NWIFC member tribes created the tribal fish health program in 1988 to meet the growing fish health needs of their salmon enhancement and supplementation programs. Today the fish health program is staffed by four fish pathologists and one microbiologist and is supported by a fully equipped fish health diagnostic lab. The program’s goal is to assist tribes in rearing and releasing healthy fish that will help to sustain a tribal fishery or restore a wild population. The tribal fish health program provides services to its member tribes in preventative fish health care, disease diagnostics and treatment, and also provides training and educational opportunities that promote the development of tribal hatchery staff. Specific services are described below.
Fish Health Monitoring: The tribal fish health program promotes preventive care through implementation of a pro-active fish health monitoring program. The monitoring program is designed to maintain the health of the fish while they are in the hatchery and to identify and correct problems before they occur. NWIFC pathologists conduct monthly health exams on fish stocks at each tribal hatchery from the time the adults return to spawn until the time their progeny are released from the hatchery as smolts.
Vaccine Production: The tribal fish health program also promotes preventative care through the production and administration of autogenous vaccines against two bacterial diseases, enteric redmouth disease and vibriosis. These vaccines, administered in the water, stimulate the fish’s immune system to naturally fight off invasion by disease-causing bacteria. They provide a low cost, safe, and effective method of preventing fish diseases without the use of drugs.
Adult Health Inspection: The tribal fish health program also promotes preventative care through the implementation of the adult health inspection program. This program, mandated in The Salmonid Disease Control Policy of the Fisheries Co-Managers of Washington State, involves NWIFC fish pathologists annually screening a representative number of adults from each broodstock at tribal hatcheries for regulated viral pathogens. Test results provides tribal hatchery staffs with an early warning that fish pathogens have been carried on their site with returning adult broodstock. This early warning allows the hatchery staffs to take pro-active steps to prevent the pathogen from spreading to other fish on site. It also provides tribal managers with key information regarding the pathogens that the broodstock may have transmitted to their progeny. This information can be used to reduce the risk of transferring pathogens between watersheds with eggs or fish transfers.
Disease Diagnostics and Treatment: If a disease event does occur, NWIFC fish pathologists are available to promptly visit the site, diagnose the problem, and recommend corrective measures. The pathologist assesses the general condition of the fish and their rearing environment and will screen for fish pathogens that may be involved. Once the cause of the mortality is identified, the pathologist will recommend a course of action to resolve the problem. If a drug or chemical treatment is necessary, pathologists will work closely with hatchery staffs to ensure the drug is administered safely and effectively.
Training and Education: The tribal fish health program promotes the development of tribal staff in fish culture and fish health by providing continuing education and training opportunities in these areas. This is done primarily through the Hatchery Technician Workshop Series. This series is designed to provide continuing education and training opportunities to tribal hatchery technicians on a regular basis in all aspects of artificial propagation and fish health. It provides an opportunity for new tribal technicians to receive formal training in the technical aspects of their jobs and gives veteran technicians the opportunities to stay abreast of new developments in the field.