ODFW Announces Steelhead Tagging Program

April 15, 2024 By: Spencer Durrant

rainbow trout

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced last week the implementation of a new program to track steelhead.

According to the agency’s website, “Biologists are putting satellite ‘pop-off’ tags on 10 adult winter steelhead in the Rogue and Chetco rivers this spring. The goal is to tag ‘kelts’ – the fish that already successfully spawned and are heading back to sea.”

What’s interesting about steelhead is that, per ODFW, these fish are rarely encountered in commercial fishing operations. Salmon, on the other hand, routinely show up as bycatch (or sustain a commercial fishery of their own, depending on the species). Since salmon show up as bycatch, or sustain their own commercial fishing seasons, scientists are able to piece together a more complete picture about their life cycle.

Steelhead, however, are elusive in the open ocean, and scientists know little about where they spend their time before they return to rivers for spawning seasons.

The pop-off tags ODFW will use will transmit “position, temperature, and depth when a tag comes close enough to the surface.” The tags will save 180 days’ worth of information before detaching.

If successful, this project should help us understand more about where steelhead spend their time in the ocean, and potentially give us new insight for helping these failing stocks.