The lifetime of projects is not always a decade in the making, however that was the case for this Biomark project. It began in 2006, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration, initiated a research and development project to develop a spillway PIT tag detection system.

PIT tag detection systems were present at juvenile bypass systems and the majority of fishways in the Columbia River, but there was no way to detect PIT-tagged fish passing through the spill. Yuri Smirnov led the design of all antenna prototypes, the Biomark F3001 transceiver, as well as, the half-telegram tag or “Fastag” concept.


The project initiated with an effort to place antennas on the trailing edge of a spillway tainter gate at Bonneville Dam and culminated with embedding antennas in a spill bay at Lower Granite Dam; nearly 13 years later. Ultimately, eleven antennas were embedded in the spillway ogee with each antenna measuring 8.5 feet long and 5 feet wide. Each antenna is controlled by a separate FS3001 transceiver located in an electronics room adjacent to the monitored spill

The final system: transceiver, antenna and tag, provided tag detection of nearly 50 inches above the antenna, far exceeding today’s standard low-profile or pass-by antennas where 24-30 inches is acceptable. Tests conducted at NOAA Fisheries facility in Pasco, Washington demonstrated that a standard 12-mm FDX-B tag could be detected at 30 inches above the antenna while traveling 70 feet per second, that’s almost 48 miles per hour. This past December, personnel from Biomark, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission tested antennas at different points of the spillway and found that performance exceeded the figures from the initial install tests. The system will begin full operation in April 2020 and the region is anxious for this first of a kind spillway PIT tag detection system.