DNR investigating dead fish with bloody patches in Lake St. Clair

Posted at 5:48 PM, Apr 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-20 17:48:57-04

Dead fish are floating ashore along Lake St. Clair, but what is causing the fish kill remains a mystery.

A large number of gizzard shad have been found with bloody skin patches. This typically happens when fish’s blood vessels leak, leaving them more susceptible to the elements. It’s also one indicator that fish in Lake St. Clair are being affected by the highly contagious viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSv).

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, testing is already underway but there is no definitive way to say that VHSv is the cause at this time.

“Right now, we aren’t seeing to many of our other fish species like pan fish, bass or pike dying off,” said Jan-Michael Hessenauer, a DNR researcher who works along the lake. “Our concern is it spreading to those fish species and causing a decline in the population.”

The virus isn’t dangerous for humans. In fact, the virus dies off at temperatures starting around 65 to 70 degrees. The problem is that the fish population may die off rapidly before water reaches that temperature.

For businesses that rely on the fishing industry, the whole situation is frustrating. If the virus is there, 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.

Bacarella noted, however, that fish can die off for a variety of reasons. It’s not uncommon for dead fish to wash ashore following winter, and with high winds, wild temperature swings and increased sediment in the water he said there is the possibility that VHSv isn’t an issue.

If it is, he said he hopes that the Michigan DNR prepares.

“Hopefully if it’s a problem the right people figure it out quickly, and it’s taken care of.”

Fisherman Luke Kielbasa was out on Lake St. Clair fishing despite choppy, windy conditions on Thursday afternoon. He told 7 Action News that he’s been fishing on the lake for years, and can remember the last time VHSv was a problem.

Despite the scare, he said it won’t have him skipping out on fishing.

“I still get good numbers of fish,” said Kielbasa. “Besides, out here you have peace and quiet. You get by the water. It’s still nice.”

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

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.