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Preventing VHS

Fishing Wisconsin

We want people to continue to enjoy Wisconsin's great fishing and boating, but need everyone to do their part. All boaters and anglers should follow simple precautions to prevent the spread of VHS and other invasive species in Wisconsin waters.

In addition, the following statewide rules apply to boaters, anglers and wild bait harvesters in Wisconsin.

Anglers and boaters

The following new laws apply to all anglers and boaters in Wisconsin:

  • You must drain all water from boats, containers and fishing equipment when leaving any state waters, banks or shores, or entering Wisconsin over land. This does not apply to any drinking water or up to 2 gallons of water being used to hold minnows that can be legally transported.
  • You may not transport any live fish or live fish eggs away from any state waters. There is an exception for minnows obtained from a Wisconsin bait dealer. These minnows may be transported away live and used again:
    • On the same water, or
    • On any other waters if no lake or river water, or other fish were added to their container.
  • You may not use dead fish, fish eggs, or fish parts as bait. There are three exceptions:
  • You may use unpreserved or just frozen dead fish, fish eggs or fish parts as bait on the water from which they were collected or on Lake Michigan or Green Bay (and connecting waters upstream to the first barrier impassable to fish), or
  • Live minnows that die during a fishing trip may be used during that fishing trip (they may not be used on later trips unless you meet the two conditions above).
  • You may not possess or use minnows for bait that are obtained outside of Wisconsin. This does not apply if the minnows were imported under a Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) permit, or if they were obtained from Iowa or Minnesota and are being used only “between the tracks” on the Mississippi River.

Anglers who harvest wild bait for personal use

Buy your minnows only from Wisconsin bait dealers
  • VHS affected waters are closed to all minnow harvesting (currently these include Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Mississippi River, the Lake Winnebago system, Fox River from Lake Winnebago to Green Bay, the Wisconsin River up to the Prairie du Sac Dam and all connecting waters upstream to the first barrier impassable to fish). The only exception is that suckers (which are legally considered to be minnows also) can be taken but may not be transported away alive.
  • On other waters, minnows may be taken for personal use but may not be transported alive away from the water, or by Wisconsin bait dealers under a DNR wild bait harvest permit.
  • People who live on a lake or are vacationing at a resort may keep live bait in floating or submerged containers tethered to a dock or boat. Any unattended containers holding minnows or fish must be labeled with the owner’s name and address.

People who harvest wild bait harvest for commercial use

  • No one may harvest minnows for commercial sale from VHS-affected waters.
  • Harvesters must be a bait dealer and apply for a wild bait harvest permit and specify which lake or stream segment they will collect from and keep records of their harvest and what they did with the minnows.
  • May not possess farm-raised fish while engaged in harvesting operations or while transporting wild-harvested minnows to the bait dealer’s business location or from the water were harvested to the point of sale.
  • Must have all VHS-susceptible minnows inspected by a qualified fish health expert and receive a Fish Health Certificate before they can be distributed. Minnow species on the VHS-susceptible list as defined by the federal  USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, include emerald shiners, spottail shiners, and bluntnose minnows
  • Harvesters are required to disinfect all of their gear before harvesting in another waterbody