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Dr. Paul Bowser of Cornell University holds a muskellunge impacted by the VHS virus. Photo: Bowser Lab/Cornell University
Dr. Paul Bowser of Cornell University holds a muskellunge impacted by the VHS virus. Photo: Bowser Lab/Cornell University

Muskies recovering on the St. Lawrence River

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Now that it's warming up, more and more people are going fishing. A lot of anglers have their eyes on muskellunge, or muskies. Muskies are popular for their size, and their ability to put up a fight.

"I've never been muskie fishing. But I know a lot of people that do, and I guess hooking into one of these fish is quite an experience! I guess it would be analogous to catching a torpedo," says David MacNeill, a fisheries specialist at New York Sea Grant, which is funding research on muskies.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Scientists have their own reasons for caring about the fish. One is that, unlike some other species, muskies are vulnerable to a disease called Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, or VHS.

About a decade ago, the disease slammed muskie populations in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Thousands of muskies died. MacNeill says that was surprising. "The muskellunge are the top of the food web," he says. "They're the apex predator on the top of the food pyramid, and so their numbers are a lot lower anyway. But when you start seeing dead muskellunge in the water, that is a sign that something fairly dramatic is happening,"

MacNeill says muskie populations are now in recovery from the VHS epidemic, but the virus still exists in the Great Lakes, and on the St. Lawrence River. "It's still very much out there. And I think the dynamics of how the disease, how we get these disease outbreaks, is still not that well understood," MacNeill says.

This summer, researchers from Cornell University, and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, will be watching the fish. Biologists will see how the muskies are coming along in their recovery. They'll also try to see what effect the long winter had on the disease.

Updates will be available at NYseagrant.org.

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