Friday, May 1, 2015

What do a salmon and a beloved dog have in common?

by Lynne Geller, communications and outreach, Water Resources Program

They can both be tracked with an identification chip! 

We know it’s a safety feature for dogs. But why salmon? 

Every year, many thousands of salmon migrate up the Columbia River to the Okanogan River and in to Osoyoos Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. Fish implanted with PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags are being tracked using electronic readers at points all along the Columbia River, mainly at dams. This data is helping scientists and fishery managers better understand fish migration patterns.  
Floating antenna at Zosel Dam.
 Photo courtesy of Richard McGuire,
Osoyoos Times

A new type of electronic reader debuted this month at the Zosel Dam in Oroville, near the Canadian border. The dam is one of the salmon’s last hurdles on the way to their spawning grounds in Canadian lakes. This experimental reader floats on the surface of the water and detects fish as they pass underneath it. All going well, the floating antenna will track fish going through one of Zosel Dam’s spillways.  

“The Department of Ecology is happy to be supporting these fish-tagging efforts. We are among the many that will benefit from the new data, increasing our understanding of the fish life cycle,” said Al Josephy, environmental planner at Ecology. Ecology owns and manages the Zosel Dam, and it is configured in such a way that it is a good spot for electronic readers. 

The floating antenna reader is in addition to four existing readers by the fish ladders. Because many fish bypass the ladders and leap up the spillway when water is high, their numbers were not being recorded. The floating antenna is intended to catch some of these free-spirited spillway-users.

A closer look at PIT tag technology

A PIT tag is a unique identifier, as reliable as a fingerprint. It is about the size of a grain of rice, and can be coded with one of 35 billion unique codes! A syringe is used to implant the tag in the fish.

The tags are like the electronic fee collection devices that go on your car windshield. Antennas installed along the river operate like tollbooths, reading tags and recording the time and location as the fish swims by. (Thanks to NOAA Fisheries for this simile.)  

The electronic readers provide the power, so the tags are battery-free. They will last throughout a fish’s life. This means that the tags will also catch fish on their way back from the ocean, years later. “In this way, this technology suddenly gives each tagged fish a unique identifier, and a personality. And it turns out these fish are not as different from us as we may think – they, too, are complex and determined to survive,” said Josephy.

What happens to the data once it’s collected?

The fish-specific data goes into a central database where it is added to any previous information about that fish. The data provides an up-close and personal record of the day-to-day lives of individual salmon.  

Until recently, we have depended more on observation and the understanding of their overall life cycle. Now we have the technology to look at when and where Fish #8 was on Tuesday April 14, and who all was with #8. (Note to fish: any expectation of privacy is now a thing of the past.) This data will contribute to better-informed management decisions, helping us protect and restore fish runs.  

An international effort on behalf of salmon

Tagging is being done across the state, primarily along the Columbia River. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) have key roles; both are funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. The Okanogan Nation Alliance (i.e. Canadian First Nations), working through the CTCR, are also an essential part of tagging/data gathering. Together they are a great example of successful collaboration across national boundaries.

References/For more information:

1. Nature magazine, “Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) Tags in the Study of Animal

2. NOAA Fisheries: “Salmon Restoration and PIT Tags: Big Data from a Small Device”

3. Osoyoos Times: “New antenna will help to track tags on fish migrating into Osoyoos Lake”

4. Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission: “PIT Tag Information Systems (PTAGIS)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! The technology that is available to track these salmon boggles the mind. The writer made a technical subject read like fiction.