[env-trinity] Report Cites Weaknesses in Coded Wire Tag Program

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Tue Jan 17 11:09:12 PST 2006

Many thanks to Sari Sommarstrom for forwarding this message.  This appears to apply to Klamath-Trinity fisheries.


Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
January 13, 2006


A U.S./Canada scientific panel says there is no ready, or inexpensive, cure for problems that have beset the north Pacific's coded-wire tag program for monitoring ocean fishing's impacts on individual stocks of fish.

That program's integrity needs to be restored until a better system is found to support fishery management decisions, according to the panel's recent report.

Panelist David Hankin previewed the report Tuesday afternoon for members of the Pacific Salmon Commission at a meeting in Portland. Hankins is chairman of the Department of Fisheries Biology at Humboldt State University in California.

"These threats are not new," Hankin said.

The report, "Report of the Expert Panel on the Future of the Coded Wire Tag Recovery Program for Pacific Salmon" can be found at http://psc.org/info_codedwiretagreview_finalreportintro.htm

"Mass marking and mark-selective fisheries together pose serious threats to the integrity of the CWT system," according to the reports' list of major findings.

An adipose fin clip had been chosen in the 1970s by the PSC to serve as a sign that a fish had been implanted with a CWT.

Each piece of wire contains a code that uniquely identifies an individual group of fish -- their place of origin whether it be wild or hatchery raised, its brood, etc. The tag information generally informed experiments.

The various fishery management agencies at that time agreed to share data, and coordinate the effort to recover tags from fish that were harvested. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission remains the repository for that data.

The information also allowed fishery managers to adjust harvests as need be to control impacts on salmon stocks, particularly those with conservation concerns.

In most cases tagged hatchery surrogates have been used to estimate the toll of ocean commercial and recreation harvest upon naturally produced fish.

Studies have shows that some 54 state, federal, tribal, and private entities conduct CWT experiments involving some 1,200 new codes annually.

More than 50 million juvenile salmon and steelhead are now tagged annually at a total cost more than $7.5 million annually, according to the report. Approximately 275,000 CWTs are recovered each year in commercial and recreational fisheries and in spawning escapements, at an additional annual cost of $12 million to $13 million.

The uncertainty of the data being collected has grown since the early 1990s for a variety of reasons. Columbia basin wild stock numbers plummeted, thus forcing a reduction in fisheries. That resulted in lower numbers of CWT recoveries and lesser statistical validity. Likewise the more common catch-and-release of unmarked stocks leaves mortality for those fish incalculable.

"Because marked hatchery fish and unmarked natural fish are no longer subject to the same patterns of exploitation under MSFs, CWTs on hatchery indicator stocks can no longer serve as surrogates to evaluate and monitor presumed fishery impacts on natural stocks," the report says.

"Thus, although MM and MSFs had promise for increasing harvests of hatchery fish while keeping fishing impacts on natural populations within desired constraints, these same programs threatened to jeopardize the commitment made by the United States and Canada to maintain a viable CWT program," the panel said.

The mass marking also confounded the recovery of CWT tags, since the tagged and untagged hatchery fish are marked with the same ad-clip.

The use of electronic "wands" to detect CWTs were encouraged. But their use is not universal, another factor that biases research results because study fish might be detected in one fishery but not others.

"An additional and serious consequence of MM and MSF has been a gradual loss of the kind of cooperation, coordination and consistency of programs that characterized the first two decades of the CWT tag recovery program. &, ETD (electronic tag detection) remains inconsistently applied, and, in some jurisdictions, marine recreation sport fisheries are not sampled by trained fishery technicians, but estimated recoveries are instead based on voluntary returns by recreational fishermen," the report says.

The number of tags, and attendant costs, may have to be increased to restore the reliability of the information the system produces, according to Hankin. 

PSC chairman Larry Rutter said during Tuesday meeting that the next step for the PSC and fish management entities would be to discuss implementation of the report's recommendations, including the development of a design for its coordinated "grand experiment." The panel envisions research beginning later this year to " provide current and high quality information for the continued evolution of management models and assessments."

A part of assessment of the report and its potential implementation would be the development of cost estimates for both a reinvigoration of the CWT system and potential alternatives.

At the meeting, Rutter noted that mass marking is a long-simmering political issue. 

Lower Columbia treaty tribes have long been opposed to the mass marking of fish.

"I want to emphasize that the tribes have long used selective fisheries, such as time and area restrictions, gear restrictions, and voluntary fishery closures as conservation measures to protect weak stocks and we will continue to use such effective tools," Olney Patt, Jr., Jr., executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and an alternate on the PSC, said in Jan. 9 comments on the report. "In contrast, we view mark-selective fisheries simply as a tool to target hatchery produced fish, and therefore support status quo hatchery production practices, not conservation."

"It is also obvious that the unilateral implementation of mass marking and mark selective fishing programs undermines the continued viability of this management tool," Patt said of the CWT program.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Department Director Jeff Koenings disagrees with Patt and the report's finding that mass marking and selective fisheries "pose a serious threat to the integrity of the CWT system&."

"This finding is inconsistent with the fact that mass marking and selective fisheries have been implemented in a responsible manner for more than 10 years," Koenings wrote in a cover letter accompanying generally favorable WDFW comments on the report. 

"We can only conclude that the Panel believes that mass marking and selective fishing can exist without serious threat to the integrity of the CWT system, depending on the intensity of the MM and MSF and if reasonable actions are take to insure that basic data are collected," according to the WDFW comments. "As one of the agencies responsible for tagging, marking and recovery programs, WDFW has made substantial investments to the CWT system and has acted to insure the quality and reliability of collected data&."

The report lists steps for implementation of its recommendations:
1. Correct current deficiencies in CWT system;
2. Respond to Mass-marking and Mark-selective fisheries;
3. Develop a coordinated research and implementation plan;
4. Consider new management paradigms.

"The challenge here is not to be black and white," said PSC member Larry Cassidy, who also represents his governor on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and Washington's Salmon Recovery Board.

"The challenge here is to make them work together," Cassidy said of the CWT program's mission and many fishery managers' goal of maximizing the harvest of hatchery fish through the marking of fish and selective fisheries. Hundreds of millions are spent annually for hatchery construction, operations and maintenance and monitoring by states, federal agencies and tribes.

He said the panel's recommendations are the best course -- to improve the CWT system even while research is conducted to identify alternatives. The goals remain the same -- to improve escapement of wild fish while allowing fishers to harvest hatchery fish grown for that purpose.

Cassidy said taxpayers and Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers want to reap the benefits from those hatcheries. Many of the region's hatcheries are funded through the NPCC's fish and wildlife program by the BPA.

The Pacific Salmon Commission is a 16-person body with four commissioners and four alternates each from the United States and Canada, representing the interests of commercial and recreational fisheries as well as federal, state and tribal governments.

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