Review of a Research Proposal for Inclusion in the 1997 Smolt Monitoring Program: Comparative Survival Rate Study of Hatchery PIT Tagged Chinook

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Estimates of the effects of the hydroelectric system on the health of salmon populations are essential to guide development and implementation of salmon mitigation policy for the Fish and Wildlife Program (FWP) of the Northwest Power Planning Council, and the Endangered Species Act Biological Opinion on Operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System of the National Marine Fisheries Service (BiOp). Together the FWP and the BiOp represent the collective understanding of the region and the nation on how to protect the salmon resources from some of the most onerous of the effects of human development of the Columbia River basin. Measuring the adequacy of the suite of salmon protection measures which has been implemented according to the specifications of the FWP and the BiOp is of vital interest to the region, the United States, and Canada. Success in the implementation of salmon conservation actions is vital because each action can influence the future of the economic cornerstones of agriculture, transportation, and electric power on which we all depend.

Solving the complex puzzle which describes the fate of a small salmon as it finds its way to the sea through the 344 miles of reservoirs and eight dams of the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers has consumed large quantities of scientific talent and financial resources for six decades, yet the puzzle has been slow to yield its secrets. It is only during the past decade that advances in the technology of marking fish have made it feasible to simultaneously monitor the fates of a large number of individual fish over very short periods of time within the hydroelectric system. Yet while it has been technically feasible to gather highly detailed information to guide the implementation of the FWP and the BiOp for nearly a decade, such information is now available for only a limited number of localities and time periods for only a few types of salmon. The programs necessary to adapt and implement state-of-the-art fish marking and monitoring technologies within the Columbia River basin have apparently lagged substantially behind the advent of the technologies. The subject research proposal seeks to advance the application of a state-of-the-art fish marking technology, the passive integrated transponder tag (PIT tag), within the Columbia River basin.

The proposal lists four objectives

  1. Estimate smolt-to-adult survival rate (SAR) for transported wild and hatchery stream-type chinook.
  2. Determine if SAR rates of wild chinook are significantly different from the interim SAR hydroelectric goal.
  3. Compare SARs of transported and down river indicator stocks of chinook.
  4. Estimate Transport/Inriver ratio and inriver survival concurrently over a number of years in order to span a range of environmental conditions.

For implementation on salmon which emigrate in late winter and spring of the current year, 1997, the proposal requires applying the PIT tags to a relatively large number of juvenile salmon which will shortly be moved to holding facilities where, it is our understanding, such marking would not be feasible. Therefore, time is of the essence in the implementation of the tagging phase of the proposed study. If the FWP and the BiOp are to have the information on the juvenile salmon emigration of 1997, funding is required as soon as possible.

As part of its review of the request for funding of the proposed study, the Northwest Power Planning Council (NPPC) requested the ISAB to conduct a review of the scientific basis of the proposal. The results of ISAB response to the NPPC request follow under the headings of Summary of Findings and Recommendations, General Questions and Concerns, and Statistical Methodology Questions.

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