First Bees, Now Fish?

A couple of months ago, I noted that there was a mysterious epidemic centered around the world’s beehives. Now it appears that another ailment may be threatening our freshwater fish.

A virus in the U.S. Great Lakes that has killed tens of thousands of fish in recent years is spreading and poses a threat to inland fish farming, a U.S. Agriculture Department official said on Monday.

The pathogen, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, causes internal bleeding in fish. It does not harm humans, even if they eat infected fish.

The federal agency issued an emergency order in October to limit movement of live fish caught in the eight states bordering the Great Lakes and two Canadian provinces.

“We’re concerned that this virus could get out of the Great Lakes and affect other populations,” Jill Roland, a fish pathologist and assistant director for aquaculture for the USDA in Riverdale, Maryland, said in a telephone interview.

“The virus could potentially affect the catfish industry,” she said.

Catfish make up the largest sector of the $1 billion U.S. aquaculture industry, accounting for $462 million in sales, according to a 2005 USDA aquaculture census.

Nasty stuff. Here’s hoping that the quarantine can be maintained–it sounds like this isn’t something we want spreading down the Mississippi…

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Richard Gardner says:

    The Great Lakes to Mississippi connection (if you read the full article) is due to man-made canals going through Chicago – otherwise they wouldn’t connect.

  2. Timmer says:

    If it’s in Lake Michigan, you can be sure it’s in the ol’ Miss by now.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Viral hemorrhagic septicemia isn’t some new, exotic disease. It’s been the bane of aquariumists for decades. The ‘cure’ for the fish keeper has been to take a try at various chemical solutions with the hope that they get the virus before they get the fish. Usually, though, it means killing everything in the tank, sterilizing it, then starting over.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Usually, though, it means killing everything in the tank, sterilizing it, then starting over.

    I don’t think that’s very practical as far as the Great Lakes are concerned…

  5. On the other hand, if the virus has a special affinity for those Asian catfish in the Mississippi River and tributaries …