successful pilot program launched last year
that used genetics to determine the river
origin of chinook salmon caught off Oregon's
central coast will begin its second season
this month and expand to the entire coast off
Oregon as well as to northern California
The hope is to discover more about
the distribution of salmon in the ocean so
that fisheries managers can make in-season
decisions and allow the harvest of healthy
stocks while mitigating the harvest of
The ultimate goal is to avoid shutting down
the entire coastal fishery -- as happened in
2006 to protect weakened runs from the Klamath
River, say Oregon State University researchers
who are leading the study.
"Every piece of the project that we
experimented with last year worked," said Gil
Sylvia, director of OSU's Coastal Oregon
Marine Experiment Station and a co-principal
investigator on the project. "We have the
protocols down. We know we can identify with a
high degree of certainty the origin of wild or
hatchery fish caught offshore -- and do it
within roughly 24 hours.
"Now our goals are to learn whether Klamath
stocks are aggregated within a specific area
at a certain time, and whether there are
differences in the catch composition close to
shore and outside of six miles," he added.
Dubbed Project CROOS (Collaborative
Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon), the effort
is a unique collaboration among scientists,
commercial fishermen and fisheries managers.
The 2006 pilot study was funded by a grant
from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
and coordinated by the Oregon Salmon
Commission and researchers at OSU's Hatfield
Marine Science Center in Newport.
During the field studies, 72 Oregon fishing
vessels took part and provided 2,567 viable
tissue samples from fresh-caught salmon to an
OSU genetics laboratory in Newport, Ore.
Of that total, OSU geneticists were able to
assign a probability of 90 percent or more in
determining river origin to 2,097 fish --
meaning they could determine with a high
degree of certainty the hatchery, river basin,
or coastal region of origin of about four out
of every five fish.
Confirmation for their protocol came from
traditional research methods, pointed out
Michael Banks, an OSU geneticist and
co-principal investigator on the study.
"Thirty-one of the fish had coded wire tags
attached, listing their hatchery of origin,"
Banks said. "We ran our genetic profile on the
tissue samples without knowing what the coded
wire tags said and correctly identified the
hatchery of origin for all 31 fish. That's
pretty good confirmation that the testing
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has
provided another grant, totaling $590,000, for
the 2007 work, which will run from Astoria to
Brookings encompassing all four of Oregon's
offshore salmon regions. A portion of the
grant will fund an expected 70-90 fishermen
who will provide fins and other tissue samples
to the OSU researchers, who hope to analyze
more than 9,000 samples this year.
"The challenge is to figure out how to
corral the fishermen into the right areas at
the right time so that we can collect an
estimated 1 percent sample of the stock at a
given time," Banks said. "We're aiming for 200
samples every week, in all four regions."
The National Marine Fisheries Service is
providing another $400,000 to help offset
costs of participating fishermen and the
genetic testing of the samples at the OSU
laboratory in Newport and in two NMFS
laboratories. This funding will help support
the new research in California, which is
establishing its own pilot study this year
based on the Oregon model.
During a four-week period beginning this
week, the California Salmon Council hopes to
collect about 1,600 tissue samples provided by
16 California fishermen who are working the
waters north and south of Point Arena,
according to David Goldenberg, CEO of the
"The goals are very similar to what Oregon
is trying to accomplish with the Klamath River
runs, but we're a year behind," Goldenberg
said. "This is a pilot project for us, to get
the kinks worked out, get the sampling
procedures under our belts, and to hopefully
secure federal funding for next year. We'd
like to involve 100 to 150 boats next year.
"The other objective is to spread the word
among the fleet that this research is not
something to be afraid of," Goldenberg added.
In Oregon, the fishing industry has gotten
the message loud and clear and welcome the
research, Sylvia said. Many of the fishermen
are particularly interested in some of the
oceanographic data the researchers gathered
last year, using buoys and programmable
undersea gliders to determine the ocean's
temperature, salinity, chlorophyll level and
dissolved oxygen content in the areas the fish
"I started fishing in 1970 and this is the
most optimistic I've been about any kind of
research relating to salmon," said Paul Merz,
one of the project's fisherman who fishes out
of Charleston. "I'm still a cynic when it
comes to management decisions. But this is the
science that has been missing in all of the
policy arguments -- and it's something where
you can see the immediate results."
Two other new initiatives will be part of
Project CROOS in 2007, according to Sylvia.
The OSU researchers will work with fishery
managers to create a trial management
simulation model for ocean salmon fishing.
"Before the science can realistically lead
to new management protocols, we need to start
thinking about the logistics of such a
system," Sylvia said. "Right now, we don't
even know all of the questions to ask. But if
we start looking at such a management system
-- even in its roughest form -- some of the
challenges and opportunities will become
A second development will be the creation
of a 24-hour website that will be part of the
decision-making model. But it also will
include a variety of data accessible to
fishermen, and information about fresh-caught
individual salmon that will be available to
"Think about going into a seafood market in
Portland, or in New York City, for that
matter, and buying a salmon caught off Oregon,
and tracking down the day it was caught, the
location, and the river of origin," Sylvia
said. "Then you can click on another link and
read about the fishing vessel that caught the
salmon, and the crew that works the boat.
"Some of the fishermen are as excited about
the marketing potential of the research as
they are with the management potential," he
The researchers hope to have the new
website operational by late summer.
* Related Stories from the CBB’s Members’
--- (8/4/2006) RESEARCH USES DNA TO
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