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Contact: John Hnath or Kelley Smith 616-668-2132 or 517-373-3375
Agency: Natural Resources

Largemouth Bass Virus Spreads in Michigan, Anglers Urged to Help prevent spread of Disease

LANSING--State resource officials today announced that Largemouth Bass Virus appears to be spreading in southern Michigan lakes, and called upon anglers to help contain the disease and protect fish populations.
Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) is one of more than 100 naturally occurring viruses that affect fish, and is closely related to viruses found in frogs and other amphibians. Its origin and how it is spread are unknown. The virus is not known to infect humans, and infected fish are considered safe to eat. However, it is recommended that all fish should be thoroughly cooked as a precaution.

In the fall of 2000, biologists from the Michigan and Indiana Departments of Natural Resources discovered the presence of LMBV while jointly investigating a die-off of largemouth bass in Lake George, located on the Michigan-Indiana border near I-69.

The discovery marked the first time LMBV had been detected in either Michigan or Indiana and was the furthest north that the virus had been detected in the United States. It was first discovered in the Santee-Cooper Reservoir of South Carolina in 1995, following a die-off of largemouth bass. Since then, the virus has been detected in wild fish from North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

It is now confirmed that the virus in Lake George was not an isolated event. LMBV has been found in another border lake between Michigan and Indiana, two additional Michigan lakes and three additional lakes in northern Indiana. The virus was also detected this year in lakes and reservoirs in Illinois for the first time.

Michigan DNR Fish Pathologist John Hnath said LMBV appears to infect other fish species, including smallmouth bass, bluegill and crappies, but has caused mortality to only largemouth bass. Most fish mortalities associated with the virus involve other stressors to the fish, including warm water temperatures and heavy fishing pressure.

"The DNR cannot eradicate this virus or treat affected wild fish populations," Hnath said. "However, as we continue investigating this outbreak, we appreciate receiving reports of unusual fish mortalities."

Consistent with the recommendations reported from the Largemouth Bass Virus Workshop III, sponsored Feb. 22 by ESPN and BASS Federation, the DNR is calling on bass clubs and others who target largemouth bass to voluntarily help reduce angling stress on largemouth bass populations during warm weather. DNR Fisheries Division Chief Kelley Smith noted the DNR will be monitoring lakes in southern Michigan this summer, in partnership with the Michigan BASS Federation.

"This disease has never been detected this far north, and we still do not know how largemouth bass populations will be affected in Michigan's lakes," Smith said. "We urge all members of the angling community to help us monitor the waters. Further, we look forward to working with our partners at the Michigan BASS Federation, and appreciate their willingness to assist us in collecting information necessary to better understand and manage this virus."

There are few outward signs that a fish has the virus. The virus has been found in many lakes where there have not been reports of disease or mortalities of fish. Affected fish usually appear normal, although they may be lethargic, swim slowly and are less responsive to activity around them.

Dying fish often are seen near the surface and have difficulty remaining upright. Upon internal examination, such fish usually will have bloated swim bladders, which accounts for the cause of swimming problems. Red sores or other lesions occasionally may be seen on the skin of the fish, but these are secondary in nature and not part of the virus infection.

The DNR concurs with recommendations from the LMBV Workshop III, and reminds anglers and boaters to take the following steps to help prevent the spread of the virus:

Clean boats, trailers, other equipment thoroughly between fishing trips to keep from transporting LMBV, as well as other undesirable pathogens and organisms, from one water body to another.
Do not move fish or fish parts from one body of water to another, and do not release live bait into any water body.
Handle bass as gently as possible if you intend to release them.
Stage tournaments during cooler weather, so fish caught will not be so stressed.
Report dead or dying fish to state wildlife agencies.
Volunteer to help agencies collect bass for LMBV monitoring.
Educate other anglers about LMBV.

DNR Article Link
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