The Tribal Fish Health Laboratory of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) is completing an accreditation process that will ensure it meets standards for similar laboratories nationwide.

While the lab is well known throughout the Northwest for its high-quality work testing for pathogens in fish at tribal hatcheries, there aren’t many affordable options for labs like NWIFC’s to get accredited, said lab manager Bruce Stewart.

“There is a growing need in our line of work to be able to demonstrate the quality and credibility of fish health procedures we routinely use in our lab,” Stewart said. “In the future, it’s going to be hard to find a lab that doesn’t have some type of nationally recognized accreditation.”

The lab is participating in the American Fisheries Society’s (AFS) Fish Health Section accreditation process.

“We’re also acquiring validation of the work we’re doing so that if someone ever questions our results, we have more than just our word about the integrity and reproducibility of our results,” Stewart said.

Historically, labs similar in size don’t typically apply for national accreditation because the process is expensive and time-consuming, Stewart said, but AFS has put together an accreditation program that is appropriate for the NWIFC lab.

“We have protocols already but this puts them into a more formal structure,” said Marcia House, an NWIFC fish pathologist. “As we reviewed our processes, there were a few things we saw where we decided to add an extra step here and there, so it’s been really beneficial to just go through the process and tighten it up a bit and make sure protocols are up to date.”

House and microbiologists Matt Stinson and Betsy Hall were responsible for the initial step in the program by reviewing all of the lab’s procedures.

“The quality those guys bring to the program is incredible,” Stewart said.

The first phase included providing information about lab procedures, equipment and lab safety. The second phase will likely include a third-party performance audit before accreditation is granted.

“By getting this accreditation, the tribes are raising the bar for fish health,” Stewart said. “We’re one of just a few labs in the country that has cleared it and I think the tribes can be proud that they are being represented well.”

Microbiologist Betsy Hall, left, fish pathologist Marcia House and microbiologist Matt Stinson are working on getting a national accreditation for the NWIFC Fish Health Lab. Photo: Tiffany Royal