Advances in Fish Tagging and Marking Technology

A Coordinated Mass Marking Program for Salmonines Stocked into the Laurentian Great Lakes

Charles R. Bronte, Kenneth A. Walch, John M. Dettmers, Marc Gaden, Michael J. Connerton, Marion E. Daniels, and Tammy J. Newcomb


Abstract.—Fisheries managers in the Laurentian Great Lakes annually stock over 30 million salmonines (salmon and trout) to diversify sport fisheries, restore native fish populations, and control invasive fishes. However, little is known about how well these fish survive, contribute to the fisheries, and reproduce in the wild. As a result, the Council of Lake Committees (CLC), a basin-wide group of fishery managers that operates under the auspices of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, agreed in 2005 to develop a basin-wide program to mark all stocked salmonines. This marking effort would provide greater insight into survival of stocked fish, the contribution of stocked adults to restoration of native fishes, the ability to manage harvest away from wild fish, and the opportunity to evaluate and improve hatchery operations. After evaluating the available marking and tagging options, the CLC chose to pursue mass-mark ing of all stocked salmonines. The program is based on the Pacific Northwest Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus sp. marking program and utilizes adipose fin-clips and coded-wire tags. When fully developed, the program aims to tag all hatchery-reared trout and salmon released in to the Great Lakes (about 30 million annually). The full program will require nine automated trailers and four manual trailers (total equipment costs: $13.7 million U.S. in 2007). Annual operations including tags, recovery efforts, and tag extraction services, will cost about $5.9 million. An operational plan has been completed to mark all fish prior to stocking, and to recover tagged fish as part of regular fishery surveys from anglers, commercial fishers, and charter boat operators. A data management system will be developed to cooperatively archive and analyze recovery data to answer questions of lake-wide or basin-wide scope. Efforts are underway to communicate to stakeholders the benefits of mass marking and to secure the necessary funding for equipment and annual operations. Project leaders expect this program to be fully implemented within five years but that schedule is predicated on funding levels and subsequent agency commitment. This project is an excellent example of cooperative, proactive efforts to improve and refine fisheries management across the Great Lakes basin.