Learning from the River
Fishing with electricity can earn you a hefty fine in Iowa, but it’s a valuable tool when used by scientists and fishery management teams to gauge the health of a stream. Students in the University of Iowa Water Quality class recently offered by IIHR got the chance to try electrofishing for themselves.
This hands-on class is taught out of LACMRERS (the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station), IIHR’s Mississippi River field station near Muscatine, Iowa. Class work is combined with field work, so students experience some of what they study.
Collaborators from government agencies and other organizations are an important part of the class. Mike Schueller is the supervisor of limnology (the study of surface water, and the characteristics and processes of aquatic systems and their watersheds) with the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa. Schueller has helped IIHR staff at LACMRERS teach the class several times. Fish can provide a lot of useful water quality information, Schueller says. “Fish are … consumed by humans,” he says. “So we’re always interested.”
After an hour in the classroom at LACMRERS, Schueller took the students to nearby Wildcat Den State Park. Wearing a backpack electrofisher unit, Schueller and the students walked three abreast downstream. Schueller lowered the device into the water, where it emits a low pulse of electric current, and students netted the stunned fish and put them in a plastic bucket of stream water. After the fish are identified and analyzed, they’re released back into the stream unharmed.
Later, the UI students dug for mussels in the shallows of the Mississippi River, where they saw firsthand the invasive zebra mussels that are choking out Iowa’s native species, such as Higgins Eye.
“It’s been fun getting out on the river,” says Adam Nielsen, a graduate student at IIHR. Sean Murphy, also an engineering graduate student, agrees. “It’s a nice change of pace to actually do some of what we talk about,” Murphy says.