Grover’s Creek set to release chinook

Desrai Wells with the NW Indian Fisheries Commission check the machines that clip and tag the salmon fry before they are returned to the rearing ponds at the Hatchery. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Desrai Wells with the NW Indian Fisheries Commission check the machines that clip and tag the salmon fry before they are returned to the rearing ponds at the Hatchery.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

SUQUAMISH — Using water flow and high-tech machines, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s automatic tagging and clipping trailer was camped out at the Grover’s Creek Hatchery this week, readying chinook bred last fall for release.

Tagging the fish and clipping off their adipose fins, located between the tail and the dorsal fin, will allow both fishermen and other hatcheries to identify the fish. It will also help the NWIFC in its ongoing mission to more accurately follow the life cycle of salmon and collect data on it.

This is the third year the “auto trailer,” as it’s called, has stopped at the Suquamish hatchery, following a circuit from February to August in which it visits different tribes and their hatcheries.

Starting April 10, NWIFC fisheries biologist Jason Norton, along with trailer assistant Desrai Wells and various tribal helpers, worked their way through nearly 450,000 fish, 200,000 of which were tagged with one code, 200,000 tagged were with another code and had their adipose fin clipped. The remaining 45,000 fish at the hatchery just had their adipose fin clipped.

“When sports fishermen catch a fish, they have to throw it back if its adipose fin is missing,” Norton said. They are allowed to keep the state regulated amount of wild salmon though. “Congressman Norm Dicks really wanted all fish in the state of Washington to be adipose clipped unless they were part of a study.”

In addition to the auto trailer, the NWIFC has two manual trailers, and one small trailer just for clipping. The auto trailer uses machinery and water flow to encourage the young fish into a chute that clips and tags them in quick succession, Norton said. The tag is placed in the fish’s snout, and the fin has to be clipped more than 60 percent to guarantee it won’t regenerate, he said. Later, when the fish is caught as an adult, it’s scanned for a tag, and if it has one, the snout is cut off and sent to a lab to be analyzed. This shines more light on the salmon’s life cycle and its travels to and from the Puget Sound.

Any fish too large or small for the automated machines is sent to one end of the trailer where they are manually tagged. All are manually clipped. A chemical called MS-222 is used to sedate the fish during the process. The chemical can be tricky, however, and human hands aren’t as deft in the clipping and tagging process as the machines, Norton said.

“This is the most fun he has,” Suquamish resident and trailer worker Rene Heredia said of her fiance Sonny Lawrence, who was also helping in the process Wednesday. “This is our third year clipping and tagging, and we both really enjoy it. We do go down to Gorst as well and help there, as those are also our fish, too.”

The commission tries to employ as many local residents from different areas as possible when the trailers arrive. That’s how Wells got involved with the auto trailer — Norton noticed how much she enjoyed working with the fish and asked her stay on as an assistant.

“Last year, I was down in Nisqually clipping, and Jason saw how much I loved it and kept me on and trained me,” Wells said. “I came into it as an extra job, and now it’s a seasonal job. I love it.”

The fish will soon be released into the wild to make their way to the Puget Sound, before most of them return to the waters of Suquamish.

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