A SHOCKING TALE
Professional fisheries biologists, Skidaway chapter Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) volunteers and Skidaway CCA chapter board member, Rich Hackett, recently created shockwaves in our quiet community, quite literally that is. It was all part and parcel of our annual electrofishing program, one of several science-based survey methods, along with salinity testing and seining, designed to help ensure healthy and growing fish populations in our freshwater lagoons.
As the name implies, electrofishing uses electricity to temporarily stun fish so they may be weighed and measured. The process is not harmful to fish, which return to their natural state within a few minutes after being caught. The main purpose for conducting an electrofishing analyses is to determine the health of a lagoon based on predator/prey ratios. In our freshwater lagoons, the main predator species are largemouth bass and black crappie. Prey species include bluegill, redear sunfish, threadfin shad, and gizzard shad.
A bass-crowded lagoon, for example, will contain larger numbers of small, skinny bass in the 12–14-inch range, experiencing stunting in their growth. Such waters become bass-crowded due to a lack of bass harvest. Despite this unbalanced state, bass will continue to reproduce and consume all existing resources. A bluegill-crowded lagoon will contain an overabundance of these fish, causing stunting in the bluegill population. The optimum goal is a balanced lagoon which is the most desirable for all fish species. This balance is characterized by a healthy distribution of bass and bluegill over a wide range of sizes and age classes.
Rich Hackett, who has been coordinating the electrofishing surveys for the Skidaway chapter of the CCA for the past decade, notes that, thanks to generous contributions from island residents, the effort now involves 30 lagoons annually, up from the original sampling of just 10. Hackett added, “electrofishing is normally done in March since the water temperature is ideal and the newly collected data provides direction for the most appropriate distribution of fish stocking, normally a combination of bluegill and shad, in April. The program continues to provide valuable information on the health and balance of our fish populations. The lagoons are literally the best they’ve been in 10 years and can continue to improve.”