A shocking, long-awaited outing — The 2017 volunteer trout survey

by Cole Williams with photos by Rich Wahls

Along the banks of the Vermillion in Farmington volunteers and scientists looked to the sky Saturday morning wary that the weather would hold. As the crew of Friends of the Mississippi River volunteers and Department of Natural Resources specialists suited up in waders and rubber boots they reflected on how long it had been since conditions had aligned just-so to allow the trout survey to proceed.

Volunteer Tom Ziegler remarked with a smile, “It’s been three years of cancellations with high water in the river and getting rained out…they [FMR] dangle this carrot when we do the buckthorn removal across the road, that if we did that job, we would get to do this event.”

Mark Nemeth, a senior DNR trout stream habitat specialist, announced that the project was a go, and after a couple high-fives, the team waded in. The goal: A snapshot of the Vermillion’s water quality taken by assessing its aquatic life.

Walking upstream from one set of rapids to the next, volunteers used a pulsed DC electrical current to shock creatures in the water then netted the stunned fish into a small pontoon. Once they’d gathered a sample set, the animals’ species, length and weight were recorded. Then the fish were clipped on the upper tail and released as they came to.

It was a chance for volunteers and DNR staff to enjoy the results of their labor.

In partnership with the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization and others, Nemeth and the FMR volunteers have been tending to the habitat above and below the stream for over six years. “We’re out here to reduce erosion to the stream, install prairie and improve stream habitat.”

When Nemeth pulled a golden, brown trout from the collection, everyone looked on in awe: a sign of health in a stream that had once been heavily polluted. Though he hasn’t looked closely at the data yet, Nemeth said trout are reproducing successfully, and stream improvements are providing habitat for young-of-year and older trout. 

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