December 12, 2023 | News
Made of stainless steel, coming in at just 1.1 millimeter long, and found on six continents in the world, the Coded Wire Tag (CWT) has revolutionized the world of fish management. And it’s produced right here in Anacortes.
Northwest Marine Technology, Inc. (NMT), located at the Anacortes Airport, is the leading developer and manufacturer of tagging products—including the CWT—for fish and wildlife. Their products have been transformative for fisheries and are now the primary tool used to manage West Coast fisheries, with nearly 3 billion fish tagged with the CWT since NMT opened its doors.
Founded in 1971 on Shaw Island by physicist and innovator Keith Jefferts, NMT started out with a focus on manufacturing the CWT. This tag was conceived and developed a decade earlier in the 1960s by Jefferts and his friend Pete Bergman, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fisheries. As the lead biologist in charge of managing fish studies, Bergman was frustrated with the inefficiencies of tracking fish, which at that time was largely done by clipping a fish’s fin. He began looking for an alternative way to track fish and soon began collaborating with Jefferts to develop a new tagging system. Their work resulted in the CWT, a magnetized stainless-steel wire just 1 millimeter long that could be injected into the fish. This tiny tag has a unique six-character code. That code identifies a group of fish or an individual animal and can be detected, removed, and read under a microscope. The CWT revolutionized fish tracking and introduced a new, non-impactful tracking system that could be implemented at a large scale.
After Jefferts founded NMT and began manufacturing and selling CWTs at this large scale, the company took off. Starting with just a few employees, NMT soon grew and opened additional offices in Anacortes and Olympia. Today, NMT has a team of 32 employees and offers a variety of implant tags, injectors, and detectors to customers throughout the world. In addition to the CWT, NMT also offers visible implant tags. These are larger in size and visible externally and are often used for smaller projects or to meet specific needs of various species. Along with the tags themselves, NMT manufactures and sells the tools and equipment needed to inject, detect, remove, and read the tags.
NMT also manufactures the AutoFish System, a mobile unit that uses advanced technology to rapidly sort and tag fish with the coded wire tag. This was developed as an alternative to manual clipping and tagging to help government agencies implement their ambitious fish tagging efforts.
It was during the development of the AutoFish System that landed NMT in Anacortes. The company needed additional space to manufacture this product, so they leased property from the Port and began constructing their building in 1998. Strategically located at the Port of Anacortes’ Airport, their office allowed for easy access from their main office on Shaw Island. Construction started on a second facility on Port-owned property in Anacortes in 2019. When that was complete, NMT closed its Shaw Island office.
While the company and employees have remained local, and their impact is global. NMT sells their products to a range of companies, agencies, and organizations, while primarily focusing on resource managers. They sell their products in Washington state, nationwide and globally, including to local governments, tribes, universities, and a variety of research institutions.
There continues to be a sustained demand for fish management both locally and abroad, and NMT’s products and services remain crucial in supporting these efforts. Particularly in the Northwest, where fish populations like salmon are integral to the ecosystem and face threats of decline, the significance of NMT’s work is paramount. NMT and its employees remain dedicated to their work and optimistic about a future with salmon and other key species in it. While it may be a tenuous path ahead, their work remains vital each step of the way – one millimeter at a time.
Learn more about NMT and their work at https://www.nmt.us/