Tagged salmon will be captured and studied when they return
By Scott Graves
Triplicate staff writer
Workers at Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery Monday began the long, arduous task of tagging and clipping 50,000 baby chinook salmon that will swim their way to the Pacific Ocean this summer.
The grueling work is being done with hopes of studying fish behavior and survival rates, officials said.
We still dont know that much about why they do what they do, said Jerry Ayers, a fish hatchery manager for the California Department of Fish and Game.
For the next two weeks, Ayers and other workers will scoop up the 2-inch-long, 6-month-old fish from a staging pond and clip their rear dorsal fins for future identification.
The nose of each fish will be placed against a machine that shoots a tiny wire tag into the nose cartilage.
The tag contains a barcode and is magnetized so Fish and Game officials can identify the fish when they return from the ocean to spawn years later, Ayers said.
Commercial and sport fishermen are asked to return any of tagged fish they catch. Fish and game officials at various docks also keep an eye out for the marked fish, he said.
When found, the nose of each fish will be cut off and sent, along with some scale samples, to a laboratory for study. Each scale reveals the age of the fish, much like the rings of a tree, Ayers said.
The 50,000 tagged chinook salmon will be released along with another 200,000 into the Smith River in June.
The fish will remain in the river until their bodies have gone through a chemical change that allows them to swim in salt water. Once the change is done, they will head downstream and into the ocean, Ayers said.
During that time, Humboldt State University students will be diving at the mouth of the Smith River to study how long it takes the fish to reach the ocean, Ayers.
The fish, if they survive, will return to the hatchery in three to five years. At that point, they will be trapped and studied, Ayers said.