Written by Industry Experts David Beasley, Fisheries Biologist and Director of Fisheries and Aaron Cushing, Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Scientist
Electrofishing is a fish sampling tool used to gather fish population data, allowing managers to make accurate decisions and improve pond management techniques. Using an electrofishing boat, the electric field produced affects a small area of water in front of the vessel where fish are momentarily stunned and safely collected with dip nets. The question most people ask when they hear about electrofishing is: “Doesn’t that hurt the fish?” Surprising to most, the process is safe and harmless to fish. Once netted from the water, the fish are placed into a live well on the boat where they quickly recover and start swimming around. Once safely on board, length and weight data is recorded, observations are made, and fish are released without harm back into their environment. If desired, fish can be marked with PIT tags or Floy tags to determine growth rates when recaptured in the future. The data collected during electrofishing provides insight into current and future issues, giving pond managers the needed facts to make a fishery productive and keep it productive. In addition to collecting data, undesired species of fish or overpopulated size classes of predators can be removed from the waterbody.
For owners looking to enhance a fishery, an initial study will provide the needed information to make improvements. The frequency in which a waterbody has an electrofishing study completed is directly related to the goals for the waterbody, the available budget and how long it takes to implement key management recommendations. Those who want a balanced, healthy fishery should consider electrofishing every one to five years while those who want to create and maintain a trophy fishery, or want to make big improvements in a relatively short period of time, will require electrofishing once or twice annually.
Fisheries that are in great shape require management just as much as fisheries in poor shape if the goal is to maintain a great fishery over time. Designing and following a Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) allows lake and pond owners as well as biologists to stay ahead of potential issues. Using electrofishing as part of a proactive management approach is key to the success. FMPs are designed based on the waterbody’s characteristics as well as the goals, timeline, and budget of each individual lake or pond owner or community. While electrofishing allows biologists to track changes in the fishery, a number of other things are often recommended in a FMP to achieve those goals: Fish feeders and fish stocking to boost the forage base are often combined with selective predator harvests to improve the predator to prey ratio. Submersed aeration is often installed to improve water quality and can be teamed with liming and fertilizing to increase a waterbody’s productivity.
A private fishing club in central Virginia that implemented an FMP for their 85 acre lake in 2010 serves as a great example of how electrofishing and a management plan can improve a fishery. Following several meetings with club members, a long-term budget and strategy was approved including electrofishing, bluegill stocking, selective bass harvesting, fertilizing, water quality monitoring, and adding a few fish feeders. After just five years, the forage base has greatly increased and the number of large fish caught by anglers has steadily risen, with an annual percent of largemouth bass caught over 16 inches increasing from 9.8% to 40%. The number of bass greater than five pounds has also steadily increased, from 16 fish in 2010 to 48 fish in 2015.
Whether you are monitoring a fish population and adjusting strategies, or taking your first look under the surface, electrofishing and a Fisheries Management Plan are keys to successfully managing your fishery. Remember, it is always easier and less expensive to maintain a high quality fishery than to fix a broken one. Contact a professional fisheries biologist today to grow large, healthy fish for all to enjoy.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
David Beasley is a Fisheries Biologist and Director of Fisheries and Aaron Cushing is a Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Scientist with SOLitude Lake Management. SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.