Fish community structure is characterized in the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program as part of an integrated physical, chemical, and biological assessment of the Nation's water quality. The objective of the National Water-Quality Assessment characterization of fish community structure is to relate fish community characteristics to physical, chemical, and other biological factors to assess water-quality conditions. To accomplish this, fish community structure is described at sites representing selected environmental settings. In addition, spatial and temporal patterns in fish community structure are examined at local, regional, and national levels.
A representative sample of the fish community is collected by sampling a stream reach using two complementary methods. The primary collection method is electrofishing using backpack, towed, or boat-operated electrofishing gear; seining is a secondary technique. Other secondary techniques may be substituted after careful consideration of sampling efficiency and consultation with local fish ecologists. Before fish sampling is conducted, careful consideration must be given to collecting permits; protecting endangered, threatened, and special-concern species; and coordinating sampling efforts with other fish ecologists. After the sample is collected, individual fish are identified to species by ichthyologists. Length and weight measurements are taken, and the presence of external anomalies are recorded.