Models for capture-recapture data are commonly used in analyses of the dynamics of fish and wildlife populations, especially for estimating vital parameters such as survival. Capture-recapture methods provide more reliable inferences than other methods commonly used in fisheries studies. However, for rare or elusive fish species, parameter estimation is often hampered by small probabilities of re-encountering tagged fish when encounters are obtained through traditional sampling methods. We present a case study that demonstrates how remote antennas for passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags can increase encounter probabilities and the precision of survival estimates from capture-recapture models. Between 1999 and 2007, trammel nets were used to capture and tag over 8,400 endangered adult Lost River suckers (Deltistes luxatus) during the spawning season in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon. Despite intensive sampling at relatively discrete spawning areas, encounter probabilities from Cormack-Jolly-Seber models were consistently low (< 0.2) and the precision of apparent annual survival estimates was poor. Beginning in 2005, remote PIT tag antennas were deployed at known spawning locations to increase the probability of re-encountering tagged fish. We compare results based only on physical recaptures with results based on both physical recaptures and remote detections to demonstrate the substantial improvement in estimates of encounter probabilities (approaching 100%) and apparent annual survival provided by the remote detections. The richer encounter histories provided robust inferences about the dynamics of annual survival and have made it possible to explore more realistic models and hypotheses about factors affecting the conservation and recovery of this endangered species. Recent advances in technology related to PIT tags have paved the way for creative implementation of large-scale tagging studies in systems where they were previously considered impracticable.
Additional publication details
Improving inferences from fisheries capture-recapture studies through remote detection of PIT tags