06 Sep Electroshocking in Cataloochee
“Cataloochee Creek and its tributaries are noted for their populations of wild trout.” -GSMNP
Cataloochee Valley was a great place for settlers in the mountains by the late 19th and early 20th century. A great isolated valley, surrounded by 6,000 feet mountains, served as a mountain home for around 1,200 settlers. This valley is now enjoyed because of its historic structures, wildlife watching, camping, hiking, and fishing. One July 18th, I accompanied the park fisheries alongside Matt Kulp and Caleb Abramson to complete elecroshocking sessions and have a census of the park fish species and populations. We began setting up camp by dividing ourselves in two groups, one would set up a fish net at the base of the river section and another group would set up a station to take fish measurements. We would electroshock around 100 meters of stream and complete three sessions of those 100 meters. Three technicians would have electroshocking backpacks, each electroshocker would have a net guy to catch the shocked fish and a bucket person to hold the fish. Each run would take around 10 minutes and were very complete, shocking every corner of the stream to document fish census in the valley.
After each run, the data group would identify fish species, measure, and weight them while another shocking session was made. Clove oil was used as an anesthetic to handle the fish. After three runs of the 100 meter stretch were done, water parameters such as conductivity were documented.
The most common big fishes were rainbrow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta), invasive species that were introduced in the park and that now dominate most waters in the park. The native species is called brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). Although invasive species now dominate the streams in the park, restoration efforts are being made to bring back brook trout populations.
“Brook trout have lost approximately 75% of their native range in the park since the early 1900s mostly due to logging and the introduction of non-native rainbow trout. The non-native rainbow trout out-compete native brook trout by producing more offspring, growing at faster rates, and occupying stream habitat once occupied by brook trout.” -GSMNP.
Between fighting against the current, the slippery rocks, and fast flowing fish, electroshocking in the streams is nothing of an easy job. You need to be very awake and attentive for the floating fish downstream. A shocked fish that is not catched in the first few seconds is a lost fish.