U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Builds Mass Marking Program for Great Lakes Trout and Salmon

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Builds Mass Marking Program for Great Lakes Trout and SalmonThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Midwest Region this October received the first of a series of automated fish tagging trailers – an initial step in the development of a mass marking program that will eventually mark or tag all salmon and trout stocked into U.S. waters of the Great Lakes. Once implemented, this initiative will become the largest coordinated tagging and recovery program ever envisioned for Great Lakes management agencies.

A similar coordinated program is planned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in Canadian waters of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes program is modeled after a 20-year mass marking program for salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

The centerpiece of this new approach to mass marking is the computer-operated, automated tagging and marking trailer known as the AutoFish System. The system provides an alternative to manual clipping and tagging of fish ready for release to the wild. The AutoFish System is a self-contained mobile unit in a 44-foot aluminum fifth wheel trailer. The system has the capability to rapidly sort by length, clip the adipose fin, and insert coded-wire tags to more than 60,000 salmon and trout per eight-hour day without anesthetic or human handling. The fish are never completely dewatered during the process, thereby reducing stress. Fin clipping rates and tag placement accuracy is superior to that of manual operations and less costly than manual clipping and tagging systems.

The Service is leading this program at the request of state and tribal fishery agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York through the Council of Lake Committees of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The Service’s Green Bay National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (NFWCO) will provide overall coordination of Basin-wide tagging and marking for 21 state hatcheries, four Service hatcheries and one tribal hatchery that stock salmon and trout. Green Bay NFWCO will also assist partner agencies with project planning, data collection, statistical analysis and laboratory services to extract and read the coded-wire tags from harvested fish.

The estimated cost to implement the mass marking program over a five year period will be around $12 million for equipment and $6 million per year for operational costs. Congress awarded the Service $1.2 million this year to begin the project.

For years the Service has fin-clipped (marked) and/or coded-wire-tagged all of the lake trout stocked into the Great Lakes for the restoration of this species. Recovery of the tagged and marked lake trout helps the Service, state and tribal fisheries agencies evaluate the performance and movement of these fish. Tagging also allows for evaluation of the survival and growth between strains, stocking locations, and sizes at stocking. With the new mass marking initiative, continued evaluation of hatchery fish is now being extended to other salmon and trout species raised by the states and tribes in U.S. waters.

Coded-wire tags are thin pieces of metal wire that are inserted into the snout of fish just prior to stocking and contain a numeric code that is specific to a certain group of fish. All coded-wire tagged fish also receive an adipose fin clip to identify them as having a tag. When fish are recovered from fisheries and assessment activities, they are scanned with a metal detector to locate the tag. The tag is then removed and read. When many recovered tags are analyzed over time, biologists can determine relative survival, movement, growth rates and age of the fish.

To download the implementation plan for the Great Lakes mass marking program, visit http://www.glfc.org/boardcomm/clc/Mass_marking_report_CLC2008.doc

For more information on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, visit http://www.glfc.org/

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov