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200703000 - Determination of steelhead smolt production and smoltification genes in the Yakima River

Sponsor: Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC)

Budgets: FY07: $172,950 | FY08: $219,400 | FY09: $201,720

Short description: This study focuses on the use of neutral and quantitative genetic markers to evaluate population specific smolt production in the Yakima River and smoltification potential of resident rainbow trout to contribute to recovery of steelhead populations.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $0 | FY08: $0 | FY09: $0

Comment:

ISRP final recommendation: Not fundable

Comment:

The sponsors provided a response in which they eliminate an entire Objective (1). As such the response does not establish sufficient justification for funding at this time. Moreover, as a basic research project, the proposal might receive more favorable review if some proof of concept or at least preliminary data were included indicating that there is a single or a set of gene(s) responsible for variation in smolt physiology. Ultimately, the response provided was brief with minor revision and clarity. The response was inadequate as the basic issues identified in ISRP's original review remain. The ISRP's preliminary review (June 1, 2006): This is a basic research project. As written, it is exploratory and descriptive; however, the project proposal is premature, not well-supported by regional planning documents like the Subbasin Plan, and does an inadequate review and presentation of existing scientific literature and thinking on the resident / anadromy issue in O. mykiss. The proposal is not set in a hypothesis-testing framework. It would be improved if written or constructed to test a specific hypothesis. There are a number of assumptions and premises that probably need to be addressed before funding should be made available. For example, in the first objective, five stream populations will be characterized and then Prosser Dam smolts surveyed for likely source of origin. This presumes there are divergent and stable gene assemblages that describe the populations. No data or evidence was presented to support this presumption. Moreover, temporal stability of assemblages for a population is a fundamental requirement for populations to serve as adequate reference populations for GSI (GSA, or MSA). See literature on GSI and MSA. In the second objective, the Sponsor indicates that ocean-running versus resident life history is highly plastic; i.e., an individual or populations, at least, can go either way depending on environmental cues or some genetic predisposition. This would be more a convincing thread of research from a stronger line of reasoning with specific data or results from earlier work; it is not obvious at all. At first blush, the search for a "smoltification" gene seems a needle-in-a-haystack search and not a viable research hypothesis. Why do sponsors contend such a gene(s) exist? Technical and scientific background: A brief background was presented, without reference to the rich scientific literature on the subject of anadromy versus residence on this species and others (e.g., Thorpe 1989). Under objective 1, sponsors will find that partitioning of the smolt population into tributary populations to be highly variable year on year, and a function of several factors, but mainly spawner density (density dependent rearing) and production characteristics (e.g., flow, nutrients, frequency of catastrophic events, predators, competitors). Thus, several years of study may be required to ascertain average and variance in yield and capacity. Under objective 2, three tributaries may not yield sufficient information but form a reasonable pilot study on this topic. Expansion to several more tributaries, in and out of the Yakima basin may provide more useful information on the life history strategies and tactics. In Atlantic salmon, for example, resident and anadromous forms can occur in populations that are very productive and in populations inhabiting very cold waters and unproductive. In the former case, juveniles smolt at an early age and males may mature early. In the later case smolt age is advanced and some males mature instream after several years. Distance from the sea may also play a factor. What are the hypotheses to be tested here? Rationale and significance to subbasin plans and regional programs: While the project addresses a key problem in the Yakima Subbasin Plan, the sponsors do not build a compelling case as to how this research will address a key uncertainty in the biology of salmon. Ultimately, if the numerous assumptions pan out, the research might make a contribution to understanding of life history tactics in salmonids and the potential role of resident fish in rebuilding anadromous populations. This section was perhaps too concise and failed to capture the important linkage with potential population re-building with resident fish, if that is what the question is here -- not clear. Relationships to other projects: The sponsors relate this project superficially to several other projects associated with kelt reconditioning and reproductive success. Ultimately, there is no explanation why this is important to other projects and efforts. Objectives: Objectives and methods are briefly explained. It is not clear why kelts will be sampled in objective 1, and the accuracy of the smolt count at Prosser dam should be addressed, as well as presentation of the smolt data. Tasks (work elements) and methods: The molecular and analytical methods for the first objective are relatively straightforward. The methods to address the second objective are a little more problematic. Without some analogous data for other species, this approach may have a limited likelihood for success. Monitoring and evaluation: This is an exploratory research project from which future M&E may become possible for other projects. Facilities, equipment, and personnel: Facilities and equipment are apparently available. The primary submitter is a late-stage Ph.D. candidate, who will likely finish; however, his record of independence and delivery absent the graduate program supervisor is unclear. Information transfer is mostly through annual reporting (presume professional societies and publication as well -- not spelled out though).

Response loop edit

See the sponsor's revised proposal from the response loop. You'll be taken to CBFWA's proposal system in Section 10 where most sponsors uploaded revised narratives or other responses to the ISRP comments.

State/province recommendation: Washington

Review group: Washington list

Recommended budgets: FY07: (n/a) | FY08: (n/a) | FY09: (n/a)

Comment: See Washington guidance