Fish community structure is characterized by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program as part of a perennial, multidisciplinary approach to evaluating the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the Nation's water resources. The objective of quality assurance and quality control of fish taxonomic data that are collected as part of the NAWQA Program is to establish uniform guidelines and protocols for the identification, processing, and archiving of fish specimens to ensure that accurate and reliable data are collected.
Study unit biologists, collaborating with regional biologists and fish taxonomic specialists, prepare a pre-sampling study plan that includes a preliminary faunal list and identification of an ichthyological curation center for receiving preserved fish specimens. Problematic taxonomic issues and protected taxa also are identified in the study plan, and collecting permits are obtained in advance of sampling activities. Taxonomic specialists are selected to identify fish specimens in the field and to assist in determining what fish specimens should be sacrificed, fixed, and preserved for laboratory identification, independent taxonomic verification, and long-term storage in reference or voucher collections.
Quantitative and qualitative sampling of fishes follows standard methods previously established for the NAWQA Program. Common ichthyological techniques are used to process samples in the field and prepare fish specimens to be returned to the laboratory or sent to an institutional repository. Taxonomic identifications are reported by using a standardized list of scientific names that provides nomenclatural consistency and uniformity across study units.