How do we know restoration and conservation efforts are working? Anecdotal evidence shared by other anglers can help us decide where to fish tomorrow, or add a new river to our “must fish” list, but more than fish tales are needed to confirm conservation work is warranted and successful. These efforts need validation, and this validation comes from scientific data. It isn’t as sexy as tales of big fish, gin clear water, and prolific hatches, but these tales are often made possible through hard work, done by real people. Today we look at why Biologists electroshock fish, and the important role it plays in protecting cold-water fisheries. Electroshocking a stream temporarily stuns the fish, allowing for capture and counting before being released back into the habitat. The data collected includes species, length, and weight, and whether the fish appear healthy or have obvious problems.
The process itself varies based on the size and type of stream. One recent fall day I found myself on a 15-foot raft, prepared to assist Biologist Greg Policky with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to electroshock a section of the Arkansas River.
I was pre warned this day would be hard physical labor, but I guide on the Arkansas and I regularly row people down this very river, so I thought “How hard can it be?”
Well, if throwing the 15 pound probe upstream then retrieving it as quickly as possible, repeatedly, doesn’t sound hard enough, consider Policky’s role “I lead the dance” he said. Donning waders, boots, and a life jacket, he steers and slows the boat from handles attached to the back. Picture water skiing from a whitewater raft, loaded down with frame, generator, and 3 more people; but on the river bottom. He struck a fine balance between steering the boat toward trout habitat, and being drug along chest deep in the river. While the rest of us were able to rotate jobs and positions throughout the day, moving from throwing to netting, Policky was unwilling to place anyone else in this risky position. Of course, none of us insisted either.
The data collected proves that restoration and management efforts on the Arkansas River are astoundingly successful, and the numbers back the new Gold Medal Status bestowed on the fishery this year. But what of rivers in dire need of the kind restoration the Arkansas River has already experienced? Electroshocking can be used to compile and provide the proof that attention is needed. If fish cannot survive and thrive in a river where they once did, scientific data to this point must be brought to the conversation. Protections cannot be afforded to a river based on a big fish tale, whether true or not. Biologists are working hard for the health of our rivers; it’s shocking really.
Rachel is a fly fishing guide at ArkAnglers, and studies
communication at Regis University. She is excited to
expand her stewardship role working with Colorado Trout