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Researchers net 'zombie bass' with electricity

ROGERSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Bernie Fuller has fished for decades, yet he's never witnessed anything to match the sight of dozens of zombie bass eerily rising out of a north Alabama lake.

Americans like Fuller spend about $48 billion annually fishing for fun, and they like knowing what's in the water with their bait. To provide answers to that question and more, biologists are conducting a study where they use "electrofishing" to stun fish in Tennessee Valley Authority lakes.

Momentarily incapacitated by a weak electrical charge that's fed into the water from a boat equipped with a humming generator, fish large and small floated motionless to the surface during an electrofishing trip last week. They were scooped up with a net and placed into an aerated holding tank.

Eyes wide and mouths agape, stunned fish were measured, weighed and checked for illnesses and parasites. Within a few minutes the animals snapped out of a zombie-like state, and workers put them back in the water to swim away.

Fuller was among nine area anglers who went along on a TVA research trip last week on Wheeler Lake near Rogersville, and he grinned as one big fish after another floated to the top in a reservoir where he thought there were far fewer and much smaller bass based on his fishing experience.

"I've learned there's a lot of fish in here," Fuller said after a day on the water.

Another fisherman, Roger Morris, laughed as a big bass popped to the surface.

"They're pulling some 3- to 4-pounders regularly and all day we may catch three or four that size," said Morris, of nearby Courtland.

John Justice, a fisheries biologist with TVA, said fish rarely suffer any lasting effects from electrofishing.

"Generally speaking they recover within a few seconds to a couple of minutes," he said.

Justice said data collected during successive years of electrofishing provides biologists with valuable information about how to best manage the lakes, which are some of the most biologically diverse in North America. The statistics show whether adjustments need to be made to things including water flow, catch limits, stocking programs and water levels, he said.

"By looking at the overall health and condition of the fish we collect we can tell a lot about what's going on with the fishery," said Justice.

Protection groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contend fish feel pain, but electrofishing has become a standard tool for biologists. Justice said a slight shock is much easier on fish and other wildlife than the previous practice of dousing a sealed-off cove with a chemical compound called rotenone, which killed fish so they could be scooped out and counted.

Electrofishing is simple enough. A boat is equipped with a pair of fiberglass arms that support a metal pole that hangs off the bow over the water. Three metal cables hang from the pole into the water, and an insulated wire connects the cables to an electrical generator in the rear of the boat.

With the current flowing and cables in the lake, an operator steps on a foot pedal to electrify the water with a 6-amp charge that extends outward and downward as much as 8 feet. Fish within the field are stunned and float to the surface, along with the occasional turtle or snake.

Once in a tank on board the boat, stunned fish appear lifeless as they float atop the water. Most recover within moments, and some are actively flipping and jumping by the time they are measured.

Of about 200 bass and crappie collected during three hours of electrofishing at Wheeler Lake, every fish went back into the water alive once researchers were done.

"They look real healthy," Morris said.

Fishing doesn't always mean catching, but Fuller said seeing how many fish gather around fallen trees and rocks taught him a lesson about where to concentrate while on the water.

"I think it will help me be a better fisherman," he said. "A much more patient fisherman, anyway, for sure."

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Steve April 07 2014 at 6:56 AM

How about a nice taser for you? We'll get you to the lab and check out your health. We'll release you back into the general population unharmed. It is not necessary right ? Why not spend that money on making the water better that the fish live in ?

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henrys5537 April 06 2014 at 7:54 PM

My father taught us how to fish the old fashion way guys and that never included the lazy way out with quarter sticks or electricity. So; this one is pretty new to me and sounds like it is better than killing them to check their health; Ahem to ascertain what to do next year. I think all in all, It is just a great method to use. My approval level is 99%.

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ectullis April 06 2014 at 7:33 PM

Electric eels and other electric animals invented this eons ago

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Mac April 06 2014 at 7:27 PM

Nothing new here. Back in the 50's I had a Model-A coil rigged up to do some of my own surveys. I studied quits a number of fish back then.

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1 reply
fandbbob Mac April 06 2014 at 8:03 PM

What can you purchase nowadays to use as a coil?

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1 reply
tony fandbbob April 07 2014 at 2:35 AM

Go to ged class, try learning something.

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sheryl April 06 2014 at 7:11 PM

Someone was sure grasping for something to write about.What really get's me is we didn't even get to see them.What's up with that?I've never seen a real Zombie before,at least I don't think so.Oh, by the way A.O.L. IT'S STEVE NOT SHERYL !!!

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William April 06 2014 at 6:51 PM

Ok" That's great, so can Anybody tell me why can't they use this device to get rid of the Snakehead fish that is in the rivers and the lakes??

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ggblank1603 April 06 2014 at 6:47 PM

Another stupid headline

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Kathie April 06 2014 at 6:44 PM

been doing that for years to get worms to crawl to surface

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1 reply
fandbbob Kathie April 06 2014 at 7:54 PM

A friend of my Dad did that also. Had a wire that he split and tied 2 screwdrivers to the ends. Put the screwdrivers in the dirt about 10 feet apart and plugged it in. They come up wobbling to the surface.

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page114 April 06 2014 at 5:32 PM

Zap-a-Fish. Hmmmm I guess if I have a flashlight and get lost I can survive after all.......lol

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1 reply
Brian page114 April 06 2014 at 6:33 PM

Save the flashlight to let the helicopter find you! If your the type that get's lost in the woods your better off buying a GPS

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e7robe April 06 2014 at 7:49 PM

An old army telephone was good for shocking the fish to check the health of them back in the day too. Place the wires into the water and crank the handle. Fishing made easy.

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1 reply
j7drb e7robe April 06 2014 at 8:38 PM

HAHA! Yeah, the old 'land line'. Brrriinnng, Brrriiingg. Hello, fishies! I'll betcha that the anglers that went along with the TVA, especially that Fuller dude, were grinning ear to ear they saw the fish coming up. (And then took a good look at their equipment!)

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