The Truth On State, Tribal, Federal Salmon Fin-clipping

Editor’s note: The following is Tony Floor’s monthly newsletter and is run with permission.

By Tony “The Truth” Floor, Fishing Affairs Director, Northwest Marine Trade Association

A couple of columns ago, I received a reply from a reader who asked several questions about the program (federal, state and tribal) requiring all hatchery Chinook and coho salmon to be adipose fin clipped prior to their release. The program, for those of us who have been wallowing in salmon management for years, is designed to help salmon anglers identify a wild fish (unmarked and natural adipose fin) versus a hatchery-produced fish (missing fin). Got my drift?

To my knowledge, this activity, required by federal law, has not been examined publicly since its implementation years ago. Although this writing does not represent any form of investigative review, I thought the writer’s question about oversight, partially clipped adipose fins, and related questions is worthy of discussion. Ready to go for a ride?

A CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER ENTERS ONE OF NORTHWEST MARINE TECHNOLOGY'S HIGH-SPEED AUTOFISH FISH MARKING TRAILERS. (USFWS)

A CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER ENTERS ONE OF NORTHWEST MARINE TECHNOLOGY’S HIGH-SPEED AUTOFISH FISH MARKING TRAILERS. (USFWS)

One of the debates I hear over and over on the water and off is if the tribes are marking all of their hatchery fish? Further, is a fish that shows some deformity in the adipose fin actually a hatchery fish, or simply a result of the attempted clipping process?

I began my attempt to learn more by discussing these issues with the folks at Northwest Marine Technology, who have led the science of fin clipping adipose fins for decades here in Olympia. They introduced me to a research paper, authored by Daniel Thompson and H. Lee Blankenship, produced 20 years ago and printed in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Sounds pretty techy, huh?

The paper is called “Regeneration of adipose fins given complete and incomplete clips.” Once I started to read this document, I paused for a moment in order to put on my white lab coat, helping me to comprehend the science.

In summary, sparing you further MC^2 divided by XYZ math, the report suggested that there is significant regeneration of the adipose fin IF the removal is done by hand (versus the new computer-driven machine that accomplishes the clipping). The report further suggested that one out of four clips regenerate again if a technician is attempting the task and the clip is not 100% successful. A technician can remove between 5 – 8,000 adipose fins per day.

MASS-MARKING STEELHEAD AND SALMON, INCLUDING COHO LIKE THIS ONE HELD BY A SPORT ANGLER, HELP DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN HARVESTABLE HATCHERY FISH AND WILD STOCKS THAT MAY BE IN TROUBLE AND NEED TO BE RELEASED. IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE, ENOUGH FIN-CLIPPED COHO WERE RETURNING TO SQUAXIN ISLAND TRIBE NETPENS THAT A SPORT FISHERY WAS OPENED IN WESTERN AREA 13 LAST FALL, AND ANGLERS LIKE JOSH WEINHEIMER ENJOYED SOME BANG-UP FISHING IN A YEAR THAT SAW SHARPLY REDUCED OPPORTUNITIES. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

MASS-MARKING SALMON HELPS DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN HARVESTABLE HATCHERY FISH AND WILD STOCKS THAT MAY BE IN TROUBLE AND NEED TO BE RELEASED. IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE, ENOUGH FIN-CLIPPED COHO WERE RETURNING TO SQUAXIN ISLAND TRIBAL NETPENS THAT A SPORT FISHERY WAS OPENED IN WESTERN AREA 13 LAST FALL, AND ANGLERS LIKE JOSH WEINHEIMER WERE ABLE TO ENJOY SOME BANG-UP FISHING IN A YEAR THAT SAW SHARPLY REDUCED OPPORTUNITIES. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

But today, with the advanced technology of the automated machines designed to clip adipose fins, one machine can clip between 60,000 to 100,000 fins per day. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife clips around 90 million adipose fins every spring at salmon hatcheries throughout the state. Toss in the feds and tribes, and the number is closer to over 150 million clipped adipose fins. It is also important to recognize that the automated machines are nearly perfect in complete adipose fin clips (1 in 400 partial clip), much better than the older technology of clipping by hand.

Once this effort began nearly two decades ago, there was considerable rumor that some tribes were reluctant to participate in the new requirement. Today, that is not the case. The tribes ARE clipping their hatchery Chinook and coho and use the new automated machines, producing a near perfect product. Case closed and end of debate.

In summary, it is important when attempting to land a Chinook or coho salmon in Washington, that a careful examination of the adipose fin or healed scar from a removed adipose fin is done. Regenerated adipose fins are not uncommon and with as much certainty as possible, deformed regenerated adipose fins are clearly a hatchery-produced fish. However, if the adipose fin is anatomically perfect, the chances are extremely possible that it is a wild fish. And, if there is any thought to remove the adipose fin on the water while in an area where all wild or adipose-bearing fish must be returned, enforcement from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will be eager to meet you.

February Saltwater Options

For this angler, February is a great month to go salmon fishing. The banks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca are heating up along with Sekiu to Port Angeles for great winter blackmouth fishing options. We are typically also coming out of the tough days this past winter has delivered and I’m pawing the dirt to get on the water.

Speaking of tough days on the water, the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby, the longest standing salmon derby in Washington called by some as the Iron Man Salmon Derby, is just around the corner Feb. 17-19. The biggest winter blackmouth entered in this 3-day tournament will dish out $10,000 bucks. Need some quick cash, Vern? You can learn more by heading to NorthwestSalmonDerbySeries.com. See you on the water.

Facebook Comments

2 thoughts on “The Truth On State, Tribal, Federal Salmon Fin-clipping”

  1. I personally have caught fish that have not been clipped but had a coded wire tag. What can you tell me about that? I have caught both chinook and coho with no clipped fin and had coded wire tag. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi, Ryan, just because a salmon has a coded wire tag does not necessarily mean it’s a hatchery fish. It just means that it was captured and tagged at some point, most likely when it was young and in its stream of origin. If you go to the Columbia DART site, http://www.cbr.washington.edu/dart, you can use the PIT Tag Adult Returns page to produce data on when PIT-tagged wild salmon and steelhead triggered sonar arrays at the various dams. The data includes details on where each fish was originally captured and tagged. I’ll give you a pro tip: This part of the website is a GREAT way to track hatchery spring Chinook returns to Wind River and Drano Lake.

      AW
      NWS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *