An Injectable Acoustic Transmitter for Juvenile Salmon

Lucy Towers
06 April 2015, at 1:00am

Salmon recovery and the potential detrimental effects of dams on fish have been attracting national attention due to the environmental and economic implications. In recent years acoustic telemetry has been the primary method for studying salmon passage, but now Z. D. Deng et al, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have developed the first acoustic fish transmitter that can be implanted by injection instead of surgery

Five species of Columbia River Basin salmonids (Oncorhynchus spp.) and 13 of their 19 evolutionary significant units have been listed for protection as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the significant population decline.

Salmon recovery and the potential detrimental effects of hydroelectric dams and habitat loss on fish survival have been attracting significant national attention in the last two decades due to the environmental and economic implications.

To aid in the recovery, it is critical to develop better technologies for increased understanding of the behavior of migrating salmonids through impounded river systems in order to optimize the designs and operations of dam passage facilities and improve the survival rates of salmonids.

In 1987, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) initiated a program to assess the engineering and biological performance of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS). Emphasis was placed on making structural and operational changes to FCRPS dams that would enhance the survivorship of juvenile salmon migrating downriver to the ocean.

The process of increasing survivorship during dam passage required studies to evaluate the biological and engineering performance of the existing structures and operation, development of alternatives that could improve dam passage conditions, and implementation of the highest priority alternatives. This was followed by an assessment of the changes in dam passage survival, produced by modifications in dam structures and operations.

Over the years a number of different survival assessment methods were tested, with selection of telemetry as the best available technology to provide the dam passage metrics needed to evaluate the effectiveness of dam passage improvement alternatives. Initially, commercially available implantable radio and acoustic telemetry transmitters and dam-mounted receivers were used.

The challenge was that the available transmitters were large and, in the case of radio telemetry, required that an antenna be passed through the body of the fish so that it trailed bare in the water outside of the body of the fish, while the transmitter remained within the tagged fish's stomach or abdomen (depending upon the method of implantation used to tag study fish).

Eventually, acoustic telemetry became the preferred telemetry method used to obtain measures of fish dam passage survival and other migration behavior metrics. However, the available transmitters were large, limiting tagging of study fish (implantation of a transmitter) to the largest portion of the out migrating population.

In addition, the implantation surgeries required extensive handling of study fish, which was thought to potentially negatively bias fish survival measures and other migratory behavior metrics. The USACE initiated a project with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and The National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce the size and weight of acoustic transmitters, transferring any technology developed to the private sector through competitive procurement actions targeted to provide commercial volumes of acoustic micro-transmitters that were smaller in size and weight than those that were previously commercially available. The result was the Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS), consisting of acoustic micro-transmitters and autonomous and cabled receivers.

The initial JSATS micro-transmitters were smaller in size and weight than their commercially available predecessors but still required surgeries for implantation in the abdomens of study fish. Study results indicated that the new transmitters and advancements in surgical procedures would provide improvements in dam passage survival studies.

Additional investigation of micro-transmitter designs, particularly evolving micro-battery technology, showed that significant reductions in the cost of survival studies and in fish handling effects could be obtained by additional reductions in micro-transmitter size and weight, and by designing a transmitter that could be implanted in a fish's abdomen by injection using a syringe and needle as opposed to a surgery requiring an incision, hand insertion of a transmitter, and sutures.

After careful consideration of potential benefits and a technology feasibility assessment, development was initiated to design and test a JSATS micro-transmitter with the same operating characteristics of larger transmitters, while being considerably smaller and implantable by injection.

A summary of the article is available here:

April 2015

Further Reading

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