UNBC BMAP Policy for the Use of Backpack Electrofishing Units


The purpose of this policy is to establish proper safety requirements for conducting backpack electrofishing operations and to ensure that those involved in these activities use approved equipment and are trained in operating procedures and emergency preparedness.

Electrofishing Policy

1. Equipment

a)       Only “approved backpack electrofishing units” are to be used.

b)       All backpack units must meet CSA standards.

c)       Any modifications, upgrades or repairs made to the electrical output or safety features of any backpack electrofishing unit, must be conducted by the manufacturer or an approved agent.

d)       An annual equipment check must be completed by a “qualified person” – see example checklist below.

e)       Each backpack electrofishing unit must be inspected to be operating within specification by a recognized manufacturer of backpack electrofishing equipment at least once every 3 years, or 5 years if used less than 10 days per year.

f)        Each electrofishing unit must be accompanied by a log book that itemizes date of purchase, use, repairs and maintenance.

2. General Safety

a)       Electrofishing operations are not to be carried out alone. A minimum “ team” size is two people, one of whom must be the “crew leader” and the other “crew members”.

b)       All electrofishing operations must be carried out in accordance with the “Safety Procedures for the use of Backpack Electrofishing Units” as defined below.

c)       Personnel must wear clothing and equipment in accordance with “Personal Protective Equipment Requirements for Electrofishing” as defined below.

d)       All electrofishing crews must have a Level 1 First Aid kit on site during electrofishing operations.

e)       The crew leader must ensure that a daily backpack inspection is completed.

f)        Everyone has the responsibility to work in a manner that is safe for themselves and their co-workers.

g)       Electrofishing is an inherently hazardous activity in which safety must be the primary concern. The electrical energy used in electrofishing is sufficient to cause serious injury or death and therefore it is critical to avoid contact with the electrodes (anode and cathode) and the surrounding water while the unit is operating. Hand(s) (even gloved) must be kept out of the water at all times when the power is turned on.

h)       Dry skin and clothing are essential to minimize electric shock.

i)         The crew leader is the recognized authority and operational decision-maker. Crew members have the duty to comply with all of the crew leader's instructions concerning their health and safety and to report to the crew leader anything that is likely to be hazardous to their health or safety or to that of other employees or persons granted access to the work place.

3. Training

a)       All crew members must be trained in a certified course in the fundamentals of electrofishing safety before participating in any backpack electrofishing operation. Certified electrofishing operators are also required to keep up-to-date on such information as: changes in regulations governing electrofishing practitioners; for example, as set by fisheries regulatory agencies; changes in electrical safety requirements for certification of electrofishing units; and new safety features for electrofishing equipment.

b)       The crew leader is responsible for ensuring all crew members are certified and the safe use of backpack electrofishing units and emergency response procedures.

c)       Crew leader and crew members must have up-to-date Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid training.

d)       Additional training may be required if sampling conditions warrant. Training that may be required includes UNBC Field Safety Orientation, Wilderness First Aid, Occupational First Aid Transportation Endorsement, and Swift Water Rescue Training.

4. Emergency Response Procedures

a)       Each electrofishing team must establish a means of emergency communication in order to provide backup response. This plan must include, but not necessarily be limited to, emergency phone numbers for the area of operation, best and closest means of communication, evacuation route to nearest medical facility, and the role of each crew member in the event of an emergency.

b)       All crew members must be aware of and able to implement the emergency response plan.

Personal Protective Equipment Requirements for Electrofishing

a)       Leak-free chest waders (neoprene, heavy weight polyurethane or PVC or high-quality breathables)

b)       Non-slip footwear (felt wading shoe or boot, as well as stream wading cleat);

c)       Wading belt (nylon or rubber acceptable, worn on outside of waders);

d)       Rubber linesman gloves that should be no less than 14" in length and have an electrical insulation rating of at least 5000 Volts

e)       Polarized sunglasses (side shields or ‘wrap around’ style is/are recommended) and a hat with a visor is recommended (e.g., baseball cap style).

f)        Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) must be worn where the crew leader considers the water is of sufficient depth or velocity for a PFD to be effective as protection from risk of drowning. PFDs must be approved by Transport Canada or Canadian Coast Guard. Electrofishing should not be carried out where water depth is greater than waist deep.

Safety Procedures for the Use of Backpack Electrofishing Units

1. Before Heading Out

a)       The backpack electrofishing unit must have passed the “Annual Checklist for Backpack Electrofishing Units”.

b)       A crew leader must be designated for all backpack electrofishing activities.

c)       It is the crew leader’s responsibility to ensure that all equipment is in “safe working order”.

d)       Signals indicating that the backpack electrofishing unit is operating must be audible or visible to all the team. Clear command signals must be established between crew members prior to beginning operation. Crew members must inform the crew leader of any dangerous situations.

e)       The crew leader must ensure all members have received instruction in the fundamentals of electrofishing safety.

f)        Each electrofishing site must be visually inspected for hazards such as deep holes, submerged logs, etc. before commencing electrofishing operations.

2. Preparatory Procedures in the Field

a)       In order to aid in identifying underwater hazards, all crew members must be equipped with polarized sunglasses. Glasses also protect against eye injury caused by sticks and branches. Wide brimmed hats or peaked caps are also beneficial in increasing the effectiveness of polarized glasses.

b)       The backpack electrofishing unit must meet conditions of the “Daily Checklist for Backpack Electrofishing Units”.

c)       All crew members must be equipped with the personal equipment required for safe electrofishing as detailed in the “Personal Protective Equipment Requirements for Electrofishing” section.

d)       All crew members must agree on a system of communication during electrofishing operations.

e)       Backpack electrofishing units must be turned off and the battery disconnected before making any connections or part replacements.

f)        Any rings, chains, long hair, clothing or other personal effects that could pose a threat of snagging or entanglement or damage to waterproof equipment or connection with energized equipment or water must be remedied prior to the commencement of any electrofishing operation.

3. Start-up Procedures

a)       All crew members must be notified and acknowledge their preparedness prior to the commencement of electrofishing operations. The unit operator must make sure that personnel are clear of the anode before turning on the power. Hand signals are a useful way of conveying these messages.

b)       Check operation of all switches and gauges. This should include high voltage check, anode switch, power switch and mercury tilt switch, audible tone generator and light. Set controls to appropriate levels. The minimum voltage possible to obtain the desired results should be used to avoid excessive harm to the biota and to minimize the effects of accidental shock.

4. Operational Procedures

a)       Operate slowly and carefully. Footing in most streams is poor and most falls occur when crew members  are hurrying. Operations should cease when fatigue sets in.

b)       Team members must not place their hand(s) into the water when the power is turned on.

c)       Electrofishing units must be shut off prior to entering or leaving the water and the battery terminals disconnected (or generator shut off) when not in use or when transporting the unit.

d)       Electrofishing operations should be conducted in such a way that minimum harm to the environment (habitat disturbance) and the biota (fish, mammals, invertebrates, amphibians) is caused. The minimum voltage, and duration of shocking, to achieve desired results should be used so that the risks to the biota and to the crew are minimized.

e)       A crew member must immediately leave the water if wetness is detected in gloves or waders (by leaks, rain or perspiration) and obtain dry equipment before returning. Mild dampness from perspiration or humidity is considered normal.

f)        Individuals must not participate in an electrofishing operation if they possess a medical condition that puts them at risk. These may include but are not limited to cardiac arrhythmia, pacemaker or epilepsy not confidently stabilized by medication.

g)       Electrofishing operations must cease during inclement weather (e.g. periods of any lightning or moderate rain).

h)       Electrofishing operations must cease if people, pets, livestock, or wildlife are in or near the water.

i)         The backpack electrofishing unit has a main switch that must be turned off immediately if an emergency occurs. This is only initiated if doing so does not result in further risk of exposure.”

j)        Batteries must be disconnected when unit is being transported or otherwise not in use. Only qualified persons may assemble, or operate the backpack electrofishing unit.