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NFC: Missouri siening article.
The Art of Seining
by Robert A. Hrabik
photography by Cliff White
Strain the riffles to collect fish for your home aquarium.
Everyone loves an aquarium. The sound of gurgling water and the rhythmic
movement of fish have a calming-even mesmerizing-effect.
The aquaria I remember from my youth housed only tropical fish. The
exotic fish they contained required a lot of care and a strictly
controlled environment, and I wondered why people didn't keep native
species instead. It made such perfect sense to do so that I began keeping
native fish many years ago.
More than 215 species of native fish live in Missouri. Many are as
beautiful as any of the exotics sold in the aquarium trade. Native fish
also have the advantage of having adapted to harsh or disturbed
environments. They usually are easier to keep in aquaria than exotic
species that can survive only in specific and stable environments.
Another reason you might choose native fish for a home aquarium is that
you can collect them from local streams.
You only need a valid Missouri fishing permit to possess 100 non-game
fish. You cannot collect or possess Missouri endangered and threatened
species, and you can only take game species by hook and line, or as
The best tool for collecting native species suitable for home aquaria is
a seine. A seine is a rectangular-shaped, small-meshed net tied to large
poles on each end. These poles are called brails.
Seines come in many sizes. For the typical amateur fish enthusiast, a
seine measuring 10 feet long and 5 feet high with 3/16-inch mesh will
adequately capture most small fish in shallow pools. The brails should be
made of strong wood cut into rods that are as tall as the seine is high.
They should be about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter for easy gripping.
Round wooden hand rails for stairways can be used and are available at
most hardware stores.
Longer and taller nets with smaller mesh have more specialized
applications and may be used as you gain more experience. Some seines
have a bag attached at the center to trap fish more efficiently. The bag
can prove cumbersome for beginners, and it may snag as you drag the net
across the stream bottom.
Seines are often used by biologists to capture fish for scientific
purposes. However, the effective use of a seine is probably more art than
science. Seining usually involves two people working together to corral
fish into an area where they can be trapped and pulled from the water in
Seining with the current is far more efficient because there is less drag
on the net. You can also move more quickly to trap fish, and there is no
pressure wave in front of the seine, which can cause fish to move away
from the net.
Fish may try to avoid a seine by going under, around or over it. You can
make your net more efficient by adding extra floats to the float line,
especially when you will be using the net in deep and swift water. You
can add a chain to the net to make it hug the bottom and churn up objects
(like stones, sticks, etc.) to dislodge fish that live in crevices.
When pulling the seine to shore, be sure to keep the lead line on the
bottom. You may have to get down on your knees and slowly work the lead
line into the bank and then lift quickly into snags or undercut banks. If
you see fish in the net and there's no good takeout point along the
shore, try quickly lifting the seine in mid-water. Through practice and
repetition you'll learn how best to capture fish and avoid snagging the
Many fish desirable for an aquarium live in riffles. Riffles are shallow
areas in streams where the water flows swiftly over exposed gravel and
cobble on the bottom. A drag seine may not be appropriate for riffles.
However, you can set the seine below a riffle and dislodge fish by
"kicking" the cobble and rock. This is called "kick seining." The
technique usually requires three people-two to hold the net on each end
and one to furiously kick the riffle. Kick seining is an especially good
technique to capture darters and madtoms.
You can use the seine alone, but it is difficult and not as efficient.
Instead, I prefer to use a sturdy dip net to capture fish in riffles, or
in small pools with snags and undercut banks. I use the dip net as a
one-person kick seine. I face downstream holding the dip net in the water
below me with two hands. I then back upstream, disturbing the bottom with
my feet. The net captures fish that rush downstream, panicked by the
disturbance I make.
Many of Missouri's small fishes-especially darters, minnows and
madtoms-make excellent aquarium specimens. The young of large species
like catfish, gar and sunfish, are often docile and interesting, but they
quickly outgrow a small aquarium.
Darters are some of the most beautiful fishes in North America. Many
darters, especially males during the breeding season, have brilliant
splashes of orange, red, green and blue on the fins and over their body.
Most darters are docile and display their colors by perching upon objects
in the tank. The wide-spread orangethroat and rainbow darters are
especially calm and attractive in aquaria. The johnny darter and
logperch, also widespread in Missouri, tend to be a little nervous, but
they become accustomed to living in an aquarium over time. Darters prefer
live food, but most species can be conditioned to eat frozen brine shrimp
and other manufactured fish foods.
Nearly 70 species of minnows live in Missouri. Minnows generally aren't
as brilliantly colored as darters. Most also are energetic and move
frequently back and forth across the tank. However, some minnows, such as
the southern redbelly dace, are beautiful and do well in an aquarium.
The wide-spread bluntnose minnow, red shiner and redfin shiner also
thrive in an aquarium. Red shiners are territorial and often chase other
fish from their corner of the tank. Stonerollers, which are also
wide-spread, usually do poorly because they eat algae, which is not
readily available in most aquaria. Minnows will eat dry fish food and
brine shrimp, making them very easy to keep.
Madtoms are small members of the catfish family and are found statewide.
All nine madtom species make good to excellent aquarium specimens.
Madtoms are secretive, however, and are usually seen only at feeding time
or at night. They spend most of their time hiding under objects in the
Most madtoms are uniformly colored, but some, such as the wide-spread
slender madtom, has dark-fringed fins. Others, such as the Ozark and
brindled madtoms, have crossbars over their backs and may appear mottled.
Madtoms are voracious and will eat just about anything.
Keeping native species in an aquarium can have scientific value. Many of
our native species are difficult to study and observe in their normal
habitats. Scientists have learned much about the reproductive behavior of
native fish simply by keeping them aquaria. Even amateur fish collectors
have discovered behaviors previously unknown to science by watching
native fish in a home aquarium.
Aquarium care for Native Fish
Keeping native fish alive and well in an aquarium is easy. Our native
fish are generally hardier than exotics. Provide a clean environment and
proper amounts of food and you can enjoy native fish for many years.
Begin with a 20-gallon aquarium or smaller. You can work up to a larger
system as your needs and experience permit. Don't exceed more than one
2-to 3-inch fish per gallon of water. However, when getting started, I
recommend not exceeding one fish per two gallons of water (or no more
than 10 fish in a 20-gallon aquarium).
A healthy aquarium must have adequate oxygenation and, more importantly,
good filtration. More fish die in aquaria from ammonia build-up than from
any other cause, except for initial rough handling in the field. Clean
and/or change the filters often. As long as you don't overstock, one
small aquarium pump will provide more than enough oxygen in a 20-gallon
Overfeeding also causes problems for novice aquarium owners. Avoid
feeding your fish daily at first. Instead, try feeding once every two
days. Minnows, darters and madtoms are small and do not need large
quantities of food, especially in an aquarium. If your water appears
cloudy after feeding, you have fed too much. Overfeeding can lead to
excessive build-ups of impurities that could kill your fish.
If you feed, filter and oxygenate properly, you won't have to change the
water in your tank for up to a year or more. If you do have to change the
water, or when adding new fish to an aquarium, be sure the water
temperature is the same as that from which the fish came. Remove all
chlorine if the water came from a municipal supply. You can do this by
adding aquarium dechlorination products, which are available in most pet
stores. Change the water if it becomes cloudy when you place new fish in
Finally, give your fish a home. Place rocks, shells or other objects in
the tank for fish to use as cover. Over time, you may add living plants
and other animals, like crayfish and shrimp. I recommend keeping the
aquarium out of direct sunlight to discourage algae growth.
To learn more about Missouri's fishes, obtain a copy of "The Fishes of
Missouri," published by the Missouri Conservation Department. To learn
more about native fish collecting and aquarium design, visit the web
sites of the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA) and the
Native Fish Conservancy (NFC) at <www.nanfa.org> and
Click to Enlarge
"Kickers" move through the riffles as their fellow students hold the
seine downstream to capture small fish, like the slender madtom. The same
formula can work for a single seiner with a dip net.
Click to Enlarge
A seine will capture a variety of small creatures suitable for a home
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