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District uses technology to learn about fish behavior around locks and dams

Published June 8, 2012
Elliot Stefanik, sitting, fish biologist, explains to Jenna Merry, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service student, how the hydro-acoustic camera will help researches better understand fish behavior within the Mississippi River.

Elliot Stefanik, sitting, fish biologist, explains to Jenna Merry, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service student, how the hydro-acoustic camera will help researches better understand fish behavior within the Mississippi River.

Aaron McFarlane, environmental, connects cables for the hydro-accoustic camera before departing on a boat ride along the Mississippi RIver to research how fish behave around a lock and dam June 7, 2012.

Aaron McFarlane, environmental, connects cables for the hydro-accoustic camera before departing on a boat ride along the Mississippi RIver to research how fish behave around a lock and dam June 7, 2012.

Aaron McFarlane, environmental, departs on a boat ride along the Mississippi RIver to research how fish behave around Lock and Dam 1 in Minneapolis June 7, 2012.

Aaron McFarlane, environmental, departs on a boat ride along the Mississippi RIver to research how fish behave around Lock and Dam 1 in Minneapolis June 7, 2012.

As Asian carp continue to dominate news headlines across the Upper Mississippi River, the district’s scientists recently received some new technology to assist them in researching fish on the river.

Elliot Stefanik, biologist, said the Rock Island District lent a hydro-acoustic camera to the district in March to study fish within the river. The camera uses underwater sound waves and a computer then translates those waves into images in real time. “It’s almost like an ultrasound or side-scan sonar technology used by fishermen,” said Stefanik. 

While the technology is providing the Corps biologists’ valuable research, Stefanik said the equipment is limited in terms of what they see. He said they can’t see colors or defined shapes and that limits the researchers in determining what fish are present, but he said they can still observe fish behavior. “We observe how fish are acting, how they orient, and we can gain a lot of information,” said Stefanik.

Many of the Corps’ partners are currently exploring options to prevent the spread of Asian carp into Minnesota waters. Currently, the state of Minnesota has expressed interest in building a barrier in front of a lock and dam to discourage fish from entering the lock chamber. Stefanik said he hopes the information the Corps collects can be used by the partners in designing a fish deterrent system. 

“We hope to get a better understanding of how fish are behaving around our locks and then provide that [information] to our partners, so they know how many fish are using the lock chamber and how they behave in the chamber,” said Stefanik. “It’s all about being a good partner and helping other agencies better understand and better characterize how fish respond to a lock and dam structure.”

During the June 7 research at Lock and Dam 1 in Minneapolis, Stefanik said there was a large amount of common carp near the lock and dam. “We see a lot of common carp around this time of year, especially when the water temperatures get around 70 degrees,” he said. “While common carp may behave slightly different from Asian carp; they may be the best proxy the Corps has to determine how Asian carp might behave around a lock and dam.” He said the Corps is also studying common carp within the Chicago Area Waterway System to determine how they behave around the electrical barrier.

Moving forward, Stefanik said the next step in the research process will be taking the information they collected and looking at it collectively with the different agencies to see if there is anything that they can gather from it in terms of general fish tendencies.