Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Assessing the efficacy of single-pass backpack electrofishing to characterize fish community structure

January 1, 2003

Two-pass backpack electrofishing data collected as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program were analyzed to assess the efficacy of single-pass backpack electrofishing. A two-capture removal model was used to estimate, within 10 river basins across the United States, proportional fish species richness from one-pass electrofishing and probabilities of detection for individual fish species. Mean estimated species richness from first-pass sampling (ps1) ranged from 80.7% to 100% of estimated total species richness for each river basin, based on at least seven samples per basin. However, ps1 values for individual sites ranged from 40% to 100% of estimated total species richness. Additional species unique to the second pass were collected in 50.3% of the samples. Of these, cyprinids and centrarchids were collected most frequently. Proportional fish species richness estimated for the first pass increased significantly with decreasing stream width for 1 of the 10 river basins. When used to calculate probabilities of detection of individual fish species, the removal model failed 48% of the time because the number of individuals of a species was greater in the second pass than in the first pass. Single-pass backpack electrofishing data alone may make it difficult to determine whether characterized fish community structure data are real or spurious. The two-pass removal model can be used to assess the effectiveness of sampling species richness with a single electrofishing pass. However, the two-pass removal model may have limited utility to determine probabilities of detection of individual species and, thus, limit the ability to assess the effectiveness of single-pass sampling to characterize species relative abundances. Multiple-pass (at least three passes) backpack electrofishing at a large number of sites may not be cost-effective as part of a standardized sampling protocol for large-geographic-scale studies. However, multiple-pass electrofishing at some sites may be necessary to better evaluate the adequacy of single-pass electrofishing and to help make meaningful interpretations of fish community structure.