Virus suspected in fish kill

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A fish virus of international concern is suspected in the deaths of up to 500 common carp in Kent Lake in Oakland and Livingston counties, northwest of Detroit, raising a concern about its potential spread.

The presence of koi herpesvirus (KHV) was detected in the June fish kill, and it may have been a contributing factor, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.

“This virus is capable of large-scale common carp die-offs as seen in Ontario in 2007 and 2008,” said Gary Whelan, MDNR fish production manager. “The virus is an internationally reportable disease, and it is being officially reported at this time.”

KHV had not been previously found in wild fish samples in Michigan but was detected in a private koi pond near Grand Rapids in 2003.

Identification of KHV in Kent Lake was a joint effort with Michigan State University’s Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory and the USDA — APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The labs also checked for but did not detect spring viremia of carp virus (SVCV), which was originally suspected in the Kent Lake fish kill. The involvement of KHV as a factor in this fish kill is still under investigation.

KHV affects common carp, goldfish, and koi. There are no human health effects. The impact of KHV on native minnow species, which are members of the carp family, is unknown. KHV disease is found worldwide and likely was introduced to Michigan waters from the release or escape of infected ornamental fish.

“The disease is easy to confuse with other diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia [VHS], so laboratory analysis is needed to confirm this disease,” Whelan said. “While there are no treatments for this disease, the MDNR is evaluating potential steps to manage it.”

The public is reminded to contact the MDNR when they see unusual fish kills at

“This disease outbreak is another example of why the MDNR reminds anglers and boaters that they need to drain bilges and live wells upon leaving a boat launch,” said Jim Dexter, acting chief of the MDNR’s fisheries division. “Anglers should clean their boats, disinfect their gear, and not move live fish, to reduce the possibility of any fish diseases being transferred to new locations.”

Roger Knight, Lake Erie program coordinator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said KHV was suspected in a common carp dieoff in Lake Erie about 10 years ago. He said he is not overly concerned at this point about the potential of KHV to kill such critically valuable baitfish as emerald shiners, which are minnows and members of the carp family.

“It’s been here before, and I don’t recall any evidence that it got into shiners,” Knight said. But he noted that a virus is all but impossible to control once it gets into a system as large as Lake Erie and preventing the introduction of such diseases and pests is the only remedy.

Commentary: The MDNR makes valid points about warning boaters to clean their vessels before moving into new waters to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species, from KHV to the all-too-notorious zebra and quagga mussels. But why didn’t it also warn residents about the illegality of dumping aquarium fish into public waters, when those “pets” become troublesome at home?

The Ohio Division of Wildlife is right not to jump the gun and start a panic about KHV in fish in the carp family, including minnows, especially since an outbreak has not yet been seen on Lake Erie.

But this latest disease outbreak illustrates how wide open this country remains and how permissive are its laws and regulations regarding invasive species and imported species.

We are 21 years into the 1990 Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act and still are not taking it seriously, this in the wake of untold billions of dollars in damage nationwide caused just by zebra and quagga mussels that arrived here nearly 30 years ago by ship.

It will be November before the U.S. Coast Guard rolls out revised ballast-water control rules on overseas shipping, the federal government being goaded by states like New York, which took the issue into its own hands and laid down some ballast-water controls of its own, with real teeth in them. Successive Congresses and White Houses have funded these threats on the cheap and soft-pedaled and slow-walked rules to enforce them, just like the Obama administration has soft-pedaled the Asian carp threat at Chicago.

The federal Lacey Act of 1900, amended in 2008, is supposed to control imports of potentially dangerous plants and animals. Yet we are awash with all manner of nasty, dangerous, pestiferous animals and plants, with more coming every day. We even encourage trade in wild and dangerous animals, and Ohio is still one of the willy-nilly leaders in terms of laxity of controls. We have to be oh-so-careful that laws and rules will not hurt someone’s business; the heck with the ecology and public good.

The KHV outbreak now in Michigan is linked to the illegal release of ornamental fish. That may be the result of personal ignorance and irresponsibility, but who allowed the disease and the fish to be imported in the fish place?

When zebra mussels first were detected in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie in 1988, they were already two years old. At the time it was thought that the Great Lakes had about 50 invasive species. Today they have well over 190, and counting. This is progress? We continue in blissful ignorance to court ecological and economic disaster.

  • If you have enjoyed fishing or boating in the Maumee River, walked its banks, or just enjoyed the view, you have a chance to give something back on Saturday by joining the Fort Meigs Sertoma Club in its cleanup project, “Get the lead out.”

The 8 a.m, to noon cleanup is targeting trash, spent fishing line, and lost lead fishing jigs and weights from the spring walleye and white bass runs. Meet at the parking access off Rapids Road on the Perrysburg side of the Maumee-Perrysburg Bridge. Call 419-740-0675 or email to register or for details. A post-cleanup lunch is set for volunteers.

  • Safe Boating Council members Mike Schabeck and Christopher Hoover will teach a boating education course at Cooley Canal Yacht Club, 12235 Bono Rd., Curtice, off State Rt.2, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Course fee is $35. A free lunch will be provided by the club. Register by calling Schabeck at 419-460-4829.
  • A program on bats is set for Monday, 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Toledo Botanical Garden, 5403 Elmer Dr., with a lecture by Marne Titchenell. a wildlife specialist with Ohio State University. Bats have been in the news with the white nose syndrome. To register or for details call Amy Stone, OSU Extension, at 419-578-6783. Register by Wednesday.

Contact Steve Pollick at: or 419-724-6068.

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