Electrofishing? How we are Restoring Fish Populations in These Wild and Wonderful Streams

As I mentioned in all of my posts: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, watersheds, and tributaries and any other kind of body of water in the state of West Virginia have been damaged by human-induced pollutants that have devastating effects on their aquatic ecosystems, including their fish populations. Pollutants that I previously mentioned in my other posts such as acid mine drainage (AMD), acid rain deposition, and overburden from mountaintop removal all contribute to these devastating effects that hurt fish populations; trout populations in particular.

Unites States Environmental Protection Agency

Although you can find many different species of trout (rainbow, brown, speckled) in Appalachia, Brook Trout is the only species that is native to West Virginia. These trout populations have been at an increasing risk of decline due to all of these human-induced pollutants that are contaminating the streams and rivers throughout the state. They are also being destroyed through competition with other salmonids, which are other types of fresh water fish such as salmon and other trout that are not native to West Virginia’s section of Appalachia. State and federal environmental agencies have and are continuing to take appropriate measures to restore these native species in this wild and wonderful mountain state, as well as across all of Appalachia. These agencies and departments consist of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the National Park Service (NPS), the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WV DEP), and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WV DNR). These departments and agencies, along with the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited (WVCTU) (an organization that helps to conserve the state’s watersheds that these trout call home) are working together to restore the state’s trout populations.

One way in which these federal, state, and privately owned organizations are taking measures to learn more about the problems with the current trout populations is through the use of electro-fishing. Electro-fishing is the technique and science of utilizing an electrical current to momentarily stun fish or force them to involuntarily swim towards an electrical field for collection. This technique can be used for a variety of different reasons, including the detection of contaminant levels in fish that are desired for consumption by humans, to determine the abundance of fish populations in certain bodies of water to determine the biomass of the population, and whether or not if there are too many/not enough of a particular species for that body of water. If performed properly, electro-fishing can provide for a wealth of valuable information regarding fish populations, and after all of the contaminants that we know are in these rivers and streams, it is definitely necessary that we utilize this technique to get a better look at the size of their populations and how badly they have been effected by these pollutants. Todd Petty, a professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources at West Virginia University explained in an article how these results underscore the importance of small tributaries for the persistence of trout (and other types of fish) in these watersheds and the need to consider watershed-scale processes when designing management plans for Appalachian trout populations.

Just being able to study these fish is useful for biologists, and the WV DNR has also come up with a other alternatives to electro-fishing:

For a deeper look into what electro-fishing is and how it can help impact our state’s rivers and streams, check out what people are saying about it:

This technique is used to find out whether these populations are declining due to contaminants in the ecosystem, competition with exotic species (such as other salmonids), or even to figure out if there are too much of a certain species. It allows scientists or authorities working for these different departments to examine the different species in a way that does not cause any harm to them, that is of course, if they don’t want to cause them any harm…

This might sound a little off topic, but it is still related I promise. I am from Virginia, and I live on a lake. We have a problem that is the exact opposite of the trout problem occurring in West Virginia. In a lot of our commonwealth’s lakes, there are an over population of large-mouth bass. Our commonwealth’s environmental agencies and departments have used similar techniques to come up with strategies to fix the problem. They have used electro-fishing methods to determine exactly how over populated these lakes are with large-mouth bass. By doing that, they can use mathematical calculations to determine how many fish need to be removed. As sad as it sounds, they actually advise fisherman to go against the “catch-and-release” policy, and rather advise them to throw the large-mouth-bass onto the shoreline to let them die if they are too small. This is because their population has gotten to big, and when it gets too big, the individual fish do not get the chance to grow to their potential size because there isn’t enough food. So in a recap, these electro-fishing techniques can be used for a number of reasons. This technique can be used in West Virginia with it’s problem with invasive species. They have told fisherman to kill unwanted species when caught. Recently in Fairmont, West Virginia, a fisherman caught a Caiman (a sub-species of the alligator) in the Monongahela River, and it is an invasive species that produces competition for food for native fish in these rivers. The WV DNR has advised fisherman to kill these animals if caught.

As I have mentioned before, West Virginia is know for its beautiful rivers and streams, with tourism being one of their top methods of state funding. With fly fishing being one of those top tourist activities, it is imperative that the we maintain the trout population at a consistent and healthy level; because that is the number one fish that fly fisherman are seeking in Appalachia. Not only do we want to keep there population from diminishing as a whole, we want them to be healthy as well, so that when we eat them we don’t get sick too. We have been seeing these problems arise all over Appalachia, and it is slowly making its way into the Potomac River, eventually ending up in the Chesepeake Bay, and ultimately ending up in the Atlantic Ocean. It is something we need to keep a close eye on, and I will be interested to see the progress we make.

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One thought on “Electrofishing? How we are Restoring Fish Populations in These Wild and Wonderful Streams

  1. I don’t tend to know a lot about fish, but after reading your post I feel like I know a little more. I had no idea that Brook Trout were the only native fish to West Virginia and that due to us introducing other species we are killing off our naturally occurring fish species. It makes me feel like we should do something about it. I hope the fish farms in West Virginia are keeping track of all of this.

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