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PIT tags enable anyone to follow steelhead, salmon migrations

This PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag is a tiny “pin” placed inside fish, which transmits information on how far they travel, how fast, etc. 

 (Tess McBride / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
This PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag is a tiny “pin” placed inside fish, which transmits information on how far they travel, how fast, etc. (Tess McBride / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

FISHERIES RESEARCH - A tiny transponder inserted in a random sample of hatchery and wild salmon and steelhead enables scientists and the public to track the fish migrations up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag is an electronic tag the size of a tiny piece of spaghetti, measuring 12 mm long by 2.1 mm in diameter.

Click here for details on how the tags are used for tracking fish as well as the website the public can tap to find out where the fish are in their migration.

Incidentally, juvenile spring chinook salmon collectively dubbed Sammie the Salmon are being followed on their 600-mile downstream migration by combining PIT tag technology with a Facebook page in an educational project launched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The young salmon were tagged and released recently at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery and are being tracked with images, video and updates as they head down the Methow and Columbia rivers to the ocean.

The first spring chinook from WNFH arrived at Rocky Reach Dam on April 21 at 8:30 p.m. The PIT tag showed that it had covered 100 river miles in 3.2 days! Since then, more than 600 PIT tagged chinook have reached that milestone.

Read on for more info about Sammie Salmon.

On April 19, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region Fisheries Program began an eight- week "Sammie the Salmon" social media campaign, which follows a spring Chinook released from Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, near the Canadian border, as she travels 600 miles and passes nine dams on her two-month journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Using Twitter and Facebook, the Service will track Sammie with images, video and updates on the dangers she faces (e.g., dams, predators), her observations of the ecosystem around her, and the physical changes she experiences on her voyage from the Methow River to the Columbia River, and finally, to the Pacific Ocean in mid-June.

"The Columbia River system provides a source of power to several western states while continuing to support populations of (hatchery and wild) salmon and steelhead," said Chris Pasley, Hatchery Manager of Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

"Learn how hydropower and Pacific salmon have coexisted for more than 70 years despite many challenges the fish have faced, including loss of habitat, a slower migration corridor (series of reservoirs versus a free-flowing river), harvest (tribal, sport and commercial), increased predation opportunities by birds and other fish, domestication in hatcheries, increased water temperatures and de-watering from irrigation practices, and fish passage challenges over or through the dams on the Columbia River."

The intention of this social media project is to provide entertaining and informational messages regarding a keystone Northwest species. The Service hopes both youth and adults will engage in this campaign, which is designed to inform the public about the journey of salmon released from a Northwest hatchery to the Pacific Ocean, including the abundance of obstacles they face, and illustrate the human impact on ecosystems that salmon depend on for survival.

Sammie is one of 450,000 Spring Chinook released at Winthrop this week, in addition to 100,000 steelhead and 300,000 coho. Part of the hatchery’s conservation goal is to assist with the recovery of spring Chinook in the Methow River.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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