The first detections of viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) in North America were in Washington State from adult coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and chinook (O. tshawytscha) salmon in 1988. Subsequently, VHSV was isolated from adult coho salmon returning to hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest in 1989, 1991 and 1994. These isolates represented a strain of VHSV that was genetically different from European VHSV as determined by DNA sequence analysis and T1 ribonuclease fingerprinting. The North American strain of VHSV was also isolated from skin lesions of Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) taken from Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska in 1990, 1991 and 1993. In 1993 and 1994, the virus was isolated from Pacific herring (Clupea harengus pallasi) in Alaskan waters of PWS, Kodiak Island, Auke Bay and Port Frederick. During 1993 and 1994 the herring fishery in PWS failed from a probable complex of environmental stressors but VHSV isolates were associated with hemorrhages of the skin and fins in fish that returned to spawn. Also in 1993 and 1994, VHSV was isolated from apparently healthy stocks of herring in British Columbia, Canada and Puget Sound, Washington. Thus, the North American strain of VHSV is enzootic in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean among Pacific herring stocks with Pacific cod serving as a secondary reservoir. Although the North American strain of the virus appears to be moderately pathogenic for herring, causing occasional self-limiting epizootics, it was shown to be relatively avirulent for several species of salmonids. Pacific herring are common prey for cod and salmon and were most probably the source of the VHSV isolates from the adult salmon returning to spawn in rivers or at hatcheries in Washington State. Compelling circumstances involving the European isolates of VHSV suggest that this strain of the virus also is enzootic among marine fish in the Atlantic Ocean. The highly pathogenic nature of the European strain of VHSV for salmonid fish may be the result of the exposure of rainbow trout (O. mykiss), an introduced species, in a stressful environment of intensive culture and the high rate of mutation inherent in all rhabdoviruses. Consequently, we recommend that efforts be made to eradicate the North American strain of VHSV when detected in live salmonids to reduce the possibility of its evolution into a more virulent salmonid virus.