Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gone Electro Fishing

Now this is my kind of fishing!  My coworker is wearing a back pack electrofisher in the photo above.  Notice that it has a long tail that trails in the water behind him.  This is a steel cathode.  In his right hand is a pole with an aluminum ring on the end in the water.  When he presses a button on the pole, a current passes between the ring and the steel tail, and the fish in the immediate vicinity of the ring get a jolt.  This shock temporarily stuns the fish, and they float so that we can scoop them up with a net.  No wonder I have no patience for fishing with a hook - this is so easy it's cheating!   

For the past few days, I've been scrambling over creek rock carrying a bucket of fish and a net behind my coworker while he shocks fish and we scoop them up in our nets.  Not everyone can say they make a living by going fishing!

Of course, when most people think of going fishing, they don't usually envision having to walk long distances on slick rocks with a forty pound back pack, or think that they are going to be in small polluted streams next to the highway catching minnows instead of cruising in their bass boat on a lake or casting their flies to the sound of the babbling brook.  We could hear the steady stream of cars and the packs of neighborhood dogs instead.  But still, we caught hundreds of fish.   Hundreds of very tiny fish. 

Fish identification is a skill that takes study and practice, which I rarely do since I've always worked with people who specialize in fish, so I naturally become the bucket holder and note taker.  My coworker is so good at fish identification that he can scoop a fish from the bucket, call off it's species name, and put it back in the creek as fast as I can write it down.  I believe the fish in the photo above is a stoneroller, which is a common fish that can tolerate poor water quality.  Stone rollers have their mouth near the bottom of their face, so they are one of the easier fish to identify.  

This little beauty is a longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis).  It looks similar to a green sunfish or a bluegill.  I think the color is fantastic, and rivals those of tropical fish I see in aquariums.  

This fish is a silverjaw minnow (Notropis buccatus).  These are easy to identify because they have strange metallic sensory organs on their jaw, under the eye, which my coworker described as making them look like Skeletor, who was He-Man's nemesis.  You might have to zoom in on the picture to see what he's talking about.  

Our objective is to assess the fish population of the stream, but sometimes we unintentionally shock other critters, like crayfish and frogs.  This little bullfrog was so stunned that let me flip him on his back so I could examine the pattern on his underside.  

In just a few moments he was able to move again, and was giving me the stink eye for the indignity that we caused him.  

This pickerel frog didn't appreciate being shocked and man handled either, and hopped away on wobbly legs.  

So many of the streams I get to explore for work are in very poor condition.   They are just plain gross, really.  The water is polluted from runoff from road and parking lot oils and salts, there are pipes spewing unspeakable substances, and the substrates (cobbles and gravels) which the stream life need for shelter and reproduction are covered in mud and sediment from bank erosion and stream disturbance, cows are mucking around in the creek, algae is taking over the stream because of the nutrient runoff from fertilizers, septic systems, pet poo, and livestock manure, and there is trash everywhere.  From a distance, everything may seem okay, but I'm convinced that if more people spent time playing in creeks, and really thought about the fact that the same stinky water in this "ditch" on the side of the road is the same water that we eventually have coming from the tap, we would be so thoroughly grossed out that we might demand a better system.  The frogs and fish would appreciate it too.  


Stormyshay said...

I have always thought the sunfish were very pretty.

Is it possible for the person operating the device to get shocked?

rain said...

Oh yes, it's possible to get a shock if you are anywhere near the person with the shocker. We have to wear rubber boots or waders. When the button is depressed it makes a beeping noise so you know to keep your hands out of the water, but sometimes I get a little excited when there's a big fish and forget and get zapped when I grab for it. It feels tingly and makes my arm jerk. The shocker has a safety feature that makes it turn off if the wearer tips over, so at least if he falls in he won't get juiced.

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