CLEVELAND, Ohio – On a slow-moving Euclid Creek just before it empties into Lake Erie, field biologists Mark Matteson and Justin Telep were demonstrating one of the ways the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District monitors the streams and rivers it is charged with protecting.
They were fishing.
Not with poles and hooks and the appropriate bait, but with a special flat bottom boat that shoots an electric current into the water that stuns nearby fish so they can be easily scooped from the stream.
As Matteson piloted the boat from his seat in the stern, Telep brandished a long pole with a net at the tip. At the appropriate time, Telep stepped on a pedal that sent electrons from an onboard generator through two sets of spider-like anodes that dangled off the bow.
The boat served as the cathode, which completes the circuit and dictates the flow of the current. But that required all occupants to wear rubber waders and rubber gloves so they wouldn’t get shocked if they touched metal.
If Matteson and Telep were doing their jobs for real – rather than simply demonstrating their technique for the media – they would have brought the fish to shore so they could be separated by species, counted and weighed.
Looking for biodiversity
The sewer district is required to conduct such fish surveys in several of the waterways in its coverage area to satisfy its discharge permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Inspecting the biodiversity of a stream – including fish as well as aquatic bugs and crustaceans – allows the sewer district to determine if it is meeting expectations of the Ohio EPA, said Seth Hothem, supervisor of environmental assessment at the sewer district.
And analyzing the aquatic life in a stream can actually be more effective in determining health than simply testing the chemistry of the water from time to time, Telep said, because if something isn’t detected in one of those snapshots, it will be reflected in the fish and bugs that live there all the time.
This year, the sewer district’s electrofishing will commence in mid-June. The Cuyahoga River, the Chagrin River and its tributaries, Euclid Creek, and three streams – Nine Mile Creek, Shaw Brook and Dugway Brook – that empty into Lake Erie in Bratenahl are on the list to be surveyed.
Most of the electrofishing will be conducted using wading apparatus, but when it comes to the fishing the Cuyahoga, Matteson and Telep will use the boat.
What they found
The fish Matteson and Telep caught during their demonstration ranged from a large carp to minnows. Telep even netted a couple steelhead trout – one had already spawned while the other apparently had not – that he estimated were more than 2 feet long.
The steelhead would have come in from the lake and are not native to the creek, nor Lake Erie for that matter, having been…