State University scientists are teaming with
commercial fishermen on a new research effort to
rapidly identify the home river basin of chinook
salmon found in the Pacific Ocean using genetic
is to learn more about offshore schooling
behavior and stock composition of salmon and
ultimately to prevent coast-wide fishing
closures. The closures aim to protect weak
stocks like those of the Klamath River basin
that may constrain an otherwise healthy fishery.
the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and
managed by the Oregon Salmon Commission, the
pilot project is called the Cooperative Research
for Oregon's Ocean Salmon, or CROOS.
program is already seeing results.
June 4 salmon fishing opener, fishermen caught
chinook salmon off the Oregon coast between
Newport and Florence and OSU scientists were
able to positively match the DNA from the fins
of 71 of the fish to establish their origin from
river systems in California, Oregon, British
Columbia and Alaska.
project coordinated and funded by the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration involving
10 labs from California to Alaska -- including
OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport
-- has identified unique genetic profiles for
110 different salmon populations based on their
home river basin.
and resource managers previously were unable to
identify stock composition of both wild and
hatchery fish originating from the Pacific
Northwest, Canada and Alaska.
leaders say that this new technology allows
scientists to assess the origin of an individual
fish with remarkable accuracy.
the key for us to utilize the technology," said
Michael Banks, an OSU geneticist and director of
the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources
Studies, a joint Oregon State-NOAA research
collaborative. "Having a bank of DNA profiles
allows us to approach 'real-time' identification
of fish. What used to take months, or even
years, we've been able to pare down to about 48
June field testing, participating fishermen
caught chinook salmon off the Oregon coast
between Newport and Florence and collected a
fin-clip from each fish for DNA analysis. OSU
scientists were able to match genetic profiles
of fish from river systems as far south as
Battle Creek in California, and from as far
north as the Babine River in Alaska.
Traditional efforts to identify the origin of
ocean-caught salmon came from coded wire tags
inserted into the snouts of a small percentage
of hatchery fish. Those tags were useful for
determining broad-scale distributions of stocks
caught in fisheries, but revealed only the
origin of select tagged fish. The time and
location of these tagged fish also have been too
general – reported by week and catch area.
wire tag data weren't usually available until
several months after the season ends.
testing, however, will allow the scientists to
rapidly assess the origin of any chinook salmon
caught off the West Coast -- not just coded
wire-tagged hatchery fish -- and identify with
about 95 percent accuracy its home river system.
researchers say, they could test several salmon
in schools from different locations to see what
percentage of them originate from a weak run.
could lead to the introduction of some degree of
in-season harvest management," said Gil Sylvia,
an OSU economist and superintendent of the
Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station.
"Having accurate information could lead to
reducing access to some stocks in certain areas
at certain times. But it is just as likely that
it could result in decisions to open areas of
the coast where higher concentrations of
harvestable fish populations are."
researchers will compare their genetic
assessment with coded wire-tagged fish to test
the efficacy of the project.
Oregon's commercial fishermen, who have been
shut down from pursuing their livelihood this
summer, say they are excited by the research.
fishing in 1970 and this is the most optimistic
I've been about any kind of research relating to
salmon," said Paul Merz, 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."
Feldner, a fisherman from Logsden, Ore., said
that seasons are designed to minimize the impact
on the weakest runs.
problem," he pointed out, "is that we haven't
known enough about the fish that are out there.
Using information gathered over the summer to
help predict where the fish will be next year
doesn't help the fishermen. We haven't had a way
of knowing in 'real time' where the fish are and
where they've come from. Now we do."
Watershed Enhancement Board has funded this
pilot study for one year with a $586,391 grant,
which will allow 50 Oregon commercial vessels to
make a total of 200 fishing trips, and allow the
scientists to run 2,000 DNA samples. As many as
90 vessel owners have expressed an interest in
additional funding to continue the research,"
said Nancy Fitzpatrick, lead administrator of
Project CROOS and an employee of the Oregon
Salmon Commission. "One year just begins to give
you information, but it isn't enough to
determine all you need to know about salmon.
Fish have fins, as they say, and they tend to
move from one location to another.
find them one year isn't necessarily where
you'll find them the next."
Fitzpatrick says any changes in how the oceans
are managed for salmon would come from the
Pacific Fishery Management Council, a regional
council with members from Oregon, Washington,
Idaho and California, that recommends fishery
management measures to the National Marine
researchers are keeping track of the salmon
through an onboard electronic traceability
system developed by the university over the past
several years. This innovative barcode system
allows commercial fishermen to log the location,
date and time of the capture, as well as onboard
handling techniques, for every fish captured.
harvested by a participant receives a metal tag
with a unique number and bar-code. A website
under construction will eventually allow a
consumer to access basic information about the
salmon: where and when it was harvested, by
whom, and from which river it originated.
Eventually, such a tool may play a major role in
marketing, according to Michael Morrissey,
director of the OSU Seafood Laboratory in
Astoria, and a principal investigator in the
identifying the river system through genetics,
and being able to accurately label a fish as
'wild,' the potential exists for fishermen to
brand their product and increase the value to
consumers," Morrissey said. "One such example is
Copper River salmon, which often command twice
the market price of similar fish, because of the
attributes attached to it."
As part of
the study, local salmon processors and buyers
are returning some of the heads from the
specially marked fish to the OSU Hatfield Marine
Science Center, where scientists will conduct
tests on their otoliths. Otoliths are
crystalline structures located in the inner ear
and act like growth rings in trees, recording
not only age, but chemical elements that provide
clues to the environment in which the fish
the fish stomachs will be retained by
participating fishermen and given to scientists
to reveal clues about the salmon's diet,
including how the proportion of baitfish
consumed might vary by season and between areas.
The fishermen involved in the project will
contribute data on oceanographic conditions
where the fish were caught, including depth and
temperature. Some of the fishermen participating
in the project say they are fascinated by the
science and hope it will help them locate fish
more effectively, as well as keep the season
year, it seems like the challenges for
commercial fishermen keep getting worse with
restricted limits followed by complete
closures," Merz said. "A lot of fishermen have
packed it in. But this project gives me some
hope. If it works the way it seems like it can,
and if management is adjusted accordingly -- and
that's a big if -- then it might be enough to
keep me going. If not, I'll be looking for a new
line of work and get on with my life."
information on this project is available at