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It’s all in the genes — including the tracking device

Cutting-edge technology used to genetically tag fish in the Snake River Basin

Parentage-based tagging (PBT) is an emerging genetic-based fish tagging method that involves genotyping hatchery broodstock. PBT is a passive non-invasive approach to tagging because the parents, not the offspring, are genetically sampled at spawning, thereby “tagging” the offspring.

This method provides the same information as traditional physical tags but also allows for collection of information that previously was impossible or impractical to gather using traditional tagging methods.

According to the article published today in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences: “This study in the Snake River basin is one of the first large-scale implementations of PBT in salmonids and lays the foundation for adopting this technology more broadly … thereby allowing the unprecedented ability to mark millions of smolts and an opportunity to address a variety of fisheries-based research and management questions.”

Genetically tagging hatchery-reared fish using PBT is extremely efficient because genotyping hundreds of broodstock parents results in millions of tagged offspring. When fully implemented, PBT can “tag” 100% of hatchery-origin fish.

“The role of genetic methods in fisheries management has reached a milestone,” says Craig Steele, a researcher at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Fish Genetics Laboratory in Eagle, Idaho, and lead author of the study. “The main application of this technology is to provide information on the origin and age of hatchery fish. But it can also provide additional information relevant to conservation and management efforts including assessments of genetic diversity, relative reproductive success, and the heritability of different physical or behavioral traits”.

Since 2008, a regional sampling effort by collaborating state, tribal, and federal agencies has resulted in the implementation of this genetic tagging approach in hatchery-origin steelhead and spring-summer Chinook in the Snake River Basin. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) verified the accuracy of this new approach and presented the results of their collaborative study in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

The IDFG is committed to adopting PBT as a tool for fisheries management. Collaborative efforts with CRITFC are now underway to expand genetic sampling outside the Snake River Basin and throughout the Columbia River Basin. Adopting this genetic approach for fisheries management positions the region among the first to use this cutting-edge technology.

This article is available free on the CJFAS website: Validation of Parentage-Based Tagging for hatchery steelhead in the Snake River basin”

Author contact:
Craig Steele
Media contact (publisher):
Jenny Ryan
About the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Published since 1901, the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (CJFAS) is one of the world’s top fisheries journals and is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. CJFAS is published by Canadian Science Publishing and is part of the prestigious NRC Research Press journal collection.


Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) publishes the NRC Research Press journals but is not affiliated with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). Papers published by CSP are peer-reviewed by experts in their field. The views of the authors in no way reflect the opinions of CSP or the NRC. Requests for commentary about the contents of any study should be directed to the authors.

Jenny Ryan | EurekAlert!
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