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Urban Fish Community Monitoring Program

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC), and the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) developed this project through a Narragansett Bay Partnership called “Watershed Counts.” It grew out of the “Watershed Counts” mission to display public-friendly water quality information on their website and through local watershed councils. The combined experience of groups like ours showed that people care about life in the rivers. They do not relate as easily to the typical information regulators use to characterize water quality like dissolved oxygen, pathogens and nutrients although. We know that if we can tell the story of our rivers through the fish that live there, people will get excited. Thanks to the USEPA Small Urban Waters grant program, we were able to fully develop this program and purchase all the equipment.

Volunteers test the equipment and protocol.

This monitoring program was designed for Rhode Islandís wadable urban rivers and streams. The Progam:

  1. Establishes baseline fish populations in three urban rivers - The Woonasquatucket, the Moshassuck and the Ten Mile,
  2. Developed training and monitoring procedures for volunteers and
  3. Developed an EPA approved quality assurance project plan for urban fish community monitoring in RI (which means that the info we gather on fish can be used by the state).

How we gather info: two sites on each river were selected as upstream and downstream sites, each between 100 and 150 feet long. On each stretch volunteers use an electrofishing backpack that sends an electric current into the river through a hoop shaped wand. The current attracts and momentarily stuns the fish within about a 10 foot radius of the wand. Volunteers collect the fish with nets, identify and measure each one, and put the unharmed fish back into the river. We do our best to collect every fish within that stretch of stream so we can understand what the population really is every year and see how it changes. Fish are photographed so that identification can be double checked by qualified experts.

The WRWC began collecting urban fish community data annually in 2014 on two sites on the Woonasquatucket River. In addition, we assisted Friends of the Moshassuck and the Ten Mile River Coalition on monitoring their rivers annually in 2014 as well. Our plan is to continue this monitoring every year. After five to ten years, we will have a baseline fish community for an upstream and downstream site in each river. Then we will continue to watch carefully to see if changes we make on the river or new threats impact the fish populations. We will keep results posted on this website and post annual results in our newsletters and through the media.

Measuring one of the fish.

A photo record of each kind of fish collected photos sent to Alan Libby at RIDEM for QAQC ID.

Any interested river group around Narragansett Bay or throughout RI is welcome to use the procedures we developed. Documents can be downloaded below. They can also use the online database we created to enter and analyze the information they collect. Finally, groups are welcome to borrow the monitoring equipment stored at the WRWC office.

Our goal is to connect as many people as possible to our rivers through the wonders getting up close and personal with fish.


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