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Cisco and rainbow smelt can no longer be used as bait

Big fall walleye like this 30-inch beauty landed by Jordan Anderson love to feed on cisco and smelt. Due to a new law, anglers may not use cisco or rainbow smelt unless they have been treated for Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia by a permitted vendor. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

According to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources press release, anglers cannot use cisco or rainbow smelt as bait in any body of water, effective Monday, Oct. 4. The regulation was enacted to help prevent the spread of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in Minnesota waters.

The exception is those who use fish that have been preserved by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit holder, using accepted methods to make the virus inactive. Harvesting cisco and rainbow smelt from Lake Superior and other inland waters for human consumption also remains legal.

VHS is a deadly fish virus that has infested Lake Superior and prohibited public harvest of bait from its waters.

Signs of VHS in fish include hemorrhaging, bulging eyes, abnormal behavior, bloated abdomens, anemia and rapid onset of death.

VHS has affected fish in European countries since the early 1930s. It first appeared in the United States in 1988 near the West Coast and was discovered in the Great Lakes in 2005. However, the genetic strain of VHS found in the Great Lakes most resembles the VHS discovered along the Pacific Northwest versus that of European descent.

According to research, 28 species of fish are susceptible to VHS, though the effect of the virus on each species differs.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Michigan (Kim & Faisal, Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, July 26, 2010) revealed information regarding which freshwater species were greatest influenced by the virus. By injecting various fish species with the VHS virus to determine a level where 50 percent of each subjected species experienced mortality, muskies were found to be affected the greatest, followed by largemouth bass and yellow perch.

Since Minnesota's Lake Superior could potentially create a transmission route of VHS via cisco and rainbow smelt to inland bodies of water, the Minnesota DNR enacted the new rule.

Those who have previously harvested cisco and rainbow smelt may not legally use the bait, unless they have the fish preserved and labeled by an authorized permit holder. Anglers using preserved cisco or rainbow smelt must have the label from the batch of bait being used, including the processors DNR permit number, the lot number and the date of processing while the bait is in possession.

Doug Kingsley, Park Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor says though the new rule may not affect all anglers, it definitely requires strict compliance.

"Many area anglers use frozen cisco or smelt on trips to Red Lake, Lake of the Woods or a multitude of other destinations, but unless the bait has been treated and sold by a permit holder, the possible impact for the angler and on the environment is heavy", says Kingsley.

Although Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia is deadly for fish, it does not pose a threat to humans. Consuming fish from VHS infested waters is safe.

Anglers catching fish thought to be affected by VHS should call the local fisheries office or DNR Pathology Lab at 651-259-5096 right away for instructions.