New Microbattery Could Help Track Salmon Through Northwest Rivers

Researcher Jie Xiao with the microbattery, which packs twice the energy capacity compared to other microbatteries currently used to tag fish. | credit: Contributed photo by Kristin Nol / East Oregonian

Researcher Jie Xiao with the microbattery, which packs twice the energy capacity compared to other microbatteries currently used to tag fish. | credit: Contributed photo by Kristin Nol / East Oregonian

 

By George Plaven, East Oregonian, Source: OPB

A new microbattery no larger than a long grain of rice could help biologists track the movement of younger, smaller fish through Northwest rivers.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland developed the tiny battery to power transmitters placed in juvenile salmon and steelhead, monitoring the fish at earlier stages in their life cycle.

By studying how subyearling chinook behave and migrate down the Columbia River, federal managers can make better decisions to improve overall habitat and survival. The challenge is creating smaller tags for smaller fish, which take smaller batteries that still pack enough of a charge to work.

PNNL now believes it has the answer. Its battery, at 6 millimeters long and 3 millimeters wide, isn’t the smallest ever created but packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries, according to the lab’s findings.

That’s enough power for acoustic fish tags to broadcast signals every three seconds for about three weeks, or about every five seconds for a month. It’s also teeny enough to inject into fish using a hypodermic needle, as opposed to surgically implanting the transmitter, which is more expensive and stressful for the fish.

Brad Eppard, fisheries biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Portland, said battery size was the biggest obstacle to tracking such small juvenile salmon. This microbattery not only clears that hurdle, but essentially revolutionizes the market, he said. “We have a pretty good tool here,” Eppard said. “It helps us to better understand what’s happening when (the fish) are migrating.”

The Corps was first required to study subyearling fall chinook salmon based on a 2001 biological opinion by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Columbia River hydroelectric system. Researchers launched the Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System, or JSATS, developing tags for the young fish.

It took five years to get their first functioning transmitter, Eppard said. In 2010, the Corps turned to PNNL to create an even smaller, injectable device. Lab engineer Daniel Deng called on Jie Xiao, a materials science expert, to come up with the battery design.

Xiao and her team ultimately perfected a painstaking process that involved cutting snippets of battery material, running them through a flattening device and stacking them on top of each other in layers. Each battery is then rolled by hand with tweezers — like a jellyroll — and inserted into an aluminum container.

“It was pretty difficult in the beginning,” Xiao said. “Once you learn how, as well as all the tricks, it becomes very standard protocol.”

Samuel Cartmell and Terence Lozano, scientists in Xiao’s lab, hand-rolled more than 1,000 of the batteries last summer. A PNNL team led by Deng then surgically implanted 700 of the tags into salmon in a field trial at the Snake River, where preliminary results show the technology worked exceedingly well. More details about the experiment will be released in a later publication, according to PNNL. Xiao said she has high hopes for developing the tags, as well as other uses for the microbattery. Battelle Memorial Institute, which operates PNNL, has applied for a patent. “There is a lot of opportunity,” she said.

Puyallup Tribe tracking salmon making their way to newly restored habitat

Eric Marks, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, conducts a spawning survey downstream from a new logjam.

Eric Marks, salmon biologist for the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, conducts a spawning survey downstream from a new logjam.

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is already finding salmon using newly restored habitat on the Clearwater River.

“Its great to see salmon using the habitat so soon after the completion of the project,” said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe. “In a few months, the offspring of these fish we’re seeing migrate and spawn in the Clearwater will be able to use this habitat to rear and find food.”

So far this year, the tribe has counted more than 100 chinook and 250 coho in about a mile of restored river.

The project was managed by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group (SPSSEG).

Last summer a total of 18 large and small engineered logjams were installed in the Clearwater River about two miles up from where it joins the White River. Placement of these log jams will reconnect flows to a network of 11 existing side channels, dissipate floods, and increase instream structure and cover in the river.

“Adding the wood and instream structure to the river will encourage the river to move and create habitat in a way it always had,” said Kristin Williamson, SPSSEG project manager.

The Puyallup Tribe conducts extensive spawning surveys throughout the Clearwater for chinook, coho and pink salmon. Data from spawning surveys help natural managers assess the success of habitat projects. Fisheries managers also use the data to help build future salmon fisheries.

“Spawning surveys are a simple and essential tool for managing salmon,” Ladley said. “Nothing beats getting out on the water and counting fish.”

Just downstream from the project site the tribe also recently built a new juvenile chinook acclimation pond. The Puyallup Tribe annually transfers as many as 800,000 juvenile spring chinook from either a state or Muckleshoot tribal hatchery and raises them in several acclimation ponds in the upper White.

“Coho and chinook populations in the White River have demonstrated an encouraging upward trend over the past 15 years. Hopefully this project and other similar efforts will allow this trend to continue and extend to other species such as steelhead that that have not responded favorably,” Ladley said. “The best way to bring them back is to repair what habitat we can and protect what they have left.”