A fog rises off the water as the sun sets on a pond in northern Maine.
By Jake A. Reynolds
Bedford, NH, Office
In this remarkably busy, sensory-overloaded world that we all live in, it’s difficult to imagine yourself being plucked from society and immersed in an environment where communication with the outside world is not possible without a satellite phone—and even that has spotty reception. But this was very much the case for me, a recent environmental science graduate and fisheries technician from New Hampshire, and two veteran Normandeau field biologists from our South Carolina and Pennsylvania offices. Our crew was tasked with conducting a fish assemblage study on five large, interconnected lakes and ponds in a very wild and remote area of the northern Maine woodlands, which is famously known as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
View of Mt. Katahdin from the Golden Road
We spent ten days on these lakes using two methods for fish sample collection: electrofishing with a specially designed Smith-Root shock boat and trap nets that were deployed on a smaller, more agile aluminum boat. In the time we were allotted, we covered 27,000 meters (~16.8 miles) of predetermined electrofishing transects and set five trap nets in various locations throughout the lake system. While setting the nets or electrofishing, we also used a handheld YSI meter to record important water quality parameters at each transect/net to evaluate the overall health and any significant fluctuations between locations within the waterbody.
The crew deploying the lead line for a trap net
Our typical day began early at our hotel, a location as close as we could get to the project site without having to pack a tent and sleeping bag. We departed around 7 a.m. in a packed truck with boat and trailer in tow and headed for the Golden Road. This road is famous for being a beautifully scenic and historic logging road that winds through the seemingly untouched wilderness where moose and black bear can be observed regularly. That being said, the road is also treacherous: The nearly endless wash boarding, deep and ever-present potholes, and large loose rocks and sand were unforgiving to our equipment. After about a one-to-two-hour commute to the boat launches, we were always ready and eager to get out of the truck and get to work on the water.
A Normandeau biologist inspects the shock boat and trailer for damage before setting out for sample collection.Once we made it onto the boat, we all became focused and excited for what we might find while retrieving our samples. First, we would cruise from trap net to trap net and retrieve the samples and record the data. The sample size could range anywhere from a couple of fish to a couple hundred fish of different species and stages of life—even some crustaceans were collected. After the trap nets were emptied and reset or pulled out of the water, we would head back to the launch to swap to our electrofishing boat and resume the day. Our electrofishing samples were to be taken in the evening and into the night. These samples could also provide us quite a vast range of fish quantity, species, and size to have to process. The majority of fish that we logged over the course of ten days were white and yellow perch, fallfish, and white suckers, with the occasional golden shiner, brook trout, landlocked salmon, and rainbow smelt. Once the fish were on the boat, their species was identified and recorded along with their length and weight before being returned alive and well to the water.
A Normandeau biologist examines a white perch collected during a night electrofishing sample.
I would be lying if I said that this wasn’t a difficult job—the long hours, fast-paced data collection, and general labor involved with completing this study were almost overwhelming at times. However, the unbelievable views, the vast amounts of knowledge gained, and the companionship we developed among our crew surely made every second of this trip an amazing experience. I learned more from my co-workers in these ten days than I ever thought that I could; saw gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, and star-filled skies that left me awestruck; and got to experience a true separation from society and everyday life while out on the waters of northern Maine. I left Maine with a much deeper understanding of the importance of freshwater fisheries and how these types of studies are very necessary to investigate how human impact can affect natural ecosystems. I hope to work in this area again in the future and would like to thank my fellow field crew for the education and insight. This experience will not be soon forgotten.
The Milky Way in the night sky as seen from the boat launch in northern Maine.