Tulalip Tribes expand salmon genetic testing abilities

Robert Skoog, natural resource specialist for the Tulalip Tribes, prepares a gel to perform a protein electrophoresis genetic test.

The Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources Department is taking its fisheries stock assessment lab to the next level.

The tribe has acquired genetic testing equipment so that lab technicians can determine on-site whether a chum salmon originated from the tribal hatchery.

Tulalip has genetically marked its chum salmon since the 1990s, but didn’t have the ability to test for the markers. Samples had to be sent to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) labs for protein electrophoresis. However, with advances in DNA technology, those agencies have started using different genetic tests that do not test for the unique protein markers in Tulalip chum.

WDFW and NOAA donated equipment that was no longer in use, and now the Tulalip lab is one of the only facilities on the west coast using electrophoresis for genetic stock detection. Adrian Spidle, fish geneticist from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is training the tribal staff.

“NOAA and WDFW really helped us get this going and Adrian has been instrumental in getting the lab set up,” said Mike Crewson, salmon enhancement scientist for the tribe.

“One of the first things we will do is take duplicate tissues from the same set of 144 fish and analyze them to see if DNA can be used to test for Tulalip chum,” he added. “Since everyone else has converted from electrophoresis to DNA, without a new stock assessment tool, we would lose the ability to detect our chum whenever DNA is being analyzed.”

The result could be the development of a new stock assessment tool to detect Tulalip chum with DNA, but the tribe will continue to use electrophoresis for routine testing because it is less expensive than DNA testing.

For more information, contact: Mike Crewson, Tulalip Tribes, 360-716-4626 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].