Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Poll quizzes anglers about VHS fish disease

The catch? New insights into angler habits

MADISON – A recent statewide poll reeled in a mixed bag of results after asking anglers about state rules passed in 2008 to stop the spread of VHS fish disease.

The poll revealed good compliance by anglers with the VHS rules, but knowledge of the rules, not so good.

Perhaps most interestingly, the poll yielded new insights into angler habits such as minnow use that will help shape future awareness and information efforts, says Karl Scheidegger, a Department of Natural Resources fish biologist who leads fisheries outreach efforts.

“The good news is that the poll shows that the vast majority of anglers said that preventing the spread of VHS was very important, and that most anglers are taking many of the steps we need them to take to keep Wisconsin fish and lakes healthy,” he says.

“They’re draining water from their boats, live wells and bait buckets. They’re not taking live fish away from a lake with the exception of minnows, as the rules allow, and they’re following the rules for using leftover minnows: they are using them again on the same water or using them elsewhere if they did not add any lake or river water to their bait bucket.”

DNR has been working closely with UW-Extension, the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication and the UW-Madison Sea Grant on research related to outreach efforts. The UW-Madison's Badger Poll surveyed 507 people randomly chosen within households with working landlines in October and November 2009. Results from this survey have a margin of error of a little more than plus or minus 4 percent. More details on the poll are available on the University of Wisconsin Web site [http://www.news.wisc.edu/17559/]

Fully 53 percent of the people surveyed said they fished, an indication of the popularity of this pastime but also of the potential risk of VHS fish disease being spread in Wisconsin, says Bret Shaw, environmental communication specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension and principal investigator on the study.

However, Shaw says, the survey revealed that majority of anglers do not fish with minnows or follow other practices that potentially increase their risk of spreading the fish disease.

Anglers inadvertently moving infected live fish or live bait minnows or water contaminated with VHS are the main ways that VHS and other fish diseases and invasive species can spread to new waters. But the survey results suggest that nearly two-thirds of anglers do not fish with minnows to begin with, that very few anglers move their boats around to multiple waters within a week and thus run the risk of spreading contaminated water.

VHS is not a human health threat but can kill more than three dozen different species of fish, including trout, musky, bass and bluegill, and it caused large fish kills in some Great Lakes waters in 2005 and 2006. The disease was first detected in Wisconsin in 2007 in fish from the Lake Winnebago system and the Lake Michigan system.

Findings on angler habits

  • 72.2 percent fish from a boat at least sometimes
  • 54.1 percent fish from shore at least sometimes, with 26.6 per cent often or always doing so
  • 16.8 percent used the same boat on more than one body of water within a 5 day period
  • 39.4 percent never fish with minnows; that climbs to 61.7 percent when people who “rarely” fish with minnows are added in

Findings on angler compliance with VHS rules

  • 86 percent said they never or rarely used leftover minnows on multiple waters
  • 63.7 percent say they never or rarely add lake or river water to their minnow bucket
  • 60.9 percent said they drain water from livewell always or often
  • 57.7 percent never or rarely move live fish away
  • 65.7 percent say they never or rarely add lake or river water to their minnow bucket
  • 30.3 percent use minnows on same water

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