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5. Sturgeon

Strategy

Implement actions that result in increased abundance and survival for Columbia River Basin green and white sturgeon, including habitat actions, dam operations and passage, hatchery considerations, monitoring populations, and research to improve understanding of how the development and operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System affect survival and growth of  sturgeon.

Rationale

Columbia River Basin sturgeon distribution, abundance, and productivity are severely limited by habitat changes, particularly those associated with hydropower system construction and operation. Large areas of suitable sturgeon habitat remain throughout most of the historical range upstream from Bonneville Dam but use is currently limited by widespread passage limitations and natural recruitment problems that are the direct or indirect result of the development and operation of the Columbia River hydrosystem.

Food web issues, water quality (sedimentation, flow, temperature, and toxic contaminants), adequate prey for juveniles, and predators (sea lions) may have impacts on sturgeon. It is not fully understood how other factors exacerbated by the hydrosystem affect sturgeon. Research and monitoring will be key to determine impacts, population status, and mitigation actions necessary to rebuild sturgeon to sustainable numbers throughout the basin.

The Council recognizes and supports implementation efforts to restore, research and monitor white sturgeon populations in the basin consistent with the 2013 White Sturgeon Planning Framework and the Kootenai White Sturgeon Biological Opinion.

Principles

  • A viable Columbia River Basin sturgeon mitigation program should include a combination of monitoring, research, habitat actions, dam operations and passage, adaptive management, natural production, potential use of hatcheries, collaboration, coordination, and evaluation.
  • The Council supports opportunities to incorporate sturgeon-friendly features in existing fish ladders during future ladder designs and planned modification where consistent with sturgeon population goals and objectives.
  • Continue to identify, protect and restore habitat areas and ecological functions that are associated with productive spawning, resting, rearing, and migrating sturgeon.
  • Continue to support interim measures to avoid extirpation of unique sturgeon populations.
  • Continue to research what hydrosystem effects limit growth and survival of sturgeon throughout the basin in an effort to better define mitigation needs.

General measures

Hydropower dam operations and fish passage

  • The action agencies shall:
    • Seek opportunities to operate the FCRPS to provide flow consistent with the needs of productive sturgeon populations including increased spring and summer flows, reduced flow fluctuations during spawning season, and spill where feasible. Recruitment in many lower Columbia River impounded areas has been positively correlated with high annual discharge during April through July.
    • Operate the hydropower system in a manner that balances needs of anadromous fish, Columbia River Basin sturgeon, and other native fish species in a way that improves the abundance and productivity of sturgeon.
    • Study the effects on downstream passage of sturgeon with and without removable spillway weirs.
    • Estimate mortality by size for fish that pass over spillways and removable spillway weirs and those that pass downstream through turbines; if significant mortality is occurring, identify and evaluate the feasibility of mitigation measures.
    • In general, evaluate the importance of connectivity among sturgeon populations; assess whether the mainstem dams isolate sturgeon populations; and if so, evaluate the feasibility of mitigation.
    • Evaluate costs, benefits, and risks of passage improvements for sturgeon relative to other potential strategies.
    • Evaluate opportunities for non-volitional passage by taking advantage of fish trapped in dewatered draft tubes or fish ladders during maintenance.
    • Continue to develop, refine, and implement protocols to prevent sturgeon entrainment, dewatering, and mortality during planned maintenance activities at passage facilities.
    • Develop an operational protocol to block access by sturgeon to turbine draft tubes during turbine dewatering and start-up.

Mainstem habitat

  • The action agencies, in coordination with the agencies and tribes, shall:
    • Investigate the use of site-specific habitat measures such as substrate enhancement and channel restoration as viable alternatives for improving natural recruitment in some areas.
    • Continue to identify, protect and restore habitat areas and ecological functions that are associated with productive spawning, resting, rearing, and migrating sturgeon.
    • Identify the specific aspects of hydrosystem operations, such as duration of fluctuations in water releases and of water levels, which affect natural spawning, reproduction, growth, and survival of larval and juvenile fishes, and overall recruitment success of sturgeon.
    • Conduct dredging operations in a manner minimizing operation-related mortality on sturgeon and their primary prey.

Predation – See predator management strategy

Research – See research section of the adaptive management strategy

Monitoring

  • The action agencies, in coordination with the agencies and tribes, shall:
    • Monitor and evaluate white sturgeon restoration actions and population responses to environmental conditions consistent with the Columbia Basin White Sturgeon Planning Framework and the Lower Columbia River and Oregon Coast White Sturgeon Conservation Plan
    • Report on the status of sturgeon throughout the basin on a regular basis
    • Assess the effects of climate change on Columbia River Basin sturgeon populations and develop adaptation strategies to address these impacts
    • Support fishery monitoring and management in combination with the suite of other restoration options to mitigate for lost productivity and contribute to population rebuilding efforts in areas where harvest is warranted but where natural recruitment is currently limited and the subpopulation does not represent a unique component of the historical diversity
    • Develop a sturgeon spawning and rearing habitat model in the basin to quantify habitat throughout the year in conjunction with FCRPS operations
    • Continue to evaluate project operations on sturgeon reproductive success in each of the pools behind FCRPS and Mid-Columbia River dams.

Hatchery

  • The action agencies shall:
    • Continue to support the Kootenai Tribe Integrated Fish and Wildlife Program as interim measures to avoid extinction of endangered Kootenai white sturgeon
  • The action agencies, in coordination with the agencies and tribes, shall:
    • Consider hatcheries for sturgeon as a mitigation strategy to supplement populations where natural recruitment is currently severely limited. When the strategy is implemented through the Council’s step-review process for hatchery proposals, this strategy shall:
      • Be conservative and responsible in establishing protocols for source populations and numbers of hatchery fish released
      • Build on knowledge gained from ongoing hatchery efforts in other areas
      • Develop larval collection techniques for use in artificial propagation
      • Develop and implement improvements in rearing and release strategies
      • Utilize experimental hatchery releases and monitoring to assess ecological factors and population productivity limitations
      • Optimize hatchery production and practices consistent with monitoring natural production and environmental carrying capacity, which will most effectively be identified using an experimentally adaptive approach

Upper-Columbia specific

  • The action agencies, in coordination with the agencies and tribes, shall:
    • Conduct baseline population assessments to monitor hatchery and natural-origin sturgeon populations (size, abundance of age classes, age/length frequency, recruitment rate, mortality, distribution, and migration patterns, life history, habitat use, etc.); environmental factors limiting sturgeon abundance; and effectiveness of recovery measures in Lake Roosevelt from Grand Coulee Dam to the international border, including the Spokane arm of Lake Roosevelt
    • Implement measures based on knowledge gained through assessments, limiting factors workshops, Upper Columbia White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative plans and Lake Roosevelt sturgeon recovery plans
    • Continue interim hatchery production, including 100-percent PIT-tagging of hatchery sturgeon and 100-percent PIT-tagging and sonic tagging of broodstock collected in the upper Columbia River

Link to subbasin plans

See the Council’s subbasin plans for subbasin-level information pertainingto the history of sturgeon and their associated actions.

Link to other relevant program areas

Strategies: mainstem hydrosystem flow and passage operations, predator control, water quality, habitat, and adaptive management.

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6. Lamprey →

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