**The title, authors, and abstract for this completion report are provided below. For a copy of the completion report, please contact the GLFC via e-mail or via telephone at 734-662-3209**



Standardized surgical procedure for the implantation of electronic tags in key Great Lakes fishes Version 1.0.


Steven J. Cooke1, Karen J. Murchie2, Sarah McConnachie3, Tony Goldberg4



1 Carleton University, Ottawa, ON


2 College of The Bahamas, The Bahamas


3 University of Prince Edward Island, PEI


4 University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI


September 2012




Critical aspects of our knowledge of fish behavior, ecology, and physiology rely upon our ability to study free-swimming fish in their natural environment (Claireaux et al. 1995). Without this information, the management and conservation of fish, other aquatic organisms, and environments is very difficult. One suite of methods that enable us to acquire this knowledge is collectively referred to as biotelemetry and biologging (Cooke et al. 2004; Block 2005). The characteristics of biotelemetry and biologging are similar; both involve the monitoring behavioural, physiological, or environmental information or combination of these from an animal remotely. Common techniques in biotelemetry include radio technology, acoustic technology and passive integrated transponder (PIT) technology whereas biologging includes archival loggers. Relative to many other fisheries techniques, these tools are recent (i.e., 1950s). Because of the immense power of this technology to elucidate fundamental and applied aspects of fish ecology, biotelemetry and biologging techniques are becoming common (Lucas and Baras 2000; Cooke et al. 2004; Block 2005). As a result, state, provincial, federal, and tribal biologists and managers, academics, and even fish culturists are adopting these techniques widely.


In recent years there has been an apparent increase in the use of these technologies, and in particular telemetry, to study the spatial ecology and mortality of fish in the Laurentian Great Lakes. In fact, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission has recently received funds enabling the acquisition of significant telemetry infrastructure that could be used by researchers to generate data in support of Great Lakes management. The installation of telemetry arrays in the Great Lakes is similar to several other initiatives in the Pacific Ocean (Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking program) and globally (the Ocean Tracking Network) where multiple users collaborate on different projects, each user depending upon telemetry technology as the backbone for their project. Data on fish detections are typically stored in a common database with appropriate meta-data. One of the main benefits of a common database is that it enables comparative analyses to occur. In the Columbia Basin, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has recently recognized the power in conducting such broad-scale comparative analyses of telemetry data; they also realized that such comparisons are not yet possible given that the studies in the basin utilize different handling and tagging techniques (Brown et al. 2010). Given that there is wide body of literature documenting negative impacts of tagging (Bridger and Booth 2003), and given the many different ways in which animals can be tagged, there is a need to develop and validate standard techniques for tagging to enable comparisons among and between studies conducted by different researchers (Cooke and Wagner 2004; Wagner and Cooke 2005).


Beyond the benefits of comparative analyses, any attempts to refine tagging techniques will also improve the quality of the data being collected. A tenet of all tagging studies is that the presence of the tag or the tagging procedure do not significantly alter the behaviour, survival, physiology, growth, health or fitness of tagged fish relative to untagged conspecifics (Bridger and Booth 2003). Management decisions based on unreliable mortality estimates or habitat associations could lead to costly mistakes. Increasingly, researchers are also required to demonstrate to independent bodies (in the US called Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees and in Canada called Animal Care Committees) that the techniques used in the study of fish and other vertebrates are not only needed, but also maintain the welfare status of the animals in the study (Mulcahy 2003). When it comes to tagging fish, the most common approach for long-term studies is the use of intraperitoneal surgical implantation (Bridger and Booth 2003). Given that the procedure involves laparotomy (cutting open the coelom), animal care committees have been particularly critical when reviewing proposals. Researchers must justify their use of different techniques for all phases of the surgery (e.g., incision location, suture material, type of knot), usually borrowing data from other species. Accountability and transparency in the use of animals in research is becoming the norm, so being proactive in the

improvement of fish welfare in research is one of the best ways to ensure public and institutional support.


Recently, the USACE funded a research project to provide background and methodologies on the surgical implantation of acoustic transmitters into juvenile salmonids so that one standard protocol would be available for use on all future USACE telemetry studies (i.e., Brown et al. 2010). To our knowledge, that was the first attempt to generate a standard suite of methods for surgical implantation of tags in fish. Thus far, the work in the Columbia Basin has served to identify knowledge gaps and also elevate the surgical techniques that are used. Similar approaches are needed in other jurisdictions where large-scale tagging studies are conducted by different research groups and where there is potential for comparative studies.


The purpose of this document is to provide a suite of best practices for the surgical tagging of key Great Lakes fish. Given that most projects on the Great Lakes will involve tagging fish in the field (e.g., on a boat, dock, or shoreline), rather than in the laboratory, special consideration was made to develop protocols with this in mind. Use of the standardized techniques provided in this document will ensure that data obtained are reliable and comparable, and collected in a way that maintains the welfare status of the tagged individuals. This document is not intended to be static and should be updated at regular intervals to reflect new science. In addition, because a document alone cannot adequately convey all necessary aspects of the electronic tagging process we have developed several videos (posted on the internet) that will serve as a further resource for those embarking on tagging studies. We note that in all cases it is important to adhere to appropriate state/provincial and federal laws with respect to animal handling, surgery and use of anesthetics on animals that will be released in the wild.