OLYMPIA (May 2, 2005) – A new automatic clipping and tagging trailer is assisting treaty tribes in western Washington in more efficiently marking and identifying hatchery salmon.

“Being able to tell hatchery and wild salmon apart is an important step in recovering weak salmon stocks,” said Michael Grayum, executive director of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The NWIFC is a natural resource consortium that provides services to 20 member tribes in western Washington.

Clipping the adipose fin of a hatchery reared salmon allows them to be easily identified by fisheries managers. The adipose is a non-functional fin above the tail. The new trailer clips the fin without the fish being handled or anesthetized.

Once finger long fish are loaded into the trailer, they are automatically clipped, counted, and whisked back to their rearing pond. The trailer can accommodate six human fish clippers, if more fish need to be processed. The trailer dramatically increases the speed of fin clipping, and because it needs fewer personnel, it makes the process of marking fish more affordable to tribes. The new trailer will travel to tribal hatcheries throughout the year to mark chinook, coho, and steelhead. The new trailer was purchased with federal funds sought by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA).

In addition to more efficiently marking hatchery fish, the trailer will also insert tiny coded wire tags into salmon snouts so biologists can track them in fisheries. The codes on the tags indicate where and when the salmon were released. After salmon are caught in fisheries or found on the spawning grounds, tags are recovered so biologists can track how salmon produced in tribal hatcheries survive and contribute to coast wide fisheries.

With the listing of two Puget Sound salmon stocks as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, tribal and state managers have put a new focus on evaluating the role of hatcheries in wild stock rebuilding efforts. For the past four years, treaty tribes have been implementing the Hatchery Reform project, a systematic, science-driven effort to address how hatcheries can help recover and conserve naturally spawning salmon populations.

“One of the major questions we want to answer is how tribal hatchery programs interact with wild salmon,” said Grayum. “By clearly identifying hatchery fish and knowing which hatcheries they come from, we can better understand how these fish contribute to fisheries and where they return to spawn.”

The tribes in western Washington release an average of 40 million hatchery salmon a year. “When they return as adults, these salmon will be caught by non-tribal and tribal fisherman,” said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the NWIFC. “Strong tribal hatchery programs mean that everyone can catch more fish.”

Watch a video of the trailer in action here.

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For more information, contact: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4325.