Go electrofishing with Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Electrofishing sounds like something from science fiction: generate an electric current in the water, zap the fish and scoop them up.

But that’s one way the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District checks water quality of the Cuyahoga River and about two dozen other streams and rivers each year.

The number of fish, and number of species caught, can indicate how clean the water is, along with:

  • Testing water samples in the lab
  • Collecting aquatic bugs
  • Examining stream habitat

In recent years, the number of pollution-intolerant species have increased.

The district may be the only public entity in Ohio that handles electrofishing in house, said John W. Rhoades, manager of water quality for the sewer district.


He and Seth Hothem took me electrofishing two weeks ago in Euclid Creek.

Here’s how electrofishing works:

  1. Sample a 500-meter section in a creek or river. This takes about an hour.
  2. Use a generator and two spider-looking poles on the front of the boat to put an electric current in the water.
  3. Fish get stunned and float to the surface.
  4. Scoop up floating fish and put them in a live well in the boat.
  5. After the section is finished, take fish out of the live well and put them into buckets. 
  6. Count the species, weigh them, check them for deformities.
  7. Release the fish back into the water.

Electrofishing generally captures about 10 percent of the fish in the water, the sewer district said. On our Euclid Creek trip, just off Villa Angela Marina, the sewer district captured about seven species, including smallmouth bass, carp, spotfin shiner, suckerfish and yellow and brown bullheads.

“Based on the fish community we collected we can determine what kind of water quality we have and compare them to EPA standards,” Rhoades said.

Most streams and rivers the sewer district test meet Ohio EPA goals, Rhoades said.

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