Telemetry Techniques: A User Guide for Fisheries Research

Section 4: Techniques for Telemetry Transmitter Attachment and Evaluation of Transmitter Effects on Fish Performance

Theresa L. Liedtke and A. Michelle Wargo Rub

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874264.ch4

One assumption of nearly every biotelemetry study is that the tagged animals are representative of the untagged population. That is, that the processes by which study animals are captured, handled, and tagged, as well as the act of carrying a transmitter, will have minimal effect on their behavior and performance. This assumption, commonly stated as a lack of transmitter effects, must be valid if telemetry studies are to describe accurately the movements and behavior of an entire population of interest, rather than only of a subset of that population.

Considering the sequence of events necessary to implement telemetry studies (i.e., collection, handling, transmitter attachment), as well as the intrusive nature of many transmitter attachment techniques, it is likely that there will be some effect on the study animals. These potential impacts can range from mild to severe, from transitory to permanent, and may be manifest immediately or not for several days to weeks after tagging.

Direct physical impacts can include elevated stress levels, injury, or even death (Knights and Lasee 1996; Jepsen et al. 2001; Lacroix et al. 2004). Interrupted integrity of the scales, mucus, or skin can place fish at increased risk of infection (Mellas and Haynes 1985; Swanberg et al. 1999; Bauer et al. 2005; Harms 2005). Effects on fish behavior include altered buoyancy compensation ability (Gallepp and Magnuson 1972; Fried et al. 1976), reduced swimming performance (McCleave and Stred 1975; Counihan and Frost 1999; Makiguchi and Ueda 2009), reduced feeding, or changes in dominance status (Greenstreet and Morgan 1989; Armstrong and Rawlings 1993; Welch et al. 2007). Changes in behavior such as these can affect a fish’s growth, rate of maturation or migration, or increase its vulnerability to predation. At some level, these transmitter effects will be present in nearly every study using telemetry and if substantial, they can violate the critical assumption that tagged fish are representative of the untagged population.