Electrofishing: How to be effective

By Patrick Cooney

While hook and line fishing is the most popular method of catching fish by freshwater anglers, electrofishing is one of the most popular methods used by fisheries biologists.  But what exactly is electrofishing, and how is it done properly?

Boat electrofishing (Photo: Josh Raabe)

Similar to stun guns used by police to temporarily debilitate people, electrofishing temporarily stuns fish to allow fisheries biologists to scoop them up with nets.  Fish are then placed in holding tanks where they quickly recover before being evaluated and returned to the water.  Larger streams and rivers require electrofishing units mounted on boats, whereas smaller streams and creeks require electrofishing units carried as backpacks.

Backpack electrofishing (Photo: Byron Levan)

Just like the warnings on hair driers, combining electricity and water can be fatal to both humans and fish.  To prevent harm, professionally constructed equipment must be used by properly trained personnel.

Safety gear is an important component of electrofishing.  Some important gear for boat electrofishing includes: life jackets, rubber gloves, rubber soled shoes, and nets with fiberglass or wooden handles.  For backpack electrofishing, non-breathable waders are also a must.

Life jackets, gloves, heavy duty shoes, and nets with fiberglass handles are a must. (Photo: Josh Raabe)

As with any technical piece of equipment, there are some common mistakes that could jeopardize the safety of the operators and the health of the fish, or render the equipment inoperable.  Watch the video below to learn how to avoid the 5 most common mistakes when backpack electrofishing.

Top 5 mistakes when backpack electrofishing. (Video: Smith Root)

Further uses of electrofishing include electroanesthesia used to sedate fish for handling, and electro-barriers used to keep unwanted fish from invading waterways.

Electroanesthesia and electrobarriers.  (Video: Smith Root)

Should electrofishing be a tool you plan on using to evaluate fish populations, make sure to take the proper steps to ensure the safety of your crew and the fish.  Check out this course offered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that explains the principles and techniques of electrofishing.

Boat electrofishing with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

A special thanks to Smith Root for supplying us with some of the above videos.  Should you know anyone who is interested in advancing our field through a video, we would be honored to host the video.  Please contact us at TheFisheriesBlog@gmail.com.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Smith-Root says:

    Great article, thanks for posting. Here's a related video about setting up your LR-24 quickly – http://www.smith-root.com/videos/lr-24-electrofisher-quick-setup

  2. I agree that electrofishing is one of the most popular methods used by fisheries biologists and this is very good method also..The video's and posters shared in this post is also good..

  3. Cheryl says:

    Electrofishing is a way to temporarily stun the fish population so they can be evaluated. Invasive species can be removed. Fish populations can be checked in order to bring the fishery in line with the overall goals of the management of the body of water.

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