The researchers were able to distinguish between wild and hatchery-raised fish by analyzing the banding patterns in fish ear bones, called otoliths. Like tree rings, characteristic light and dark bands in the otoliths reflect daily growth increments, and the width of the bands indicates growth rates. The differences observed between otoliths from wild and hatchery-raised fish are the result of differences in the availability of food at a critical transition in the salmon life cycle, when the young fish (called fry) have used up the food supply in their yolk sacs and must start feeding themselves, Barnett-Johnson said.
"In the wild, they hide in the gravel until they use up the yolk sac, and then there is a period of slower growth while they learn to feed on aquatic insects. This abrupt transition and slow growth are captured in the growth bands of the otolith," Barnett-Johnson said. "In the hatchery, there is an abundant supply of food, so the transition is smoother and growth bands are wider."
Every fish, therefore, carries an identifier of its origin as a natural tag in the earbone, which has significant advantages over techniques for tagging fish, she said. Coded wire tags (CWTs), for example, have been used to mark fish for some studies. But only a small fraction of hatchery fish and even fewer wild fish are tagged or marked in California, according to Barnett-Johnson. Some small hatchery operations clip the fins of all hatchery fish so they can be distinguished from wild fish, but fall-run chinook salmon are not marked that way. As a result, there have not been good estimates of the proportion of wild fish in the population until this study, she said.
"The only other estimates out there pointed in the other direction--significantly more wild fish than hatchery fish," Barnett-Johnson sai
|Contact: Tim Stephens|
University of California - Santa Cruz