A mysterious fish disease has invaded the lakes of at least five northwest Wisconsin counties. And students at the University of Wisconsin Stout are on a mission to find out why.
Black Crappie Sarcoma (BCS) is a disease affecting up to 35 percent of black crappies in identified lakes. Symptoms of the disease include red sores on the sides and fins, bleeding from these areas, and occasionally a large tumor. It’s not yet known if BCS is lethal to the fish, or if consuming the fish might pose any health risk to humans.
The fish disease has been reported in five northern Wisconsin counties, according to Stout Biology students, including 20 lakes in Polk County, 13 in Barron County, two in St. Croix County, one in Pierce, and one in Washburn.
The students say that a Wisconsin DNR histopathology report was completed in 2015, but no further research has been done on the disease. Meanwhile, say the students, the disease seems to be becoming more prevalent and affecting more fish. Some lakes affected, such as Lost Lake, have no public access yet still carried the disease, and some lakes in Polk County don’t contain any crappies that show these symptoms. The Wisconsin DNR currently suggests that if a sick fish is caught, that it should be thrown in the trash.
The study being conducted by biology students at UW Stout aims to identify the pathogenic cause of the tumors and hemorrhaging. Previous studies had been inconclusive as to whether the symptoms were caused by a virus, and if so, what kind. Researchers in the Stout program will attempt to identify the cause of BCS by looking at the proteins of sick specimens compared to healthy ones, and analyzing the fish’s DNA.
The project is not without cost, however. The research is anticipated to be roughly $7,000 to sequence DNA and purchase supplies. The biology department is asking for financial support from lakes districts and the public to help fund the study, the results of which will be shared at molecular biology conferences.
The students also need anglers to be on the lookout for inflicted fish. If you have caught a fish showing symptoms, please take a picture and send it with the date, lake, and if possible where on the lake the fish was caught, and send it to Kayla Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in helping fund the project, donations can be made payable to “Black Crappie Sarcoma Project,” and sent to Michael Bessert, Biology Department, 203G Jarvis Hall Science Wing, 817 South Broadway, Menomonie, WI 54751. Donors will be kept informed of the project’s progress.