Project CROOS (Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon) is truly that - fishermen, scientists, and regulatory agents work together to determine best management practices for Pacific salmon stocks. Initiated in 2005 and authorized through the action of the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board in 2006, Project CROOS uses genetic information collected by fishermen and analyzed in Michael Banks' Marine Fisheries Genetics Lab at COMES to help them target healthy salmon stocks and avoid weak ones.
Hatchery salmon traditionally have small wire tags placed in their noses that is encoded with information about the origins of that particular fish. When the fish is caught the tag is scanned to find out where that fish came from, which can provide information about the fish's origins and which stock it belongs to, as well as migration patterns from the stream of origin. The origins of wild salmon are a bit harder to track, which is where Project CROOS comes in.
Over the last thirteen years, Project CROOS has worked with over 150 fishermen who collect information from each wild Pacific salmon they catch. They take fin snips for genetic information and scale scrapings to determine age, which they then send to the Marine Fisheries Genetics Lab. Using waterproof tablets, fishermen also input very specific data that also gets sent back to COMES for analysis. Each fish is then barcoded with identification information, and this barcode stays with the fish from boat to market.
Once received, the fin snips and scale scrapings are prepared and DNA is extracted. This DNA is then used to track back to that particular fish's natal stream, which tells the researchers which population of Pacific salmon the fish belongs to. Used with the information about where the fish was caught, researchers, fishermen, and regulatory agents can learn not only where the fish came from but what its migratory pattern might have been. Pacific salmon migrate great distances and not always in predictable patterns, In addition, different stocks (and different individual fish) have diverse migratory habits. Data collected by Project CROOS illuminate all of these elements of the lives of Pacific salmon.
This data can also be used, almost in real time, to steer fishermen away from weak stocks and toward stronger stocks of salmon. If the data provided by fishermen indicates that fish from one natal stream are genetically weaker than those reared in other rivers, it is possible to inform other fishermen and the management agencies of the problem nearly immediately. This helps to ensure that the stocks which are in trouble are given the change to recover, while salmon fishermen are still able to fish all of the other Pacific salmon stocks that are stronger.
Over time and with careful management, the hope is that many of the 28 distinct Pacific salmon populations currently listed as either threatened or endangered will be able to recover. Although regulatory agencies are not quite ready to embrace real-time fisheries management strategies like Project CROOS to the exclusion of more traditional methods and project funding is always a challenge, the invaluable data collected moves the world one step closer to realizing that goal of recovery - while continuing to allow for utilization of healthy salmon stocks.