Response for project 200311400: Acoustic Tracking For Survival

Comment on proposed FY 2006 budget

We are requesting financial support of $1.5M in FY 2006 and beyond. This is a large increase in the requested funds from prior years, but is now justified because of the completion of all of the necessary components required to directly measure the survival and movements of Columbia River salmon in the ocean. Kintama received initial funding in 2001 of $200K from the short-lived NWPPC “Innovative Proposal” category for conducting baseline evaluation and tests on new commercially available equipment. Using this knowledge and more recent funding from other sources, this technology base was used to implement a large-scale demonstration project in 2004 & 2005 (see below). The value of this phase was $10M, with ca. $4M in cash and $6M in in-kind contributions. We are requesting $1.5M in financial support from BPA in 2006 and beyond to help support the roll-out a large-scale permanent acoustic tracking array in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, out the estuary, and then along the ocean shelf north and south of the Columbia River. We will also use this financial contribution to lever large-scale financial contributions from other organisations outside the Columbia. The array we will build will be used to resolve key uncertainties surrounding the management of important Columbia River salmon stocks, and will be made available to Columbia River researchers on application.

Accomplishments since the last review

In 2004, POST conducted the world’s first large-scale demonstration of a prototype marine acoustic tracking array. The mouths of six river systems were instrumented with acoustic tracking array elements, and 120 kms of listening lines were placed on the seabed for 5 months, in 6 major “acoustic curtains” stretching from Grays Harbor, Washington to north of the Alaska panhandle. In all, a total of 135 acoustic tracking elements were used. (When fully operational, the entire array is projected to involve ca. 2,000 elements). At the same time that the array was constructed, surgical teams were sent out and surgically implanted long-lived acoustic tags into over 1,000 salmon smolts. The array was then used to measure survival to the mouths of large rivers and survival is sequential sections of the coast. We achieved a 91% detection rate over the 20 km long ocean listening lines for salmon smolts. (We project a 97% detection rate in 2005). Survival, timing, and rates of movement were simultaneously measured for 14 stocks of salmon. The results show that it is now possible to directly measure juvenile salmon survival in the sea and that in the majority of stocks tested freshwater and early marine survival is high. As smolt-to-adult survival rates are low, this implies that the poor returns currently experienced for many stocks of salmon do not have a freshwater or near-shore origin. This is an important finding, because it implies that many of the salmon conservation problems blamed on freshwater habitat degradation may actually have a cause that is located in parts of the ocean far distant from the Columbia.

FY 2006 goals and anticipated accomplishments

The period 2006 to 2010 is intended to see the full roll-out of the continental-scale POST tracking array. At completion, it will be possible to track salmon—from the smolt out-migrants to the returning adults—and directly measure their survival and the regions that they migrate to, and periods that they remain in each area. Sub-arrays placed in major rivers (for example, the Columbia and Fraser) will allow a direct comparison of freshwater survival of salmon in rivers with or without dams, and a comparison of freshwater and marine survival rates of different stocks from the same river. A key product of the POST system for the Columbia will be a direct measurement of survival of Snake River chinook as they migrate out to sea. It has been suggested that Snake River Chinook SARs are lower than other Columbia River Chinook stocks because of delayed (or differential) mortality caused by the additional dams that the salmon must migrate past. The POST array provides the only objective method of providing the data necessary to test these ideas.

Subbasin planning

How is this project consistent with subbasin plans?

This work is not related to a subbasin plan. It should be noted that the NWPPC has put significant effort into categorizing the freshwater habitat of the Columbia-Snake system into a series of provinces and sub-basins. However, an ocean province is lacking from this planning hierarchy, despite Columbia River salmon spending most of their life in the ocean, and salmon abundances being strongly controlled by events happening in the ocean.

How do goals match subbasin plan priorities?

There have been repeated directions by Congress to consider the effect of the ocean on salmon. In addition, several key priorities identified in the BiOP can only be addressed by the technical capabilities of the POST array. As salmon from all of the FCRPS subbasins migrate to sea and spend most of their life there, POST can apply equally well to all of them.

Other comments

The building of a continental scale tracking array for the west coast of North America will revolutionise our ability to measure what is happening to salmon in large rivers and in the coastal ocean. However, the building of this array exceeds the financial ability of any one group. POST requires regional partners, and the construction of the array must therefore be done in such a way that it will address regional issues of importance to those partners. In the Columbia, the inability to directly measure the movements and survival of young salmon except through the use of PIT tag measurements at the dams leads to the current paradox in the Columbia. Overall, salmon survival through the dams seems relatively high. However, adult returns are extremely low. The inability to directly compare salmon survival in the Columbia with survival in rivers such as the Fraser that lack dams is partly responsible for the current rather restricted focus of salmon research in the Columbia. If smolt survival down the Columbia is comparable to that of the Fraser, then a broader view of what determines Columbia River salmon returns is needed. POST is intended to provide an open-access tool that will benefit all Columbia River salmon researchers. At the same time, we propose to demonstrate its key merits by directly addressing several of the most troubling issues that affect all salmon management in the FCRPS—why very large (or small) returns of adult salmon can occur despite the large sums that have been spent on freshwater habitat restoration over the past quarter century. By answering these types of critical resource management questions for Columbia salmon, we expect to justify the support of the FCRPS for supporting the building of the array, including its marine components. The support of many other groups will also be brought in under the POST umbrella, and all of these sources of financial support will be used in combination to build the entire array.