A Study to Determine the Biological Feasibility of a New Fish Tagging System, 1986-1987




Prepared for Bonneville Power Administration


chinook, Columbia River, fish tagging, juvenile, laboratory study, McNary Dam, monitoring, mortality, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, PIT tag, salmon, salmonids, steelhead, survival, tagging, transponder


In 1983, a multi-year project to evaluate the technical and biological feasibility of adapting a new identification system to salmonids was established between the Bonneville Power Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The system is based upon a miniaturized passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag. This report discusses the work complete in 1986 and is divided into laboratory studies, field studies, and systems development. All studies were conducted using a glass-encapsulated tag implanted into the body cavity of test fish via a 12-gauge hypodermic needle. Laboratory studies with juvenile chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, showed that retention of glass-encapsulated PIT tags was 99-100% in fish weighing 3 g (mean weight) or larger. No adverse tissue response to the tag was noted. The survival of fish 5 g (mean weight) or larger was usually greater than 99%. However, fish ranging in weight from 2 to 4 g, or fish undergoing a physiological change such as smoltification may have a low mortality (usually less than 5%) after tagging. The mortality rate in the smaller fish was dependent upon tagging skill whereas mortality in smolting fish seemed dependent upon the level of stress. Growth comparisons between tagged and control fish indicated PIT-tagged fish had a slightly depressed growth rate at some measurement periods. The operational life of glass-encapsulated PIT tags implanted in fish was good, with 100% of the tags operating after 401 days. No tags were rejected from the fish during the observation period. Additional information on the operational life of the tag is being obtained by holding tagged fish until they mature. Tests to determine the effect of the PIT tag on certain behavioral/physiological responses were conducted in the laboratory with one size range of juvenile steelhead, Salmo gairdneri, and two size groups of juvenile fall chinook salmon. Results showed no significant effect of the tag on opercular rate, tail beat frequency, stamina, or post fatigue survival. Tests conducted at McNary Dam on outmigrant steelhead and fall and spring chinook salmon showed similar results. Juvenile PIT tag monitoring systems were installed and tested at Lower Granite and McNary dams in the Columbia River Basin. The equipment is described and discussed. The tag monitoring equipment showed a high degree of reliability, efficiency, and accuracy. During the 6-month test, tag reading efficiency exceeded 95%, with an accuracy rate of greater than 99% for all equipment. Four minor equipment problems occurred during the testing period, all of which were corrected in the field. Field studies were conducted at Lower Granite and McNary dams using spring and fall chinook salmon and steelhead to assess the performance of PIT-tagged fish in comparison to fish tagged or marked using traditional methods. No effect of the tag on survival was noted. Differences in survival were noted, however, between dam locations for all treatments. Comparisons of recovery rates of branded and PIT-tagged spring and fall chinook salmon released into McNary reservoir and recovered at the dam were made. A significantly higher number of PIT-tagged spring chinook salmon were recovered at the dam than branded fish whereas no differences in recovery rates were seen between treatments for fall chinook salmon. The PIT tag data were acquired with 90% fewer PIT-tagged fish released than branded fish. There was also a large reduction in the numbers of fish handled to obtain the data, 330:1 and 414:1 (brand vs. PIT-tagged) for spring and fall chinook salmon, respectively. Groups of spring chinook salmon and steelhead were tagged and branded at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery and released into the Clearwater River. Tag recovery at Lower Granite and McNary dams showed that significantly higher numbers of PIT-tagged fish were recovered than branded fish. Future work related to PIT tags systems development is described and discussed.

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