2014 Research Report

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ARI, established in 1988, began conducting genetic analyses for CRITFC in the late 1990s, building a research collaboration that continues to grow.

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Students doing research on local fish

Collaborating for Healthy Fisheries

UI Institute, Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Partner for Facilities, Research

By Tara Roberts
Photos by UI Photo Services

At the end of a winding road near the Snake River in Hagerman, Idaho, a lab houses two fisheries research powerhouses: the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute, or ARI, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, known as CRITFC.

ARI, established in 1988, began conducting genetic analyses for CRITFC in the late 1990s, building a research collaboration that continues to grow.

“They were so pleased with genetic analysis of salmon and trout populations we generated that they decided to create their own program, and we developed an agreement to partner with them here,” says ARI director Ron Hardy. “We share equipment, we share lab space, we share other resources, we work together on projects.”

CRITFC focuses on the conservation and recovery of salmon and other key native fish species in the Columbia River Basin, while ARI studies aspects of aquaculture including food production, fisheries enhancement and stock restoration. Researchers in the two programs have found many areas in which they can benefit each other.

“University of Idaho provides an academic research environment that allows us not only to bring in our own interests, but overlap with some expertise that UI researchers have,” says Shawn Narum, lead geneticist at CRITFC.

UI provides unbiased scientific information to help CRITFC make resource-management decisions, while CRITFC provides the university with insight into tribal research priorities and needs.

James Nalger The team effort allows the programs to buy high-end genetic analysis equipment that would be difficult for either to afford on its own. CRITFC and ARI collaborate on educational opportunities for tribal biologists and hatchery personal, and CRITFC scientists sometimes serve as adjunct professors at UI. Several CRITFC employees are recent UI graduates.

CRITFC’s genetic expertise has helped UI researchers on projects such as its trout-breeding program, which develops selected strains of fish that thrive on plant-based diets. Working with CRITFC, UI researchers are now sequencing DNA samples from the specially bred trout to examine how they are genetically different from other trout.

Working with CRITFC provides UI with a personal, long-term relationship with Pacific Northwest tribes, Hardy says, opening doors for communication and trust as well as research collaboration.

“The partnership gives us many opportunities to interact with members of the tribes, and this leads to new insights on how to better use the university’s resources to deliver value to them in both research and education,” he says. “Plus, by co-locating our programs, it benefits our scientists and students, and helps us develop a more complete perspective on the resource issues facing the state.”