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Cost of fish tagging programs questioned

Tagging troutIt’s estimated about $70 million was spent during fiscal year 2012 for various forms of fish research tagging and/or marking, within the Columbia River basin. The research aims to inform fish managers about the status of fish populations such as salmon and steelhead stocks that are the target of federal, state and tribal preservation and restoration efforts.

But one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to assessing how to spend a limited pot of money according to a report, “Cost-effectiveness of Fish Tagging Technologies and Programs in the Columbia River Basin,” prepared by the Independent Economic Analysis Board for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC).

Much of the study money is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration as mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife caused by the construction and operation of the Columbia-Snake river hydro system. BPA markets power generated in the 260,000 square mile region’s federal hydro system that includes 250 hydroelectric projects built over the past 115 years. Locally, the hydro system includes Cougar Dam.

The NPCC sought, through a “Fish Tagging Forum” process involving fish tagging project proponents and others, to deter-mine where tagging funding would be most appropriately, effectively, and efficiently spent. Fish of various species and stocks are tagged to obtain data on their numbers, harvest rates, behavior, habitat use, mortality rates, as well as the success of hatchery and other enhancement programs.

“Fish tagging generates information on over one hundred ‘indicators’ that are used to address a wide range of management questions,” the report says.

As a part of its review effort the Independent Economic Analysis Board (IEAB) launched development, and tested the application, of a Fish Tagging (FT) mathematical programming model as a tool for evaluating the cost effectiveness of fish tagging. The model was used to evaluate the differences in cost between coded-wire tags and genetic marking for harvest indicators.

“Despite some cost advantages in tagging and other qualitative advantages, under current conditions, the model suggests that high sampling and lab costs for genetics makes it more expensive than coded-wire tags (CWT) for most stocks.”

“Genetic marking, however, generates data that has qualitative advantages over CWT data, and may have advantages over CWT in some situations. For example, CWT is not cost-effective for monitoring harvests of wild stocks and genetic marking may have cost advantages in basins with few non-target fish in the fishery, such as the Snake River basin,” the report said.

Further development – in collaboration with others in the region-- of the model is needed, IEAB member Bill Jaeger told the Council during its June 18th meeting in Missoula, Montana. But the IEAB feels ultimately that the model can help answer some of those difficult questions.

The Council decided last week to offer the new report, and the model it utilizes, for public comment. The report can be found at

Image above: The Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife  has been using radio tagging for the Lower McKenzie River Trout Population Study. One of the fish was “Sonya,” a  16” Rainbow Trout tagged last October and released near river mile 19.


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