Electrofishing, Safety

Before discussing electrofishing practices in detail, we feel it is important to first review the basic legislation and safety practices that apply to electrofishing activities…

The nature of the high-voltage electric fields in the presence of water makes electrofishing a potentially hazardous activity for both the operator, and assistants.

As such, close attention must paid to operating procedures, user training and safety, so before attempting any electrofishing activity we strongly recommend that you read all the safety, deployment and operation guidelines in your products documentation, and take these into consideration along with your organisations own safety policies.

Whist this document intends to educate and inform you of the main potential hazards and requirements of electrofishing, it is not intended as a comprehensive reference, and as such the primary responsibility for safety, training and operating of the equipment must lie with the owner and users of the equipment.


Before attempting to use your fishing machine, you should familiarise yourself with legislative regulations listed below, that apply to the use of your backpack fishing system, and ensure that all requirements have been met by your operational procedures…

  • Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulation 1992.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The “Health & Safety at Work Act 1974” places an obligation on employers to establish specific requirements for the employees, including…

  • Safe systems of work
  • Safe equipment to work with
  • Sufficient training and information to enable them to perform their duties without risk to themselves and others who may be affected by the work being done.

The “Electricity at Work Regulations 1989” includes electrofishing activities under the category of “working near live conductors”. Therefore, this act requires that suitable precautions are taken to prevent injury, and place a duty on the employer to ensure that every work activity is carried out in such a manner as not to give rise to danger. The employee also has a duty to co-operate with the employer so that safe systems of work are properly implemented.

You should also check that you have obtained any necessary permits required by law from the relevant government department or agency to cover the area you are working in.


Everyone using or working in the presence of electrofishing apparatus must recognise that it is potentially dangerous activity and the equipment can be hazardous if used incorrectly.

Electrofishing work should never be undertaken by any single person! Should accident or injury occur, there should always someone else present to isolate equipment, perform first aid, and summon medical assistance if required.

Staff should be screened and selected to be fit for the task they are being asked to carry out. It is recommended that no person shall take part in electrofishing operations until…

  • The have learnt the basic theory of how electrofishing works.
  • The operational instructions and procedures of electrofishing have been fully explained to them.
  • A competent and experienced officer on site has instructed them on the safe working procedures described in this documentation.
  • They comply with the appropriate generic Health & Safety instructions for all staff and field workers.

Additionally personnel involved in electric-fishing activities should have…

  • Learnt how to administer artificial respiration and deal with the results of electric shock.
  • Received Working in Water training.
  • Consulted a doctor or occupational health advisor if they have a significant medical condition (such as heart or respiratory problems, diabetes or epilepsy), to discuss the implications to their health.

Electrical Hazards

Electrical shocks may cause burns, uncontrolled muscular spasms, ventricular fibrillation (heart attacks) or neurological effects, with pulsed electric currents as low as 1mA across the heart for a fraction of a second being potentially fatal.

The main sources of potential risk of electric shock during electrofishing operations are…

  • Bodily contact with the energised electrodes,
  • Bodily contact with water within the radius of the electric field,
  • Shocks from damaged or poorly maintained equipment.

To minimise the risk of electric shock, suitable protective insulating clothing should be worn (discussed in later sections), and regular inspection, maintenance and servicing should be performed on the equipment. Damaged equipment should not be used.

Additionally, observe the following precautions…

  • Do not allow unprotected parts of the body to come into contact with the water when electrofishing is in progress.
  • Only the operator of the backpack and anode should remove debris from the electrode, when they are sure the system is de-energised, with the “Stop” button locked in position.
  • Do not simultaneously use more than one set of electrofishing equipment at one site.
  • Ensure the anode ring (electrode) is fully submerged while the fishing system is active.
  • Do not use electrode rings as dip nets.
  • Do not use the equipment if any of the housings or cables appear damaged or compromised for the ingress of water, or electrical conductors are exposed on external wires.
  • Do not use any mains appliances in the presence of water (battery chargers, etc.).

Operational Hazards

Other hazards that may be present during electrofishing activities include…

  • Drowning
    when working near water there is always a risk of drowning. Suitable precautions should be taken, such as wearing a life jacket.
  • Tripping and Falling
    The presence of cables in the water, bank side vegetation, and the slippery nature of river beds present a hazard to the operator. To minimise risk, suitable protective clothing should be worn, cabling in the water should be minimised, and loose protruding cabling should be tidied and managed to prevent snagging on tree branches etc.
  • Fire
    All high-power electrical equipment will produce heat, which under extreme fault conditions could present a danger of fire. You should recognise this danger and take suitable precautions.
  • Manual Handling
    Injuries can occur if heavy equipment is not properly handled. The incorrect use of any equipment may result in minor cuts, bruises, or grazes.
  • Spectators and Animals
    If fishing activity is likely to attract spectators, they should be kept away from the water and equipment. Suitable temporary warning signs should be displayed (showing “Danger: Electric Fishing In Progress”). Stop fishing if people or livestock come within 5 metres of the electrodes.

Risk assessments of the field site and equipment used should be undertaken before any fishing activities occur, and suitable methods of communication for use in emergency situations should be ensured.

Emergency And Accident Procedure

Before undertaking any fishing operations, you should develop and familiarise all users with an “Emergency Action Procedure”. A typical action procedure may look something like…


Assess The Environment

Before approaching any casualty, first assess whether it is safe to do so and you are not putting yourself or other at risk in attending the casualty.


Shut Down The Equipment

If there is an accident, before you give assistance, immediately…

  • Active the “Emergency Stop” button on the backpack to isolate all power from the electrodes.
  • Switch off the electrodes.


Administer First Aid

On attending the casualty, perform basic first aid procedures (the “ABC” of first aid!)

  • Check the casualty has a clear airway.
  • Check the casualty is breathing.
  • Check the casualty has circulation.
  • Make an assessment on what action to take…


If the Casualty is Unconscious

  • Start resuscitation if there is no pulse or the person is not breathing
  • Always seek immediate medical assistance. Any casualty who has been unconscious must be examined by a doctor as soon as possible, even if they appear to have recovered.


If the Casualty has a Serious Injury

  • Call for an ambulance by the quickest means, and obtain medical care.
  • In remote areas with difficult access, seek professional advice from the emergency services.


For other Minor Injuries

  • Apply first aid
  • Clean minor cuts, burns and abrasions, and cover with a waterproof dressing.


Report Incidents

  • Log and report all accidents in accordance with your employer’s procedures.
  • Report any equipment damage or malfunctions to your employer, and seek advice, servicing or repair from the manufacturer.

E-Fish (UK) Limited gratefully acknowledge the information supplied by the UK Environment Agency
from which sections of the content of this article have been reproduced or adapted.
Please Note that the content of these pages is for general information purposes only and does not constitute ‘advice’. Readers should always consult their specific product documentation, and seek the advice of an appropriately qualified professional before undertaking any electrofishing activity. For further information, please refer to our “Disclaimer” page.