Standard Methods for Sampling North American Freshwater Fishes

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Standardized Sampling

Scott A. Bonar, Salvador Contreras-Balderas, and Alison C. Iles


It was probably one of the oddest riots in the history of the United States. In Erie, Pennsylvania during 1853, federal marshals were called to restore order during bloody uprisings. A mob of women, equipped with sledgehammers, was tearing up railroad track to protest standardization of track width (Nesmith 1985). All across the United States, standardization of rail gauges was taking place to improve transportation across the country, but many people did not want consistency. Jobs moving freight from a train running on one gauge of track to a train running on another gauge were plentiful at this time, and standardization would mean that these jobs would disappear. Fortunately, for us today, the riots were quelled and standardization of railroad track gauges went ahead. The magnificent transportation system of North America was aided by the standardization of rails, contributing to robust economies.

Standardization of industrial processes, languages, measurements, and data collection methods has been essential for world progress (Figure 1.1). Today, we are often unaware of the degree of standardization of the most basic elements of our society—from bolts and nuts where thread sizes are standard to computer components that can be used interchangeably to the standard sizes of photos we carry in our wallets or purses. Data collection and presentation are standardized in many disciplines, including medicine, meteorology, geology, and water chemistry. For example, our cholesterol, body temperature, and blood pressure are measured by standard medical tests and compared to averages calculated from the results of the same standard tests for many other people to determine if individuals are higher, lower, or average compared to the population in general. If these diagnostic tests were not standardized, it is unlikely that we would be able to evaluate even the most basic data about our health. In fact, if standardization was not used in countless other facets of our society, our lives would be much more difficult.

For data collection purposes, standardization means to collect data in one way so comparisons can be easily made. Although routine data collection has been standardized in many other disciplines, data from freshwater fish sampling across North America have not. Previously, most data collection has been standardized only at local, state, or provincial levels (Bonar and Hubert 2002).