One of the most important parts of the biosphere — i.e. planet Earth — is what we can’t see. What goes on deep in the ocean and underneath the surface of our streams and rivers is far more important than what goes on above. And it’s also what most of us ignore. But biologists in West Virginia are trying to understand. One question on their list? “Why are musky fish dying out?” 

How they proceed with researching fish populations might surprise you. They don’t just throw a line in the water where fish make their home and hope for the best. Instead, they submerge a number of electrodes, send an electric current through the water…and then hope for the best. Fish are forced to surface to escape the electricity, and biologists can cherry pick the fish they need to conduct the research. 

Biologist Jim Walker recently posed for a photo with a 35-pound, 52-inch musky near Stonewall Jackson Lake after using this strategy. He said, “Wow, what a fish! Yeah, it’s a great lake with a great forage base and since we implemented the reg I keep anticipating the next state record will come out of there. So far, it hasn’t shown up, but I’m sure there are a few swimming around in there.”

After grabbing a few fish from the lake, they outfit the muskies with radio transmitters and tags. They photograph the catch, then let them go free. Thus far, at least 90 fish have been tagged as part of the study, which was started by a West Virginia University student to research mortality rates of fish that are caught and released. 

Walker said, “There’s a lot of controversy over whether they should even be fishing. July and August is when everybody has time off, but nobody wants to fish if it’s actually hurting the population.”

Then again, a lot of WV residents believe that fish and animals were put here by God for our consumption, and that fishing and hunting can do no real harm.

How Do Biologists Conduct Fish Studies?