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Interior Spending Bill Includes 'Mass Marking' Requirement

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 28, 2003

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are concerned about the cost and manpower needed to comply with a recently enacted congressional requirement for federal and federally funded salmon hatcheries to mark all juvenile fish.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., inserted the new requirement into the Interior Appropriations bill, which was passed as part of a multi-agency funding bill that was signed by the president last week. Dicks is the ranking Democratic member on the House appropriations panel that funds the Interior Department.

The bill directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to "implement a system of mass marking of salmonid stocks, intended for harvest, that are released from federally operated or federally financed hatcheries, including but not limited to fish releases of coho, chinook, and steelhead species."

Dicks said his plan will facilitate recovery of wild stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act. In marking, the adipose fin is clipped for visual identification and a coded wire inserted in the snout for data gathering and monitoring purposes. Marking reduces negative interactions between wild and hatchery fish and allows selective harvest of hatchery fish, which are not part of the endangered population. Dicks said the new requirement also complements hatchery reform efforts.

Only a portion of the salmon reared in Northwest salmon hatcheries is marked. "With new automated technology developed in the Pacific Northwest, however, it is now possible to increase dramatically the number of marked fish," he said.

The legislation provides funding for the purchase of portable, automated mass marking machines, as requested by the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The machines are able to process large numbers of salmon quickly. The spending bill allocates $1.6 million for Idaho for two mass markings, for example.

"We simply must adopt new and more comprehensive strategies such as this one in order to assure viable populations of fish available for harvesting, while protecting wild fish," Dicks said.

The mandate applies to all federal hatcheries, as well as state and other hatcheries that receive federal assistance. Much of the work will be done at the state level, including the federal Mitchell Act hatcheries on the Columbia River operated by Washington and Oregon.

Amy Gaskill, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region office in Portland, said the agency support mass markings on selected fisheries but has concerns about the new requirement.

Gaskill said it would cost "quite a few" millions of dollars to implement and runs counter to agreements between Fish and Wildlife and Northwest tribes with fishing treaty rights. Under those agreements, fish allocated for tribal use as returning adults are not marked.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials are scheduled to meet with Washington Fish and Game Department officials next week about to discuss "what this mass marking really means," Gaskill said Friday.

About 16 million Columbia Basin fall chinook, for example, are not marked. Figures on what portion of other hatchery stocks are unmarked were not immediately available.

States do most mass markings but Fish and Wildlife also does a substantial amount. "We have mass marking trailers that come around to our hatcheries" before juvenile fish are released, Gaskill said.

The program helps with conservation of endangered fish by allowing monitoring of annual populations and the number being caught along with hatchery fish, she said. If harvest takes too many wild fish, federal officials can change the harvest regimes to correct the problem.

Interior Spending Bill Includes 'Mass Marking' Requirement
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 28, 2003

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