Aquatic Biology

Daragh MuskieThe Aquatics Program is a joint effort between the Cities of Elkhart and South Bend to evaluate the health of the St. Joseph and Elkhart Rivers and their tributaries. The programs main focus is to evaluate the fish communities of local rivers and streams. However, it also looks at the health of the macroinvertebrate (insects and other small animals) communities, collects water samples, and samples the tissue of certain species to evaluate fish consumption safety. All of the data gathered by the program, biological and chemical, is used in a comprehensive evaluation of the health of our local waterways. Since the inception of the program in 1998 a significant amount of data has been collected on the health of our local rivers and streams.

Fish Sampled
Click to learn about some of the various fish species found in our local waters.
Check out this short video to find out more about the work our program does:

To view one of the Aquatics Program's annual reports, select a report below:
2019 Aquatic Community Monitoring Report (6.2 MB pdf)
2018 Aquatic Monitoring Report (5.6 Mb pdf)
2017 Aquatic Monitoring Report (6.6 MB pdf)
2016 Aquatic Monitoring Report (7.2 MB pdf)
2015 Aquatic Monitoring Report (6.26 MB pdf)
2014 Aquatic Monitoring Report (6.15 MB pdf)
2013 Aquatic Monitoring Report (6.28 Mb pdf)
2012 Aquatic Monitoring Report (5.02Mb pdf)
2011 Aquatic Monitoring Report (3.78Mb pdf)
2010 Aquatic Monitoring Report (1.28Mb pdf)
2009 Aquatic Monitoring Report (1.24Mb pdf)
In 2010, the Aquatics Program performed community monitoring for the Elkhart River Restoration Association (ERRA). View the ERRA report here (3.1 Mb pdf)
In 2014, the City of Elkhart prepared a small report of biological community conditions in Cobus Creek.  View the Cobus Creek report here (1.1 Mb pdf)

Why we monitor:
The St. Joseph River is the most important natural resource in the communities of South Bend and Elkhart.  As our communities developed around the river in the 1800s, we used it as mode of transportation, a source of energy for industry and electricity, and as a conveyance for getting rid of our waste.  Early uses of the river drastically impacted it's health, but it has improved significantly.  The Elkhart-South Bend Aquatics Program is gauging the health of the river from a long-term perspective.  This short video describes where the river has been, where it is now, and where we hope to see it in the future:

Map of Monitoring Site Locations:
The City of Elkhart's Aquatics Program uses the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) to evaluate local fish communities. This system evaluates the health of the fish community by looking at things like the total number of fish, the tolerance/sensitivity of the fish present, their reproductive and feeding habits, and physical indicators of pollution like deformities or tumors. Although the IBI system is rather complicated and technical, the output is a very simple score that ranges from 0 to 60. A score close to 0 would be reflective of a very impaired stream, while a score close to 60 would be indicative of excellent stream health. Below is a map of the Aquatics Program's monitoring locations in Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties with respective IBI scores. More detailed information can be found in the reports we have posted on this website.

View Fish Community Monitoring Sites in a larger map 

Fishing in the St. Joseph River
The Indiana stretch of the St. Joseph River, from Bristol to the downstream side of South Bend, offers excellent fishing opportunities.  There are numerous game species that can be caught, from steelhead and salmon that swim out of Lake Michigan, to a prolific smallmouth bass fishery that draws countless bass anglers and tournaments.  Other heavily pursued fish include walleye, panfish (bluegill and crappie), channel catfish and more.  While serious anglers continuously fish their hot spots on the St. Joseph River, it also offers a lot of opportunities for those that don't get to fish often or those that are new to fishing.  People interested in learning more about fishing opportunities on the St. Joseph River should feel free to contact us.  We have also set up a fishing tips and techniques page to help novice anglers get started in the pursuit of fish on the St. Joseph River.    

Is it Safe to Eat Fish From our Local Rivers? (click here for local fish consumption advisory info)

It is apparent from talking with local residents that many people don’t have a great understanding of whether or not it is safe to eat locally caught fish.  There is a perception among many that fish are completely unsafe to eat out of the rivers, while others claim that it’s just fine to eat any species without concern.   The truth lies somewhere in between.  It has a lot to do with the species of fish, its size, and where it was caught.  A variety of fish species are safe to eat from our local rivers and streams, as long as they are consumed in moderation and as recommended in the State’s Fish Consumption Advisory. 

The State of Indiana, through several agencies, monitors fish contaminant information in waterbodies across the state of Indiana in an effort to provide guidance on consuming wild fish.  The St. Joseph River is included in their fish consumption advisory, with a significant amount of the data provided by the Elkhart-South Bend Aquatics Program.  Detailed information on fish consumption in Indiana can be found at the Indiana Department of Health’s website.

We have summarized the State’s Fish consumption guidance for the rivers and streams of Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties here.   

Pictures from Local Friends

If you have pictures or drawings of fish or other critters from local waterways we would love to post them. Below is a drawing from Noah Haas of a Sea Lamprey.  Noah is a young Michiana student with a passion for fish.  Beside Noah's drawing is a picture of a local icefisherman who caught some nice crappie on the St. Joseph River.  Click here to see pictures and drawings from local friends.    


The Aquatic Biology team has begun taking video of some of the unique species they find while sampling as well as highlight how they sample our local waterways.  Please be sure to check out the video page to get an insiders look at what they do.   


Group Presentations and Public Outreach:
If your group is interested in a presentation from the Aquatic Biologist please call Elkhart Public Works at 574-293-2572 or email

Check out this video and posters related our outreach efforts:

Aquatic Biology General Poster Aquatic Biology Poster-Fish Species


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Contact Us

Daragh Deegan,
Aquatic Biologist

1201 S Nappanee St
Elkhart, IN 46516
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  • Phone:  (574) 293-2572
  • Fax:  (574) 293-7658
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  • Hours: M-F 8:00 - 5:00

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