The Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirms that many of the dead fish that washed up along the shores of Lake St. Clair with bloody skin patches have tested positive for the highly contagious viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSv).
VHSv causes the fish’s blood vessels to leak, leaving them more susceptible to the elements. The DNR collected fish such as gizzard shad, bluegill and black and white crappie during late March and early April.
“A total of 165 fish have been tested thus far using pooled samples of five fish, and of the 33 pooled samples, 31 of them have been positive for VHSv,” said Gary Whelan, research program manager for the DNR’s Fisheries Division.
Initially, the fish kill was mostly gizzard shad, an important forage species, but now is widening to more species and is likely to affect tens of thousands of fish. This event is considered an unusually large fish kill but is smaller than an earlier VHSv-related fish kill in 2006.
The virus isn’t dangerous for humans. In fact, the virus dies off at temperatures starting around 65 to 70 degrees. DNR experts expect the fish kill to die off soon as water temperatures continue to climb.
For businesses that rely on the fishing industry, the whole situation is frustrating because it could scare off people from fishing and if it’s not negative press can hurt their businesses.
“A little bit of concern is probably needed by everybody, but it’s not all that uncommon — especially coming after wintertime,” said John Bacarella, the owner of Sportsmen’s Direct Bait & Tackle when asked about how he views the attention.
As for the Michigan DNR, they’re asking the public to contact them if they see large numbers of dead fish — specifically if more than 25 fish are found dead in a single location. A fish kill email address is up and running for those who witness such issues at DNR-FISH-Report-Fish-Kills@michigan.gov.
Those who use boats on Lake St. Clair are asked to refrain from moving fish captured on the lake, and to clean and dry your boat before you transfer it into another body of water.