MSU's Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory is critical to Michigan's fish rearing efforts

example of a fish kill with dead panfish under the waterManaging the state's fish populations takes lots of hard work. One critical task is ensuring the health of both wild and hatchery-reared fish, and for expert input, Fisheries Division turns to Michigan State University's Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).

"AAHL is established to service Fisheries Division's fish health testing and analysis needs and has become a Great Lakes regional laboratory, serving the region's fish and aquatic animal health needs," explained Martha VanAmberg, the DNR's Southern Lower Peninsula state fish hatchery manager and Fisheries Division's fish health liaison with the AAHL. "The DNR contracts with them for most of our fish health services."

AAHL services the entire Fisheries Division, through their staff of bacteriologists, virologists, population effects experts, and much more.

"Everything gets done in one place and they give us services far beyond standard inspections and diagnostics," VanAmberg said. "When our fish get sick, we relay symptoms and send samples for diagnostic workup and AAHL determines what's wrong and provide treatment options."

The lab can coordinate the use of new animal drugs on Fisheries Division's behalf, even those not yet fully approved but being tested by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine. That means we can access treatments for our hatchery fish that might not be available otherwise - further preventing or controlling fish diseases.

AAHL is involved in Fisheries Division's bigger fish health picture as well, helping us to develop control strategies for known diseases, such as bacterial kidney disease and investigating localized fish kills like those caused by the outbreak of Largemouth Bass Virus in the northern Lower Peninsula in late 2018.

All these services are necessary and crucial, especially when it comes to making sure hatchery-reared fish are safe to be stocked in Michigan's waters.

"We're required to clear all the fish we rear in our state fish hatcheries before we can stock them, to ensure they are healthy and free of disease," said VanAmberg. "Without the work of the AAHL, we would not be able to stock our fish."

The AAHL staff also spend time in each of Fisheries Division's six hatcheries, inspecting all parts of each hatchery to root out sources of disease and how to either eliminate them or manage around them.

On top of that, the lab provides fish health training to the division's Fish Production staff - allowing the diagnostic process to be sped up and for treatments to get going faster.

"Those trainings have been so helpful by allowing some of the work to be done by hatchery staff, eliminating the need to send fish to AAHL and wait for results of testing when simple diagnoses can be done on site and then, in consultation with AAHL, an appropriate treatment can be started right away."

For more information on fish health and diseases in Michigan, visit