those steps include:

  • Minnow harvest is prohibited on all Wisconsin waters where viral hemorrhagic septicemia is known or suspected to be present. The prohibited area includes Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Winnebago system, the Mississippi River, the Wisconsin River up to the Prairie de Sac Dam and all waters connected to these waters up to the first barrier impassable to fish.
  • Drain all water from boats, containers and fishing equipment when leaving any state waters, banks or shores, or entering Wisconsin over land. This does not apply to any drinking water or up to 2 gallons of water being used to hold minnows that can be legally transported.
  • Do not transport any live fish or live fish eggs away from any state waters. There is an exception for minnows obtained from a Wisconsin bait dealer. These minnows may be transported away live and used again on the same water or on any other waters if no lake or river water, or other fish were added to their container.
  • Do not use dead fish, fish eggs, or fish parts as bait. There are three exceptions: You may use dead fish, fish eggs, or fish parts as bait on any waters if they were preserved by a method that does not require freezing or refrigeration, or they originate from the same waterbody where you intend to use them, or purchase them from a licensed commercial bait dealer.