Generally, a bar code on food means processed food. But soon, West Coast consumers might be scanning food that isn't processed at all: fresh fish.
As part of a research effort aimed at learning more about where salmon from specific river systems migrate in the Pacific Ocean, some fish caught on the West Coast will go to market with bar codes that can be scanned to reveal when and where the fish was caught.
In addition to providing consumers with information about their food, researchers hope that the data will enable resource managers to permit fishing while protecting depleted runs in certain rivers.
Oregon State University researchers are working with colleagues and fishermen in Washington and California to collect tissue samples this summer from as many as 20,000 chinook salmon. More than 200 vessels on the West Coast are participating in the project and more than half of them are from Oregon.
Gil Sylvia, superintendent of OSU's Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, said the cooperative fishery project was a massive effort using digital tools to record data within hours of completed trips.
"To me, this is the future of green management," Sylvia said.
The fishermen will log the time and location they catch salmon using global positioning system technology. The data will then be entered on the Pacific FishTrax website, www.pacificfishtrax.org. When the salmon are sold in local markets, consumers can enter the bar code number from the salmon into computer kiosks to learn when and where the fish was caught.
The Pacific FishTrax program was pilot-tested last year with albacore tuna at New Seasons markets in Portland with great success, Sylvia said. The data also will be accessible by fishermen from the water, where they will be able to find out what fish populations are being caught and even calculate fuel usage, helping them decide how and where to fish next.
Sylvia said a new generation of data logging instruments will be tested this summer that ultimately will allow fishermen to send and record the data via satellite in "near real-time."
There are "lots of moving pieces" with the project, Sylvia acknowledged. "We're kind of pioneering some of this."
The project had been shut down for the past two summers because the ocean was closed to commercial salmon fishing for most of that time.
Participating fishermen will collectively receive $1 million in compensation from a variety of grants, contracts and disaster assistance funds.
OSU President Ed Ray and Rep. David Wu of Oregon's 1st Congressional District met with some of the researchers Thursday at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Wu said the study is significant because it will improve river management, which will benefit fishermen.
"The fishermen continue to make a living, live a culture they want to maintain," he said. "The endpoint is letting fishermen make a living on the water."