In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) initiated an education and outreach campaign to raise awareness about a new strain of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) detected in the Great Lakes. Recent cases of the disease highlighted the need to address VHS not only from a regulatory perspective, but also from a public education perspective.
A voluntary group of stakeholders and expertswith established networks in the recreational fishing and boating communities - which was informally designated the 'VHS Education Alliance' - provided input for education and outreach projects to raise awareness and prevention measures to help prevent or slow the further spread of the disease into additional areas or aquaculture facilities. As a result, the Focus on Fish Health campaign was initiated. Learn more about the VHS Education Alliance and its members.
As a result of Alliance suggestions, an engaging and user-friendly website was designed as part of the education and outreach campaign. The goal of the website (www.FocusOnFishHealth.org) is to serve as a clearinghouse of available resources on VHS and its prevention as well as a means to provide current regulations and/or personnel to contact for more information about VHS. The initial target audience for the website was boaters, anglers and youth as well as the general public. As resources allow, information and materials for extension specialists, aquaculture producers and technical and professional audiences may be added.
The Focus On Fish Health website went "live" in January 2009. In March of 2009, USDA APHIS launched an advertising campaign to promote the VHS prevention messages and the Focus On Fish Health website. Advertisements were printed in numerous trade magazines with regional and national exposure. Publications that ran the ads included the Badger Sportsman, Great Lakes Angler, Great Lakes Boating, Great Lakes Sportsfishing News, Lake Erie Living, Lake Ontario Outdoor News, Michigan Outdoors, National Fisherman, Pennsylvania Outdoors Times, Fish Farming News (through December 2008), Aquaculture News, and Sailing. View previous sample advertisements.
The campaign also developed a wallet-sized card with information on how individuals can reduce the chances of spreading VHS through their activities, while still enjoying the outdoors. Thousands of cards were distributed throughout the Great Lakes region by State Departments of Natural Resouces, the National Park Service, Tribal groups and the Wal-Mart FLW Outdoors fishing tours.
|VHS Wallet Card|
In October 2009, in collaboration with the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center (www.ncrac.org), The National Aquaculture Biosecurity Clearinghouse (NABC) was incorporated into the FOFH website. This database serves as an additional resource for the site and its visitors, listing past and currently funded VHS extension and research projects, as well as their outcomes and results.
In March 2010, USDA APHIS funded Diversity Marketing, LLC, to develop and implement a regional Focus On Fish Health marketing campaign. A variety of educational awareness materials were developed to promote the VHS prevention message. These included, regional and national magazine advertisements, 4-full-color educational Palm Cards, a Focus On Fish Health informational PowerPoint presentation, and numerous campaign press releases. Additionally, 4-Public Service Annoucements, 2-podcasts and 1 vodcast with key USDA APHIS personnel were recorded and made available.
The 2010 campaign also initiated a national photo contest in efforts to increase traffic to the website and to further disseminate the prevention message. The contest included three photo categories: Family Fun Fishing, Most Impressive Catch, and Happiest Boaters on the Water. The photo contest winners for 2010 and additional campaign marketing materials can be found under the Outreach Campaign >> Campaign Materials.
Partnerships with established groups and networks within the recreational fishing and boating communities has helped in developing and implementing the Focus On Fish Health campaign. These partners include the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Trout Unlimited, State Departments of Natural Resources (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS)/Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers Campaign, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Fishing Buddies.