Groups learn about Tennessee River conditions by observing fish - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Groups learn about Tennessee River conditions by observing fish

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About every five years TVA and TWRA get together to go fishing, but it's not for sport. They're electrofishing and collecting samples to determine the condition of the water and protect the animals in it. 

"It simply puts electricity into the water at a low amperage and stuns the fish," explains Jason Henegar, a fisheries biologist with TWRA. "We're able to net those fish up and put them in some kind of holding container."

He's referring to backpack electrofishing which emits a 1 to 2 amp shock.

The scientists identify which species they find and in what amounts. This can tell them whether or not the water is in good shape.

"We look at the composition of those species and we also look at the health of the fish. Increased parasites or disease," adds Henegar.

The fish aren't killed or harmed. It's a very mild shock which usually lasts only 15 to 30 seconds. It's only as strong as a static shock you get when you touch a door knob after walking across a carpet during the winter.

Once observed, the fish are placed back in the water. Electrofishing studies started decades ago and determine the long term effects, if any, of flooding, drought, pollution, and nearby land development.

"We use this information to help us determine where to do our water quality work and to also share it with partners," says Evan Crews, Senior Natural Resource Manager with TVA.

It helps pinpoint which banks need to be restored to prevent sediment from entering our waters. These snapshots of information are important because streams flow into reservoirs.

"The reservoirs not only provide things like drinking water and clean water for our use, but their recreational impact is huge," adds Crews.

Both agencies say these studies help them learn more than water samples alone. The goal is to stay ahead of the game.

"We always want to fix the problem before we lose a species," says Henegar.

More than 500 sites are studied along the entire length of the Tennessee River basin. TWRA wants everyone to know that electrofishing is only to be done by designated agencies for research purposes and it's illegal in the state of Tennessee to do it for recreation.

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