Northwest Environmental Training Center (NWETC)

Backpack Electrofishing: Principles and Practices

Electrofishing is an effective way to sample freshwater fish populations. However, it may cause injury or mortality to the fish if done incorrectly. Proper balance between efficient sampling and causing minimal harm is achieved through the knowledge of electrofishing principles and use of proper techniques. This course combines classroom lecture with field demonstration/participation exercises to give attendees the knowledge and basic experience they will need to safely and effectively electrofish. It includes two days of classroom lecture with a field day in the middle during which the concepts discussed in class will be demonstrated and practiced by attendees. The class will visit a stream/river/creek and each attendee will operate the equipment under the guidance of the instructor. The day of field exercises provides attendees with real-world experience applying the concepts discussed in the classroom.

Course Topics

Electric Circuits and Fields

  • Principles and terminology
  • Characteristics of AC, DC and pulsed DC waveforms
  • Power transfer
  • Electric field characteristics
  • Effects of size, shape, and spacing of electrodes
  • Water conductivity measurement

Fish Behavior and Welfare

  • Fish reactions in AC, DC, and pulsed DC fields
  • Attracting fish for capture
  • Causes and reductions of fish stress
  • Types and causes of fish injury
  • Reducing fish injury and mortality
  • Effects of electroshock on fish eggs and invertebrates
  • Obtaining permits for backpack electrofishing

Backpack Electrofishing Systems

  • System components
  • Types of equipment
  • Evaluating output
  • Troubleshooting problems
  • Understanding settings

Backpack Operations and Safety

  • Safe use of backpack electrofishing equipment
  • Common safety issues
  • Safety policies
  • Crew organization
  • Role of first aid and CPR training

Field Trip Exercises

  • Waveform output evaluation
  • Electrode resistance measurement
  • Electrical field mapping
  • Voltage threshold for fish capture
  • Fish capture techniques
  • Fish storage recovery, handling, and release
  • Field data requirements

Sampling Design and Applications

  • Goal-oriented designs
  • Factors affecting electrofishing efficiency
  • Use and validity of electrofishing data
  • Development of standardized power tables

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