$750,000 grant to fight deadly fish disease
By BROOKE MEIER
Capital News Service
February 15, 2008
LANSING – A multi-state grant is pulling together researchers across the nation to tackle the deadly fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), which is on the attack in the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland waters.
Mark Coscarelli, assistant manager of the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, said the $750,000 grant is unlike any other.
“It’s really a unique collaboration of researchers from different disciplines and different areas of the country coming together to focus on this deadly disease,” he said.
The disease causes fish to bleed to death internally.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported the disease in all the Great Lakes except Lake Superior.
Several inland waters have experienced high death rates from VHS, including the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and Budd Lake in Clare County.
The U.S. Geological Survey is the main recipient of the grant, but the research will be split among Michigan State University (MSU), the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The main goal of the research is developing new detection tools and a more in-depth understanding of VHS in the Great Lakes.
Jim Winton, a fisheries scientist at the Western Fisheries Research Center, said the center will conduct evolutionary analysis research to identify and analyze different strains of VHS. The results will be compiled on a Web database for agencies that are trying to manage the disease.
Winton said, “The work has several objectives. The principal objective is testing native species for their susceptibility to the disease in the Great Lakes region.”
Both MSU and Cornell will carry out the fish testing, but each team will focus on different aspects of VHS.
Mohammed Faisal, a professor of aquatic animal medicine at Michigan State’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, will do research with infected fish and examine their antibody response to the disease.
At Cornell, Jim Casey, an associate professor of virology, and Paul Bowser, professor of aquatic animal medicine, will research molecular structures of the disease to help with rapid detection.
According to DNR, more than 25 species have been found infected with VHS. Between 2005 and 2007, there have been significant deaths reported among walleye, yellow perch, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, round gobies, bluegill, black crappie and gizzard shad.
The disease was introduced to the Great Lakes region in 2002 or 2003. The direct cause of the disease is unknown, but DNR said the most probable source was ballast water discharge.
The disease then most likely spread inland by infected bait from anglers or from boaters’ discharge of infected water from live wells or bilges.
In a report, the DNR said it is critical to make every attempt possible to prevent a rapid spread of the disease. Once the virus is established in a wild fish community, controlling it is highly unlikely and it is impossible to eliminate.
The disease doesn’t infect humans and there is no risk to people who eat a fish with VHS. However, DNR advises against eating fish that are visibly sick.
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© 2008, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism