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OSU researchers find eDNA method trumps electrolysis in fish counts


January 27, 2021

By Molly Rosbach

Oregon State University Writer

Delivering a minor electric shock into a stream to reveal any fish lurking nearby may be the gold standard for detecting fish populations, but it’s not much fun for the trout.

Scientists at Oregon State University have found that sampling stream water for evidence of the presence of various species using environmental DNA, known as eDNA, can be more accurate than electrofishing, without disrupting the fish.

“It’s revolutionizing the way we do fish ecology work,” said Brooke Penaluna, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service who also has an appointment in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “You can identify species from a bottle of water using genetic tools. When you go out to the site, I can tell you what’s in that stream just based on what’s in this bottle of water.”

Penaluna is lead author on a study published Wednesday in Ecosphere that compared the efficacy of eDNA sampling and electrofishing in detecting how far upstream coastal cutthroat trout were present in coastal and Cascade streams throughout Washington and Oregon.

Determining how far upstream fish are present is crucial for guiding forest management practices, as streams with fish in them receive more protections than streams without fish. It also helps inform conservation by improving scientists’ understanding of specific species’ distribution and movements.

Electrofishing has been the standard method for surveying fish distribution in bodies of water since the 1960s. It involves sticking two electrodes into the water and applying direct current, which affects fish swimming nearby and causes them to swim toward one of the electrodes. The person doing the sampling can then scoop up the dazed fish in a net and collect data before returning them to the water, where they resume normal activity within a few minutes.   

 Research sampling for eDNA has been used for over a decade but is not widely used yet in industry or resource management. It involves collecting water samples on-site and running lab tests to check for the presence of DNA for certain species of fish, which the fish shed regularly through excretion and changes in their skin or mucus.

 The OSU study tested the effectiveness of eDNA in finding the “last fish” point, the farthest upstream fish are present. The researchers looked for coastal cutthroat trout as they are the fish most commonly found the highest upstream in streams on the west side of the Pacific Northwest, due to their life cycle and size.

 Researchers chose 60 coastal streams in Oregon and Washington and conducted eDNA sampling and electro-fishing every 50 meters up to 250 meters upstream of the last recorded “last fish” point for each stream.

 They found that in streams where electrofishing detected no trout, there was still a 40% chance that eDNA sampling would show evidence of their presence. eDNA detection revealed fish higher upstream than electrofishing did in 31 streams, in some cases up to 250 meters above where electrofishing pinpointed the “last fish.”

 However, both methods still struggled to detect trout when the fish were in low density.

 The researchers determined that eDNA is a useful complement to electrofishing, especially in places where debris or vegetation make electrofishing impractical, but it’s not a full replacement. eDNA detection is less disruptive to fish and requires fewer permits for researchers, but electrofishing provides researchers the opportunity to record other physical data about the fish, including size, health and appearance, that eDNA detection does not allow.

 “We’re trying to make the point that we’re not aiming to eliminate electrofishing; just that we can use this as a complement to that, to provide more information quickly and cleanly,” said Ivan Arismendi, co-author on the study and an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

 “You can use one and the other like a confirmatory tool — so if you have a question about endangered species, you can use both, and you can be more robust about the presence if both methods agree.”

 The researchers hope eDNA detection becomes more popular, as the cost and time required to run eDNA tests continues to fall and field-based equipment is becoming more readily available. eDNA detection in a nearby stream would even be possible to use for a school project, Penaluna said.

 “I think there’s really broad use for this,” she said. “Now I think the next steps are for managers and policymakers to start drawing some of those guidelines.”

 The study was an example of co-production science where federal, state and private landowners worked with researchers. Penaluna collaborated with OSU researchers Arismendi, Jennifer Allen, Taal Levi and Tiffany Garcia; and Jason Walter of the Weyerhaeuser Centralia Research Center in Washington.

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The Bonneville Power Administration and its partners have reported that in 2020, for the 23rd consecutive season, the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program met its annual goal to remove 10% to 20% of pikeminnow, 9 inches or longer, in the Columbia and Snake rivers that prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead.

Last year 103,114 fish were removed by 2,450 registered anglers, an average of 6.5 fish per day per angler. The total paid to anglers was $839,461. The top individual angler removed 5,579 fish, earning $48,501.

The program, funded by BPA and administered by Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and the states of Oregon and Washington, has run for 30 years, typically from May 1 through Sept. 30. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak last spring, governors in Washington and Oregon closed or limited fishing in some areas and curtailed access to some boat ramps. Those facilities were reopened later in May and the sport reward program began 11 days later than usual. To help make up for the delayed start, the season was extended to Oct. 11, 2020. 

When the season opened May 11, registered anglers again had the opportunity to make $5 to $8 for each northern pikeminnow at least 9 inches long, and specially tagged northern pikeminnow were worth $500. Program managers temporarily increased the reward to a flat $10 per fish late in the season to spur angler participation – which was a bit lower than normal due to the pandemic – and to take advantage of favorable river conditions during the season’s 11-day extension in October. However, the program will resume its pre-pandemic bounties when the northern pikeminnow season kicks off again in spring of 2021.

The goal of the sport reward fishing program is to reduce the number of larger northern pikeminnow in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Since 1990, anglers paid through the program have removed more than 5.2 million predatory pikeminnow.

“Northern pikeminnow is a native species that eats millions of juvenile salmon and steelhead each year in the Columbia and Snake river systems,” said Eric McOmie, BPA program manager. “When we remove the larger northern pikeminnow, more young salmon and steelhead have a better chance of making it to the ocean and eventually returning to the basin as adults.”

Biologists estimate that the program has reduced predation on young salmon and steelhead by up to 40% from pre-program levels.

The 2021 season is expected to operate from May 1 through Sept. 30, 2021. For more information about the program, call 800-858-9015 or visit

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Big game and turkey hunters have until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, to report their tags online or at a license sale agent to avoid long phone queues.

Hunters need to report on every deer, elk, bear, cougar, turkey and pronghorn tag purchased or issued as part of a Sports Pac license, even if they didn’t harvest an animal or go hunting.

If you have never used ODFW’s online licensing system, it’s easy to set up your account. Go to and use “Verify/Look Up” to find your profile which will include any tags you need to report. Enter your ODFW ID number (printed on all licenses and tags) and follow the directions to set up your account. An email address is required. Once you have set up your account, click under “Mandatory Reporting” to complete your reports.

Hunters can also visit any license sale agent (businesses that sell hunting and fishing licenses) to report. License agents will not charge hunters a fee for this service.

Hunters who fail to report a deer or elk tag by the deadline will be charged a $25 penalty, payable when they purchase a 2022 or future hunting license. (The deadline to report is Jan. 31, 2021 for any hunt that ends by Dec. 31, 2020 and April 15, 2021 for 2020 hunts that extend into the new year.)

The information reported by all hunters helps ODFW determine harvest and hunting pressure for each hunt, and is used to help set tags. This information is also available to hunters on the Big Game Harvest Statistics page at

As an incentive to report on time, every hunter who does is entered to win one of three special tags ODFW offers each year. Winners can choose a deer, elk or pronghorn tag that is valid statewide during a four-month season, similar to auction and raffle tags which people can pay thousands for.

This year, Richard McCurter from Saint Helens drew the tag and took a bull elk in Wenaha Unit (see photo above).

ODFW offices remain closed to walk-in visitors due to Covid-19. Staff are available by phone and email but again, hunters are encouraged to report online or at a license sale agent rather than wait on hold.

While ODFW Licensing staff can take reports by phone at (503) 947-6101, call hold times can already exceed 90 minutes and are expected to increase as the Jan. 31 reporting deadline approaches.

To learn more about mandatory reporting, visit or listen to the Beaver State Podcast.



Richard McCurter from Saint Helens with the Wenaha bull elk he took in 2020 after winning the incentive tag.

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The seventh annual Winter Wildlife Field Day(s) will be held March 1-14 at the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge located 10 miles south of Corvallis, off Highway 99W.

This year’s theme is “Nature in your Neighborhood.”  Seventeen community partners have come together to offer two weeks of activities: crafts, games, hands-on science, self-guided nature explorations, videos, story times, field guides, and even some pop-up activity stations at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge and animal searches in local parks.  The traditional passport and patch are back and everything will be available in both Spanish and English. 

Event information and details can be found at .

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Black-capped chickadee at feeder.

Sick pine siskin. Photo by Tim Akimoff.

ODFW and wildlife rehabilitators are seeing an increase in reports of sick birds at feeders.

Calls to ODFW from Oregon bird lovers seeing dead birds in their yard and around their feeder typically increase with colder weather. When the weather turns cold, the energy demands on birds and other wildlife increase dramatically so a high energy seed meal at a bird feeder will bring in birds and congregate them, increasing the chance of disease transmission.

Salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria along with viruses, parasites and fungal diseases can be passed by congregating birds at feeders that don’t get cleaned regularly.

Pine siskins, nuthatches, chickadees and other seed-eating backyard birds are some of the most common species affected by these diseases. The birds get infected at the feeders and pass the infection on when they come into contact with feeder surfaces, perches or visit multiple feeders.

“If you enjoy seeing birds and feeding them in winter, please provide a clean and healthy environment for them,” said Dr. Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian. “When you feed birds, be sure to start with clean feeders and to disinfect feeders periodically.”

Avoid problems at bird feeders by:

Take down feeders and stop feeding for several weeks to a month if there are bird deaths at your feeder.

Providing fresh seed purchased recently.

Using feeders made from non-porous material like plastic, ceramic, and metal. These are less likely than wood to harbor bacteria and other diseases.

Cleaning feeders, water containers and bird baths monthly by rinsing with soapy water and then dunking the feeder in a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.

Cleaning up old seed hulls and waste below the feeders by raking, shoveling, or sweeping material and discarding in the trash.

Spreading your feeding over several areas or feeders as not to congregate birds in one place.

Cleaning feeders more often (weekly) if you have large numbers of birds at your feeders.

Visiting with your neighbors who also feed birds and sharing this information.

Contacting ODFW (866-968-2600/ email or your local Wildlife Rehabilitator if you see sick birds.

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Hunters are offering up $2,000 in additional reward money for information regarding three elk poached in late October. The reward now stands at $2,500 for information leading to a citation related to the bull, cow and spike elk carcasses left to waste near Sisters.  

Oregon Hunters Association chapters bolstered the standard reward, which for an elk is $500 or four hunter preference points. Redmond chapter contributed $1,000 and the Capital and Josephine chapters each contributed $500 to bring the new total to $2500. Preference points for information leading to a citation remain at four. 

Poachers killed a bull, a cow, and a spike elk west of Bend on or about Oct. 28. The animals were discovered separately, but all three were in the same area and appear to have been killed at the same time. Two were left to waste in a blatant demonstration of a thrill-kill. The third, a large bull, had its head and shoulders removed as a trophy.  

OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers discovered the first carcass, a cow elk, on Oct. 30 after a call to the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line from a hunter who came across the carcass while scouting the Dry Canyon area east of Sisters near Hwy 126 and Quail Tree Drive. Troopers investigating the area around the cow subsequently discovered a large bull elk carcass. Although bull elk were in season at the time, the poacher had taken only the head, antlers and some shoulder meat.

It is a crime to leave carcasses to waste even if it is legal to kill the animal.

Two days later, on Nov. 1, another call came through on the TIP Line from a hunter who reported finding a spike elk carcass. A spike elk is a one-year-old male. Troopers located the spike elk about 40 yards from where the cow had been. Based on decomposition, all three animals were shot at or near the same time, and certainly the same day according to OSP F&W Sergeant Lowell Lea.

“They were all killed at the same time-or close to it- on opening day of the season,” Lea said, “Even if someone makes a mistake and kills the wrong animal, at least if they report it they aren’t committing the additional crime of leave to waste.”

Senior Trooper Creed Cummings, who processed the scene, agrees.

“Sometimes people are reckless in shooting and they get the wrong species or gender. We were hoping that at least the cow (meat) would be salvageable, but it wasn’t,” he said, “It’s disappointing that they were just left. And it adds another charge to the initial crime.”

Oregon’s Stop Poaching campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw agrees. ‘This is a blatant waste of Oregonians’ natural resources,” she said, “Not only have these animals been removed from legal hunting in season, they are also removed from chance encounters with hikers, photographers and others who appreciate the opportunity to experience wildlife. We treasure those memories for the rest of our lives.”

All three elk were most likely shot on opening day of the East Central Cascade elk season which runs Oct. 28 through Nov. 1. OSP Troopers would like anyone in the area who heard shots at night or noticed anything unusual on opening day of the season to call the TIP Line and report it.

The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching. This campaign is a collaboration among hunters, conservationists, land owners and recreationists. Our goal is to increase reporting of wildlife crimes through the TIP Line, increase detection by increasing the number of OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers and increase prosecution. The Oregon Hunters Association manages TIP Line reward funds. This campaign helps to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitat for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw for more information.

OSP Troopers would like anyone in the area who heard shots at night or noticed anything unusual on opening day of the season or have other information to call the TIP Line and report it. The TIP Line number is *OSP (*677) or 800-452-7888. 

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Oregon Coast Aquarium has reopened following a shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but access is limited and visitation will be subject to some new rules.

To maintain state guidelines for safety, the aquarium will have timed tickets and a one-way pathway through the facility. Due to Oregon’s new COVID-19 risk-level guidelines and to ensure proper safety precautions, only 25 visitors will be allowed per half-hour time slot or a total 325 visitors per day.

Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with the last tickets booked at 3:30 pm. Aquarium entry doors close at 4:15 p,m. Plan to arrive by 4 p.m. The aquarium will be closed on Christmas Day.

Members must call (541) 283-1129 between the hours of 9:30 am – 4:00 pm to make a reservation. Reserved spaces are available to members in each time slot. Non-member tickets must be reserved and purchased online at

For more information, visit

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Oregon is blessed with a plethora of boating opportunities year-round but fall and winter require more preparation and planning. This year is no exception and boaters are urged to take a few extra steps to ensure a safe voyage.

Oregon’s waterways are cold year-round and noticeably cold now, so dress for the water temperature and expect to get wet. For paddlers, SUPers, and rafters, the Marine Board recommends wearing a wet suit, dry suit, warm layers, and a life jacket designed for the activity. At a minimum, carry a cell phone in a dry bag/container or other communication device, and share a float plan with friends or family so they can call for help if you are overdue. 

Fall rains can also cause dramatic rises in river flows. Because of this year’s historic wildfires, these fluctuations may be quicker and larger, and more debris is entering the rivers and lakes. The water is staying muddy much longer as well. Boaters are encouraged to monitor NOAA weather for their region, check river gauges and reservoir levels, and to visit the agency’s interactive Boat Oregon Map with information to contact facility owners and learn if access is open. The Marine Board works closely with marine law enforcement to assess reported navigation obstructions as well, adding verified obstructions to the map with river sections to avoid or recommendations for safe passage, where possible. Conditions are dynamic, though, with new obstructions reported almost daily right now. Scout ahead in unknown waters.

Boating has become a great escape during this time of COVID but requires vigilance and skill. If you’re new to boating, take advantage of a free online paddling course or other boating safety education offerings for motorboat operators. Start out in locations that are calm and sheltered from rapidly changing conditions due to weather or water volume.

Learn more at

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Updates to 2021 Big Game Hunting Regulations

All archery deer hunting in eastern Oregon is by controlled hunt. See pages 34-35 of the 2021 Big Game Hunting Regulations for the controlled archery deer hunts.

Eastern Oregon controlled archery deer tags are not valid in the western Oregon general archery season.

West Cascade Elk general season has been moved to the second week of November.

One continuous season for General Any Legal Weapon Western Oregon buck deer tag in the Coast and Cascade units.

Bag limit for the Desolation Unit during the general archery elk season is now one bull elk.

New California bighorn sheep ewe hunts in each of the John Day River and Deschutes River hunt areas. (Ewe hunts are not once-in-a-lifetime hunts, so you can still draw a ram hunt after drawing the ewe hunt. Sheep hunts are not based on preference points so you won’t lose points by drawing the ewe hunt.)

Other new hunts, hunt name changes, and a few hunt number changes including a NEW Santiam Unit Late Traditional Bow controlled hunt.  

Updates to 2021 Sport Fishing Regulations

Clarification of fishing areas on the McKenzie River.

New regulations to protect redband trout in the Southeast Zone including:

Catch-and-release only and use of artificial flies and lures in Agency Lake and the Link River.

Limit of one rainbow trout over 15 inches per day in Sprague River.

Single point hooks only in all sections of the Williamson River.

Closure of the Gilbert River to sturgeon harvest for the entire year. Only artificial flies and lures allowed April 16-May 15.

No decision has been made yet on whether or not the two-rod validation will be allowed in the Willamette River spring Chinook fishery in 2021. Any updates will be announced by news release and on the Willamette Zone regulations update page.

Licensing system changes

Paper taggers can no longer validate tags on the MyODFW app: The latest version of the app to be released in early December 2020 will no longer allow paper taggers to tag on the app. This change is to reduce confusion because paper taggers are required to use their printed tag. Paper taggers can still use the MyODFW app to see all their licenses and tags. Switch to electronic tagging anytime by logging in and changing your setting under Your Account / Your Profile. 

Resizing tags: Tags and permits may not be resized, and must be printed to the original size. However, you can trim excess paper up to the border of the document itself. 

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ODFW is looking for people with an interest in hunting, wildlife conservation and land management to serve on the Access and Habitat Program’s statewide board and regional councils.


Volunteers in these positions meet quarterly to consider funding projects that open private land to hunting access or improve wildlife habitat for game animals.


The statewide board and regional councils are each made up of seven volunteers — three landowner representatives, three hunter representatives, and the Chair.


Find application materials at


ODFW is currently accepting applications for the following positions:

Statewide Hunter Representative – Apply by Jan. 31 (see Statewide board application)

Statewide board members are appointed to four-year terms by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. They meet four times each year in various communities throughout the state to review project funding applications, hear public testimony and act as liaisons between the program and the public.


Regional Council positions – Open until filled (see Regional Council application)

Applicants for the regional positions should live or work in that region (see map). Duties of the position including participation in up to four public meetings each year in various communities in their region to review A&H project proposals and conduct other council business. Contact the Regional Council Coordinator for more information.


Northwest Region, which includes Linn County:

One Landowner Representative

One Hunter Representative


The A&H Program is funded by a $4 surcharge on hunting licenses and the sale of deer and elk raffle entries and auction tags. The program has opened millions of acres of private land to hunting, find A&H properties available to hunt at


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