• States to test largemouth bass for virus
    By STEPHEN SEITZ Herald Staff | June 26,2006
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    MONTPELIER — Fish and Wildlife departments in Vermont and New Hampshire will be testing waters for largemouth bass virus over the summer.

    The virus, known as LMBV, only affects fish; it has no effect on humans or warm-blooded animals.

    "We haven't seen any damage to our bass population," said wildlife biologist Bernie Pientka of Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department. "But we are discussing options."

    According to a statement from the department, the virus first came to the nation's attention in 1995, when it killed fish in South Carolina. Since then, it has affected fish in 18 states.

    It was discovered in Vermont in 2003 in Lake Champlain and in Lake St. Catherine in Poultney.

    Most fish carrying the virus appear completely normal and usually are not affected by it. When the virus does strike, dying bass may be near the surface of the water, having difficultly swimming and remaining upright. That's because the virus attacks the fish's swim bladder, sometimes causing the bass to lose equilibrium and appear bloated.

    "When that happens, it's the extreme end of things," Pientka said. "We'll be testing this summer, but we haven't decided when yet or where, and it all still has to go through the director. We should know the locations and dates sometime next week."

    Last Tuesday, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department announced its own plans to conduct tests, even though the disease has yet to be found in New Hampshire waters. However, only three New Hampshire bodies of water have been tested: Connecticut River, Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam.

    "Because the virus can sometimes kill or harm largemouth bass and can be spread or influenced by anglers, it is important to test fish to learn if the virus is present in New Hampshire, educate anglers about the virus and try to minimize its spread," said Gabe Gries, of a fisheries biologist and Warmwater Project Leader in New Hampshire.

    The virus appears to result in disease when largemouth bass are stressed; warm water temperatures, low oxygen, poor water quality and frequent handling can increase the chance fish may exhibit the disease. Although the virus can be carried by other fish species, including smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, redbreast sunfish, black crappie and bluegill, it only is known to be fatal to largemouth bass.

    "We hope to work with bass clubs holding tournaments on these water bodies and use any tournament-associated fish mortalities for our samples," Gries said.

    According to the fishing organization BASS, here's what fishermen can do to help:

  • Clean boats, trailers and 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. Recent research has determined that the virus can live for several hours in water, confirming the importance of this practice.

  • Never move fish or fish parts from one body of water to another. And do not release live bait into a fishery.

  • Handle bass as gently as possible if you intend to release them.

  • Stage tournaments during cooler weather, so caught fish will not be so stressed.

  • Report dead or dying fish to state wildlife agencies.

  • Volunteer to help agencies collect bass for LMBV monitoring.

    A detailed fact sheet on the virus can be found at sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/bassmaster/conservation.

    Contact Stephen Seitz at stephen.seitz@rutlandherald.com.
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