Apostle Islands, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores Taking Steps to Prevent Spread of Fish Virus

Fishing restrictions are in play this year at national park units on Lake Superior in an effort to prevent the spread of a deadly fish disease.

Fishing in waters of Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks national lakeshores is going to be a bit more difficult this year, as emergency restrictions are being implemented in an effort to prevent the spread of a deadly fish virus.

While few if any anglers will have to worry about the prohibition against ballast water exchange in the lakeshores' waters, many likely will be affected by the requirement to decontaminate their boats, fishing gear, and other equipment before launching from land into lakeshore waters. Then, too, there are bait restrictions.

The precautions -- 16 in all -- are aimed at preventing the spread into Lake Superior of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a virus that recently has been detected in all of the lower Great Lakes and several inland lakes. National Park Service officials at Great Lakes park units say VHS is spreading rapidly and is known to cause large-scale fish kills in 32 species of fresh water fish, 28 of which occur in the Lake Superior Basin.

While the virus has not yet been detected in Lake Superior, officials say it has significant potential to
impact the ecological integrity of fish populations and recreational fishing opportunities throughout the basin. The virus, which is known to emerge and spread rapidly in the early spring, does not impact humans.

Earlier this year officials from Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument and the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa tribe collectively signed off on a strategy they hope would prevent the spread of VHS into Lake Superior.

“The plan developed by the National Park Service to protect critical fishery resources identifies 16 prevention actions. Five need to take effect immediately, prior to the spring emergence of this virus,” Apostle Islands Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said Wednesday. “Those five included initiating a public education and outreach program, making sure that all of our own agency operations are above reproach so that we are not contributing to the spread of VHS ourselves, prohibiting ballast water exchange within NPS boundaries, requiring effective decontamination of boats and equipment being launched into park waters, and restricting the use of fishing baits that are known vectors for VHS."

Under the new restrictions, at Pictured Rocks the use of fish, fish parts (including roe), amphibians, and crayfish will be prohibited for possession or use as fishing bait on all NPS-administered waters within the Lakeshore Zone (federally owned lands and waters, including the surface waters of Lake Superior within the National Lakeshore boundary). However, pending further monitoring of the spread of VHS the use of roe that is certified VHS-free will be allowed for ice fishing on the surface of Lake Superior within the Lakeshore boundary.

Pictured Rocks Superintendent Jim Northup said the restrictions "are the minimum actions necessary to protect the fishery resources."

“These new restrictions will actually bring us into much closer alignment with the fishing regulations that exist in most units of the national park system,” said Superintendent Northup. “In fact, we have been one of only 13 parks in the nation that have allowed for such broad use of fishing baits, and we have paid for it with invasions of spiny water fleas and other exotics. There are many parks, in both the U.S. and Canada, that have banned the use of all baits except for artificial flies and lures.

“We have not decided to go that far at this time, but we have to prohibit the use of baits that are known vectors for VHS. VHS is just too great a threat."

Of course, how much impact these efforts will have on preventing the virus from entering Lake Superior is hard to say. The lake is the world's largest freshwater lake in terms of surface area, and the four NPS units and the tribe control only a very small portion of its waters.

“The reality is we can’t do it by ourselves," acknowledged Superintendent Krumenaker. "We have an obligation to do everything we can within our boundaries ... We are trying to lead by example. These actions are catching notice and it’s helping push the dialog along. (But) if we’re the only ones taking action it won’t do any good.”