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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

UT receives $209,126 to study deadly fish disease

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

The Lake Erie Center at the University of Toledo has been awarded a $209,126 federal grant to study a deadly fish disease that has threatened the health of many species of Great Lakes fish.

The grant, announced yesterday by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), will fund a two-year study into viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS.

It is an infectious viral disease present in several species of fish in the Great Lakes, including all-important walleye and yellow perch.

VHS has been responsible for several fish kills in the Great Lakes, including a kill of thousands of freshwater drum, or sheepshead, and yellow perch in central Lake Erie in the summer of 2006.

It is regarded by government biologists as the most dangerous fish virus in the world, though it poses no harm to humans.

For the first time, VHS recently was confirmed in fish beyond the Lake Erie watershed in inland Ohio - among muskellunge at Clear Fork Reservoir near Mansfield.

No fish kill has been recorded there to date, but state biologists are on guard to prevent the spread of VHS to state hatcheries.

A series of federal restrictions remain in effect on movement of 37 fish species in the Great Lakes basin.

"Lake Erie is the heart of our Great Lakes fishery, producing more than all the other lakes combined," Miss Kaptur said.

"This virus not only harms our ecosystem, but could deal a crippling blow to our commercial and recreational fishing industries.

"Arresting the VHS outbreak, possibly through a vaccine, must be one of our top priorities," she said.

Carol Stepien, director of the UT lake center, said that among other things a center research team will be trying to develop is a rapid-detection system that would allow confirmation of VHS in a fish sample within two hours.

"We are very excited about [the grant and research]," Ms. Stepien said, "because VHS is a very serious problem."

She added that so far this summer no VHS outbreaks have appeared on Lake Erie.

Some biologists think that some fish may develop a resistance to VHS over time.



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