Local News

N.C. State Students Fish For Science

Posted May 16, 2001

— With a large, slow moving wheel in the middle, the 38-foot barge, anchored in the Roanoke River, looks something like a Ferris wheel, but actually it scoops up fish for science.

"Well, this year we've had over 5,000 fish," says North Carolina State graduate student David Hewitt. "Last year we had just over 1,000, so this year, it's been a lot better. Typically, on a day with a major run of bluebacks, we have somewhere in the hundreds."

Students at NC State are using the fish wheel to record which kind of fish are here, and how many.

Some are unusual. An Atlantic Needlefish - which are normally found in the ocean - was scooped up about 100 miles inland. The crew is wary of his sharp teeth.

The wheel usually picks up striped bass and herring. The water-powered gadgets are pretty common out west, but this one may be a first.

"A couple of fish wheels were operated on the Roanoke River for commercial harvest back in the 1800s and early 1900s," says Hewitt, "but this is the first time the wheel has been used on the East Coast as far as we know."

While the technology works well in the Northwest, scientists say they do not know yet how well it will work in North Carolina. If it does work out for the Roanoke River, they say it could also be used down the Cape Fear or Neuse rivers as well.

The fish seem to handle it pretty well.

"We measure them and weigh them without [harming them] and usually release them within a couple of minutes. So they're in very good condition when we let them go," says Hewitt.

It is the best of both worlds for researchers--watching the fish without interfering in their lives too much.

The project runs through early June and starts again next year. The project does not interfere with fishing in the area. The only purpose is to see if the wheel is effective.


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