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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

COLEMAN NFH: A Decade of Steelhead Kelt Reconditioning at Coleman NFH

Region 8, April 17, 2013
Hatchery personnel use a seine to congregate  and release steelhead kelts
Hatchery personnel use a seine to congregate and release steelhead kelts - Photo Credit: n/a

 By Marc Provencher

This April marked the 10th consecutive year that Coleman National Fish Hatchery (NFH) has released hundreds of reconditioned steelhead broodstock (kelts) so that they could attempt the return trip to their feeding grounds off the California coast. The reconditioning program utilizes the ‘air-spawning’ method, where a pneumatic-hypodermic needle is used to non-lethally harvest eggs from female broodstock. After spawning, kelts are transferred to a large gravel-lined pond where they are fed commercial fish feed for at least six weeks.

The now decade-long program has been a tremendous success, with many reconditioned kelts making a second or even a third return to the hatchery. Kelts are marked with an inconspicuous elastomer dye that fluoresces when exposed to ultraviolet light. Different colors of elastomer dye are used each year, allowing for the identification of both how many and which years an individual fish has previously returned to the hatchery. Several fish have now received three separate colored elastomer marks indicating they have returned to the hatchery three different years.

In addition to elastomer marking, this year kelts are being inserted with a passive integrated transponder, or PIT tag. The PIT tag uses similar technology as the ‘microchips’ that veterinarians use to identify lost pets. Each PIT tag has a unique code associated with it enabling for the identification of individual fish. The PIT tags will provide data on growth, run-timing, and survival of return spawners.

Coleman National Fish Hatchery is located in Anderson California on Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River. The hatchery is open for self-guided tours seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to dusk. During the months of October and November guided tours are available for groups on spawning days. For more information, or to schedule a tour please contact the hatchery at (530) 365-8622 or visit our website at www.fws.gov/coleman/

Marc Provencher is a fish biologist at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, California.

Contact Info: marc provencher, , marc_provencher@fws.gov