Newspaper Archive of
Hells Canyon Journal
Halfway, Oregon
April 23, 2003     Hells Canyon Journal
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April 23, 2003

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Page 6 Hells Canyon Journal April 28, 1008 fly David Baker of the Hells Canyon Journal A computer-operated adi- pose fin clipping system may seem exotic, but it was devel- oped for an entirely practical reason: a shortage of work- ers. Rodney Duke, a senior fish- cries research biologist for the Idaho Department ofFish and Game, said Idaho clips the adipose fins on about 20 mil- lion fish each year. Finding enough people to do the work manually has become increas- ingly difficult, so they have turned to computer automa- tion to help with the problem. The adipose fin is the rela- tively small fin midway be- tween the dorsal fin and the tail. On an adult salmon it may be about two to three inches long at the base and One to two inches tall. On a three- to four-inch salmon smolt, the fin may be little more than one-eighth of an inch long and one-sixteenth Of an inch high - a size re- quiring careful removal to avoid injury to the fish. All hatchery-raised salmon are required to have the adipose fins clipped to distinguish them from "wild" salmon, since wild salmon cannot le- gally be kept by an angler. The job of clipping normally spans a ten-month period from February through No- vember. Duke and several other Fish and Game employees were working at the Oxbow Hatchery last week to clip the fins on 206,000 fall chinook salmon smolts, in addition to tagging 10,000 of hem for tracking purposes. : "For 20 years we've done dll the clipping by hand," said Duke. "We sometimes have drews of as many as 130 l eople marking fish, for any- here from a week to two weeks at those numbers, sometimes higher. We have over 20 million fish to mark, and most of those fish have to be done in a small time frame because all the chinook are spawned within a narrow range of time, so because the hatcheries in the state are operated at the same water temperature, the fish are growing at about the same rate. So all of a sudden you have all of these fl h needing to be clipped at the same time. We have to intercept those fish as they're moving out of the vats in the hatchery build- ings, then mark them and release them to hatchery ponds for their final rearing phase. "Part of the reason we're going to automation is that it's hard to find qualified people who want to stay with it, because we don't mark in the same location all the time, and there are people who don't want to do this much traveling. Also, in some ar- eas with small populations thez'e aren't enough people available to do this work. So that means we have to bring people in, we have to put them up in motels, we have to feed them, we have to furnish transportation to get them there- all those types of costs. And if you want to run 24 hours a day, you have prob- lems getting people who want to work at night, and so forth. We can operate this trailer with three people, and it does the same as a 16-person trailer does. That saves 15 people per shift, and it can do the same amount of process- ing. This trailer really doesn't speed up the process of clip- ping. What the automated process does for us is it helps us with the labor supply." The equipment is not cheap - a new automated trailer costs about $900,000 to $1,000,000, counting all the equipment. Most moving parts are operated electrically by a 24-volt DC system. The solenoids that sort the fish are air operated. The ma- Photo by David Baker A BIOLOGIST USES A LARGE HYPODERMIC NEEDLE to insert a pitt tag into a small anesthetized salmon at the Oxbow Hatchery. The computer chip in the tag will be used to track young salmon as they make their way downriver to the ocean. t . High-Tech Trailer He lps Idaho Fish and Gam"e Department Prepare Hatchery-Raised Salmon for Release into the Wild wi tic U1 fro ac ve th W( he pe de ta de ti( th gi, a~ tr A, V! H 3 7 Photo by David Baker THIS COMPUTERIZED SYSTEM SORTS SALMON into six size groups for automated adipose fin clipping. Five sizes are processed through machines pre-calibrated to handle those sizes with minimal automatic adjustment. One other size group - "too large or too small" - bypasses the automated system to be manually clipped. chines can do a fish every 2.1 seconds. In another trailer workers were pitt-tagging smolts - inserting into the abdomen of each fish a tiny cylinder con- taining a computer chip with a coiled antenna attached. After insertion, each fish was briefly passed through an electronic loop to record its number. "This particular tag is mainly geared to the sur- vival of the fish going down- river," said Duke. "In the last few years, we've been pitt- tagging enough fish that we're able to get some good adult return data as well." .... Each' tag, Iess than one- half inch 10ng and a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, con- sists of a computer chip and a tiny copper antenna wire. There is no battery - it's a passive device that does not give up a signal until it is activated with a beam of en- ergy, and a nearby trans- ceiver picks up the signal. So " the pitt tag perfrms tw func- tions: it receives enough en- ergy to be able to produce a signal, then the transceiver reads the number and relates the information connected to it, such as size, weight, who is doing the tagging, water tem- perature, tagging site, release point, brood year, release date, and the coordinator re- Photo by David Baker AS A SALMON SMOLT ENTERS THE CHUTE IN THE CLIPPING MACHINE, a computer scans and calibrates an x- and y-axis reading to assure the adipose fin is sufficiently clipped without causing injury to the fish. The smolt is held by two rubber clamps while a lifter pushes up on its belly, causing it to arch its back and lift the fin into cutting position. sponsible for that tag. Only about five percent of released smolts are tagged due to the cost involved - $4 per tag plus labor - but this provides a sample tracking that can be applied to the entire release, primarily to see how many survive the journey to the ocean. Duke said pitt tags were initially developed for dairy cattle. Then, under several grants, the National Marine Fisheries Service worked with the developer' starting in the early nineties. "The first pitt tag I saw was about six inches long and an inch and a half in diam- eter. We laughed when they introduced that because we didn't believe they could re- duce the size to where they could inject it in a fish. But the size continued to shrink and the quality control has steadily improved. 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