Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lake Superior VHS Emergency Prevention & Response Plan

Mar 17: The four units of the National Park System on Lake Superior (Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores, and Grand Portage National Monument) and the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa have approved a plan to protect park and tribal fishery resources from viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, (VHS or VHSv) [See WIMS 1/24/08]. VHSv is the deadly fish virus that has been recently detected in lower Great Lakes’ freshwater fish. It has not yet been found in Lake Superior. VHSv can infect a wide range of fish species and has been the cause of large fish kills in other parts of the Great Lakes. Great Lakes fish have no exposure history to VHSv and, therefore, are especially susceptible to the disease. In fact, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, there has not been a virus in the past that has affected so many fish species from so many fish families in the Great Lakes. VHSv does not pose a threat to human health.

The plan -- Emergency Prevention and Response Plan for Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia -- is focused on (1) preventing contamination of the waters of the four units of the National Park System located in the Lake Superior basin and the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, (2) detecting the introduction of VHSv and (3) responding to VHSv detection and outbreaks. The plan will assist park and tribal managers, staff and cooperators in assessing the risk of VHSv introduction and, subsequently, planning and implementing the appropriate levels of prevention and monitoring actions for their area based upon that risk. The plan also provides a framework for response. Implementation of this plan will require close coordination with tribes; federal, state and provincial agencies and other organizations as they implement their own plans around the basin. The plan includes an analysis of the risks posed by the various pathways, or vectors, for transmission of the virus; a listing of known measures to prevent or contain the virus; an overall plan for the prevention of or response to the virus in the four National Park System units and the Grand Portage Indian Reservation and recommendations for enhancing cooperation with tribes, agencies and other organizations.

Emergency recommendations for the parks and the Grand Portage Band include an outreach campaign; boat decontamination; restrictions on the use of bait; and insuring that agency operations and practices do not spread the virus, including agency-controlled vessel ballast water. All of these actions will be implemented in close coordination and collaboration with the respective tribal and state regulatory agencies. Longer-term, non-emergency recommendations include research; enforcement of laws and regulations; collaborating with the U.S. Coast Guard and the states and commenting on the development of their ballast water regulations; engaging with other stakeholders on aquatic invasive species prevention measures and the harmonization of regulations amongst agencies; conducting pre-infection fisheries assessments; and working with other stakeholders to conduct a detailed risk assessment.

Access a release from NPS Midwest Regional Office (click here). Access an overview of the Plan on the NPS Apostle Islands National Lakeshore website (click here). Access the complete 149-page Plan (click here).