Stillwater News Press

Local News

August 16, 2012

Oklahoma State researchers study fish populations

STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s been a little stunning around area lakes lately.

Fish floating belly-up at Boomer Lake, Lake McMurtry and Sanborn Lake are not victims of algae blooms. In fact, they aren’t even dead — just stunned for a little research.

Flathead catfish and large-mouth bass are being collected  — stunned, but alive — for research by Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, associate professor Daniel Shoup said.

Shoup, associate professor of fisheries ecology at OSU, said the unusual method startling visitors and fish at the three lakes is called electro-fishing.

Two fiberglass poles with wires hang down into the water from a specialized $50,000 boat. A pulse box produces electricity within about a 10 foot radius around the boat.

Shoup said the fish are harmlessly stunned for several minutes so they can be collected.

“As bad as it sounds and as weird as it looks, it is best for the fish,” Shoup said, adding live fish flopping around in nets often injure themselves or are put under lots of stress which can lead to illness.

Although the method mixes electricity and water, people using the lakes are perfectly safe. The boat’s operators control the electricity with a pedal and immediately stop if any boats, fisherman or pets approach.

Curious anglers often drive their boats up to the researchers when they see the strange poles and floating fish, Shoup said.

The researchers in the boat are in the most danger, Shoup said. If a researcher fell into the water during electro-fishing, it would be dangerous. Researchers are well-trained and experienced, he said.

Researchers are collecting the fish to determine how to increase fish populations.

Shoup said one aspect they will be looking at is the effect of vegetation on the survival of juvenile large-mouth bass.

Shoup said spawning bass produce many offspring, most of which are eaten by adult bass. Researchers will test what vegetation helps improve their chances of survival.

Shoup said researchers would continue electro-fishing occasionally throughout the year.

Their results should be released next year.

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