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​​Aquaculture Licensing and Fish Importation

Aquaculture Dealers and Propagators

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture licenses parties propagating and dealing species which live on or in the water, including but not limited to all game fish, fish bait, baitfish, amphibians, reptiles and aquatic organisms. More information on fish regulations in Pennsylvania can be found here.

VHS – Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia

VHS, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia is a highly contagious pathogen of fresh and saltwater fish. It causes clinical signs including internal hemorrhaging and death in susceptible species. The disease does not pose a risk to people, but the VHS virus has been found to infect at least 28 fish species. Some fish will show no external signs while others show signs including bulging eyes, bloated abdomens, inactive or overactive behavior, and hemorrhaging in the eyes, skin, gills and at the base of the fins. Infected fish may also have lesions that look like those caused by other fish diseases. Therefore, testing is necessary to determine whether fish are infected. VHS has been reported in several of the Great Lakes and related tributaries where a number of large-scale die-offs of wild fish have occurred. VHS is classified as a reportable disease by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

In the past, VHS was thought to be a concern only for trout and a few other freshwater fish raised for commercial aquaculture in Europe.  However, the recent outbreak in the Great Lakes region appears to be a new strain of the virus. This new strain is responsible for die-offs in many freshwater species.  A list of species susceptible to VHS is listed below.

It is not known how VHS was transferred to the Great Lakes or how long it has been in the waterways.  The disease transmits easily between fish of all ages.  Mortality is highest at water temperatures between 37 and 54 degrees Fahrenheit.  Testing is necessary to determine whether a fish is infected.  The Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Penn State University has some capacity for fish necropsy and testing.

Sport fishermen and recreational boaters are asked to adhere to good bio-security practices while fishing or boating in waters where VHS has been found.  Thoroughly clean fishing equipment, boats, and trailers before using them in a new body of water and do not transfer fish from one body of water to another.

Although VHS has yet to be detected in aquaculture facilities, individuals responsible for the movement of VHS-susceptible species, regardless of origin, should take these steps to protect their facilities:

Request a health certificate stating that those fish have been tested and are free of VHS prior to movement.

Enact appropriate bio-security measures within your facility to prevent the spread of this, and other, infectious pathogens.  Some elements of a biosecurity plan include:

    • Cleaning and disinfection
    • Controlling the movements of people, animals, vehicles, and equipment
    • Isolating new and returning (e.g., brood stock) fish
    • Controlling effluent discharges
    • Conducting audits to evaluate implementation and effectiveness of the bio-security plan.

Species Considered VHS Susceptible By the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

VHS-susceptible species.

For purposes of this order, the term "VHS-susceptible species" shall include live animals of the following fish species, as well as any other species designated "VHS-susceptible species" by order of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or USDA-APHIS after the effective date of this order:

    • Black crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus
    • Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus
    • Bluntnose minnow Pimephales notatus
    • Brown bullhead Amieurus nebulosus
    • Brown trout Salmo trutta
    • Burbot Lota lota
    • Channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus
    • Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
    • Emerald shiner Notropis atherinoides
    • Freshwater drum Aplodinotus grunniens
    • Gizzard shad Dorosoma cepedianum
    • Lake whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis
    • Largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides
    • Muskellunge Esox masquinongy
    • Shorthead redhorse Moxostoma macrolepidotum
    • Northern Pike Esox lucius
    • Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus
    • Rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
    • Rock bass Ambloplites rupestris
    • Round goby Neogobius melanostomus
    • Silver redhorse Moxostoma anisurum
    • Smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu
    • Spottail shiner Notropis hudsonius
    • Trout-Perch Percopsis omiscomaycus
    • Walleye Sander vitreus
    • White bass Morone chrysops
    • White perch Morone americana
    • Yellow perch Perca flavescens 

VHS has not been found in commercially raised fish in the United States.  Detections of VHS have been limited in North America to the wild ocean-going and freshwater fish. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture published a General Quarantine Order and an Interstate Quarantine Order with respect to VHS on October 13 and December 8, 2007. These orders were supplanted on August 30, 2008 with the publication of a General and an Interstate Quarantine Order designed to better coordinate with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Animal and Plant Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS). The goal of the Quarantine Order is to prevent the spread of the disease to aquaculture facilities. The following States are included in the Order: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Quarantine Order states that no VHS susceptible fish species from any Great Lakes state may enter Pennsylvania without documentation that the fish have tested negative for the VHS virus.  Many states have added additional testing requirements that must be met for movement of fish into their respective state. Consult the state of destination for a complete list of importation requirements.

In addition, the portions of Erie, Crawford, and Potter counties that drain into Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are affected by the Pennsylvania Quarantine Order.  Commercial fish dealers and propagators in these quarantined areas must do a representative testing of the fish population annually for VHS, for movement of fish outside of the quarantined area into other areas in Pennsylvania. Also, a completed aquaculture inspection certificate is needed for movement of fish out of the quarantine areas.

The complete fish importation and intrastate movement requirements can be found here. To access the Aquaculture Verification Certificate, please see "Forms" on this page.

If you suspect VHS, you should immediately report all findings to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (717-772-2852) or the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (717-705-7800).