Review of the Estuary Recovery Module

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At NOAA Fisheries' request of November 27, 2007, the ISAB reviewed the draft Columbia River Estuary ESA Recovery Plan Module for Salmon and Steelhead. The ISAB's full review is attached.

Background. The estuary module is intended to complement all Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead recovery plans. Specifically, the purpose of the module is to identify and prioritize habitat-related management actions, that, if implemented, would reduce threats to salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River estuary and plume. The estuary module was prepared to link with the upstream recovery plans of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) Biological Opinion as the estuary is a common area for all stocks in the Columbia River Basin.

In the context of the lower Columbia River management plans, the estuary module is said to be consistent with information in the Council’s "Mainstem Lower Columbia River and Columbia River Estuary Subbasin Plan (NPCC, 2004), the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce’s Columbia River Estuary Data Development Program. In addition, other ongoing planning processes will be using information from the estuary module to various degrees. These include the FCRPS Biological Opinion remand collaborative process and activities of the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board and Lower Columbia Stakeholders Group.

ISAB Conclusions. The ISAB recognizes that the estuary module is a framework plan that visualizes what needs to be done in the estuary over the next few decades and as such is a pioneering effort. Very few estuary management plans for salmonid habitat restoration have had such a broad scope. In general, the ISAB found that the module adheres to a sound conceptual framework inferring connections between limiting habitat factors and salmon survival. However, the module leans heavily toward management tools and not to science and therefore should not be couched as a scientific document. The ISAB was concerned about the transparency and credibility of the document and strongly suggests that future versions of the module:

  • Consider and incorporate the ISAB’s comments,
  • Acknowledge the scientists that provided input and review of the module,
  • Use a formal expert opinion approach that involves more estuarine experts in the region,
  • Provide more rigorous scientific documentation with a focus on primary literature,
  • Highlight the interaction between estuary and ocean and indicate that, without long time series of data, ocean variability (e.g., upwelling, regime shifts) could mask the benefits of the recovery of estuarine habitat,
  • Document the basis for the 20 percent increase in estuarine survival and how it will be measured,
  • Prioritize selected restoration actions with multiple benefits even though fish responses may be difficult to recognize, and
  • Incorporate an adaptive management strategy when designing RM&E and action effectiveness studies.

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