A standard operating procedure for the surgical implantation of transmitters in juvenile salmonids

Open-File Report 2012-1267
By: , and 



Biotelemetry is a useful tool to monitor the movements of animals and is widely applied in fisheries research. Radio or acoustic technology can be used, depending on the study design and the environmental conditions in the study area. A broad definition of telemetry also includes the use of Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags, either separately or with a radio or acoustic transmitter. To use telemetry, fish must be equipped with a transmitter. Although there are several attachment procedures available, surgical implantation of transmitters in the abdominal cavity is recognized as the best technique for long-term telemetry studies in general (Stasko and Pincock, 1977; Winter, 1996; Jepsen, 2003), and specifically for juvenile salmonids, Oncorhynchus spp. (Adams and others, 1998a, 1998b; Martinelli and others, 1998; Hall and others, 2009). Studies that use telemetry assume that the processes by which the animals are captured, handled, and tagged, as well as the act of carrying the transmitter, will have minimal effect on their behavior and performance. This assumption, commonly stated as a lack of transmitter effects, must be valid if telemetry studies are to describe accurately the movements and behavior of an entire population of interest, rather than the subset of that population that carries transmitters. This document describes a standard operating procedure (SOP) for surgical implantation of radio or acoustic transmitters in juvenile salmonids. The procedures were developed from a broad base of published information, laboratory experiments, and practical experience in tagging thousands of fish for numerous studies of juvenile salmon movements near Columbia River and Snake River hydroelectric dams. Staff from the Western Fisheries Research Center's Columbia River Research Laboratory (CRRL) frequently have used telemetry studies to evaluate new structures or operations at hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin, and these evaluations typically require large numbers of tagged fish. For example, a study conducted at the dams on the Columbia River and funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required tagging and monitoring of 40,000 juvenile salmon during a 3-month migration period (Counihan and others, 2006a, 2006b; Perry and others, 2006). To meet the demands of such a large study, the authors and CRRL staff refined the SOP to increase efficiency in the tagging process while maintaining high standards of fish care. The SOP has been used in laboratory and field settings for more than 15 years, and consistently has produced low mortality rates (<1 percent) and transmitter loss rates (<0.01 percent) in the 24-36 hours after tagging. In addition to describing the detailed surgical procedures required for transmitter implantation, this document provides guidance on fish collection, handling and holding, and the release of tagged fish. Although often overlooked, or at least underemphasized, these processes can have a large impact on the outcome of the tagging procedure. Stress associated with the individual steps in handling and tagging can be cumulative and lethal (Maule and others, 1988; Wedemeyer and others, 1990; Portz and others, 2006), so the goal is to provide the best possible fish care at every step in order to manage the overall effect on study fish.
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title A standard operating procedure for the surgical implantation of transmitters in juvenile salmonids
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2012-1267
DOI 10.3133/ofr20121267
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description iv, 50 p.
Country United States
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