Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Okefenokee Fish Survey Shocking

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Okefenokee Fish Survey Shocking

Article excerpt

OKEFENOKEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE -- Few fish escape capture

when Laura Jenkins conducts her fish population studies.

Her technique is nearly as effective as tossing a stick of

dynamite in the water, but without deadly consequences to the

fish.

Jenkins, a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service, uses electricity to attract and stun fish as part of an

annual survey of fish populations at the Okefenokee National

Wildlife Refuge.

Jenkins and two crewmates cruised through the murky waters at

the refuge in Southeast Georgia for three days last week, with

electrodes dangling from two booms on the front of her boat.

Nearly every fish in a 10-foot radius of the boat floated to the

surface, jolted by up to 1,200 volts of electricity provided by

a generator on board.

"All we do is knock them out," Jenkins said of the fish. "We

don't kill them."

In some areas, few fish were captured while trolling the

refuge's waterways, but in some places biologists could stun as

many as 15 fish within 5 minutes.

Jenkins and her co-workers use nets to scoop the unconscious

fish from the water and place them in a holding tank. After the

stunned fish are collected, identified by species and weighed,

they are released in the same area where they were captured.

Jim Burkhart, refuge ranger, said data from the annual survey

helps refuge officials establish fish catch limits and determine

the overall health of the species.

"There seems to be an indication that the fish population is

not as healthy as it should be," Burkhart said. "But this is a

complicated ecosystem because of the tannic acid in the water

from all the pine trees."

Tannic acid makes the swamp waters naturally acidic, Burkhart

said, making it difficult for fish to breathe, reproduce and

eat.

Burkhart said fish census research wasn't conducted at the

refuge until five years ago but he thinks the Okefenokee might

still be feeling the effects of a drought in 1989 and 1990. …

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