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DNR worried after fish virus found in Lake Winnebago chain

Anglers on Lake Winnebago are worried that a deadly virus will kill the fish and ruin a multi-million-dollar sporting industry.

Hundreds of sheepshead have been killed in Wisconsin's largest inland lake and it's blamed on viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

VHS was first found in Lake Huron in 2005 and has spread from there. State officials said it was only a matter of time before it got here.

But Mike Staggs of the Department of Natural Resources wonders why the virus skipped Lake Michigan on the way. The disease only affects cold-blooded animals, so there are no health effects for humans. It does, however, hurt their fishing opportunities and the DNR has no idea how much.

Biologists will now sample a variety of fish from Winnebago and find out if VHS is what some call the lake version of chronic wasting disease.

One special concern is the effect on sturgeon. Lake Winnebago has North America's largest sturgeon population, with around 37,000 adults. The state tested those fish for VHS in this spring's season and it did not turn up then.

But Ron Bruch of the DNR said it might have been too cold, because the water temperature was just 33 during the season and the virus thrives when the water is 40-60 degrees.