Vermont Baitfish Rules Help Slow the Spread of Fish Diseases

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Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reminds anglers that regulations passed in 2008 restricting the harvest, sale and use of baitfish are still in effect, and more important than ever in protecting the health of Vermont’s fish populations.

Shawn Good, the Fish & Wildlife Department fisheries biologist that heads their Aquatic Nuisance Species team, says the regulation is still necessary to help prevent Vermont’s waters and fish from becoming infected with Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) and other fish diseases, which could result in devastating fish kills.

“Things have been pretty quiet in the last year or so in the Great Lakes,” said Good. “VHS hasn’t been in the news much out there lately, mostly because there haven’t been any recent major fish kills, and the virus hasn’t shown up in any new waters in a while.”

The VHS fish virus was first found in the Great Lakes in 2005 when it killed tens of thousands of fish in Lake Ontario. From 2005 through 2008, the disease spread rapidly throughout the other Great Lakes, and it also spread overland to several inland waters of various Great Lakes states, killing hundreds of thousands of fish. However, no new waters have been reported as infected since 2008, and the frequency and magnitude of VHS-related fish kills has slowed down as well.

“This doesn’t reduce the level of concern we have if VHS were to make its way to Vermont waters. The rapid spread and large scale fish kills could happen here just as they did in the Great Lakes,” said Good. “Weakening or eliminating our baitfish regulations at this point would be a grave mistake, in my opinion.”

Despite the difficulty and inconveniences of the baitfish restrictions, Great Lakes anglers and baits hops have more or less abided by their various state laws, and Good says that has stopped the VHS fish disease in its tracks.

“When VHS first hit the Great Lakes in 2005, anglers and commercial harvest operations were running as normal, harvesting, moving and using baitfish everywhere,” explained Good. “New York, Michigan, Wisconsin – all those states scrambled to pull their emergency and permanent baitfish regulations together quickly, to restrict the movement of potentially infected minnows to new waters. Unfortunately, that short period of time after the disease arrived but before regulations were in place largely contributed to the spread of the disease throughout the region.”

With strict regulations and restrictions now in place on the capture and movement of wild baitfish, the disease has not been discovered in new waters for several years.

“Essentially, the rules accomplished what Great Lakes fisheries agencies designed them to do,” said Good. “By rescinding our baitfish regulations in Vermont, we’d be opening ourselves up to risk infection by VHS and other fish diseases. It’s imperative that we remain proactive on fish movement as it relates to the spread of fish diseases.”

To help anglers deals with some of the inconveniences of Vermont’s regulations, Good says there are some things anglers can do to make it easier on themselves, but also still be within the law:

Split your bait between two or more buckets, and only take what you think you’ll need out on the ice. If you run out, you can always go back for more. However, baitfish left in your vehicle that was never taken on the ice can be brought home and used on the same water listed on the baitfish receipt within 96 hours.

Remember that there is no time limit to use up baitfish stored on the ice. Many anglers have begun designing homemade storage containers of perforated PVC pipe or standard ¼-inch galvanized hardware cloth, and keeping their store-bought or wild-caught bait there.

“I know a lot of guys that are jigging smelt or big goldens and caging them under their shanty,” said Good.

This not only gives anglers a ready source of lively, conditioned bait, but may actually attract game fish to the area.

“I’ve heard some anglers say that they’ve been jigging up some pretty nice walleye, pike and trout from underneath their bait cages. This makes sense, since the caged baitfish will drop scales, and release scents and emit vibrations and sounds that predator species can detect and will key in on,” explained Good.

Vermont’s fish populations will remain protected and healthy, provided anglers are diligent and continue following the rules in place.

“It’s the responsibility of the Fish & Wildlife Department to respond to dangers like VHS and other potential fish diseases that threaten fishing in Vermont,” emphasized Good. “But anglers need to understand the importance of such regulations and why we write them.”

“If the VHS virus or some other fish disease were to get into a Vermont waterbody, this regulation will already be in place to reduce the potential that anglers may inadvertently spread it to new waters. This will save a lot of fish from dying.”

Further details and information on VHS and Vermont’s baitfish regulations can be found on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website at

source: Vermont Fish and Wildlife