Why biologists put a dump of electricity in the fish of the Provo River

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A group of biologists and volunteers collect fish by electrofishing at the Provo River on Thursday. The fish were measured and weighed before returning to the river. (Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

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PROVO – A group of Utah biologists and wildlife volunteers descended into the Provo River on Thursday, armed with special-looking fishing nets.

A thick yellow line, hanging from a generator floating on a nearby small pontoon boat, was attached to the poles held by the volunteers. The line ran down to the net, allowing those wading in the water to zap a fish, scoop it up, and quickly throw it away for sampling.

They were not fish fry and the ones caught were OK. Experts say the electric shake only temporarily immobilizes the fish to rise to the surface of the water, allowing them to be collected, measured and weighed. Once the information is gathered, the fish are released into the river and swim away.

“With electricity, it’s a non-lethal way for us to sample the fish population,” said Mike Slater, sport fishing project manager for the Utah Wildlife Division. “It stuns these fish for a few seconds. It allows all of our volunteers and guides to rush out and fillet them and then put them in water where they can revive themselves.”

The work being done Thursday, called “electrofishing surveys,” may sound strange, but it’s actually important to the Utah Wildlife Division and groups invested in helping fish habitat.

The division, Trout Unlimited, and several private donors purchased about 20 cubic feet per second, for a section of the Lower Provo River at the mouth of Provo Canyon. The deal cost nearly $ 1 million over the next decade, according to Slater.

This issue of water rights allows water to continue to flow downstream instead of going to irrigation or hydroelectric production; continuous water downstream is critical for fish and other wildlife habitat. Parts of the river suffer from periods of low flow and almost dry up in the heat of summer in some cases, Slater explained.

“(The purchased water) allows the fish, it allows the frogs, other forms of aquatic life to thrive, to continue,” he said.

It also helps those who like to catch fish. State wildlife officials estimate that the Lower Provo River attracts about 7,000 anglers per mile per year. By buying water rights, they think they can swim the fish and help fishermen catch fish all year round.

It all takes us back to Thursday.

Experts needed to know exactly how many fish are in the lower Provo River, especially as they are investing heavily in securing water rights.

So they shocked the fish and gathered information about them. The process helps experts collect “baseline information” to help them better understand the fish population and the overall health of the population, Slater said. He is happy with what was discovered on Thursday.

“(I’m) really excited by what we just saw,” he said, standing several meters from the shore. “Lots of brown trout, lots of whitefish, lots of sculpins – a myriad of different fish species that hang out here.”

These are all species of fish that experts expect to thrive over the next decade.

Slater said: “I think they will be able to continue doing this because of this water that we have been able to secure.”

Contributing: Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV

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