Students and faculty at SUNY Oneonta’s Biological Field Station on Otsego Lake in Cooperstown are excited about a new, state-of-the-art piece of equipment that will allow them to significantly expand their research and increase efficiency.
Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the college was able to purchase a $100,000 electrofishing boat. The 18-foot vessel has a generator that transmits electricity into the water via large anodes to stun fish long enough to catch them, bring them aboard and take measurements and biological samples. The fish are then placed safely back into the water, according to Daniel Stich, assistant professor of biology at SUNY Oneonta.
“We already had all kinds of nets that we can put out on the lake and catch fish, and little backpacks we can put on and go electrify streams to collect fish,” Stich said. “But missing from that was the cornerstone of any big fish lab—an electrofishing boat. It’s a really efficient way to collect fish, especially in shallow water. But these boats are not cheap. We were able to secure funding through an NSF Field Station and Marine Laboratories Improvement grant.”
The boat will be used in undergraduate classes and among graduate students doing research in biology or lake management. These students are also benefiting from other equipment purchased through the grant, including a special buoy and a plankton analyzer.
About 12 students are using the boat for thesis research this summer, and dozens of others will have access to it through classes in the coming semesters. Justin Hulbert, a graduate student studying population and dynamics of walleye in Otsego Lake, said the boat is “awesome.”
“There are so many features that make it easy to use,” he said. “One really nice thing is the lights, so we can use it at night.”
Electrofishing has been used for almost half a century, according to Stich. Using electricity to temporarily stun the fish, collection becomes much faster. And the ability to catch a lot of fish, and a variety of species—including bass, carp, pike and pickerel—will allow for more robust analyses of populations.
The boat has a movable live well with a built-in water circulator and aerator for the fish. Being stunned, Stich assured, doesn’t harm the fish.
Ultimately, having the boat means SUNY Oneonta students who want to go into biology and/or lake management will be ahead of the game when they graduate.
“Before we had this, students were able to get all these really great experiences, but there was just this one area where we didn’t have the capacity to offer them those experiences,” Stich said. “For students to graduate without ever having worked with an electrofishing boat, that would put them behind the 8-ball. With this boat, we’re introducing students to what is now the status quo for these technologies.”