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200717700 - Protect wild steelhead populations by minimizing the behavioral differences between hatchery and wild populations

Sponsor: Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Budgets: FY07: $285,438 | FY08: $309,678 | FY09: $318,997

Short description: A research program to determine the behavioral differences in wild and integrated hatchery steelhead populations, identify mechanisms that cause differences between populations, determine their consequences, and inform science-based hatchery reforms.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

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


ISRP final recommendation: Response requested


This project is a fundamental research project aimed at gaining broader understanding of behavioral differences between wild steelhead and supplementation steelhead. Previous work has shown such differences between wild and domesticated steelhead, but this is aimed specifically at supplementation. There is good scientific justification for the work, with recent references, but the problem of behavioral differences between wild and hatchery steelhead was not fully captured. Stress response, feeding, and aggression differences are of interest, but of greater interest is the culmination of behavioral differences into overall differences in reproductive success and impact of hatchery fish on wild fish. The second component of this proposal captures this, somewhat, on the issue of residualism. There are other differences that might be explored as part of this work, including differences in run-timing (hatchery maturation schedules may be accelerated), spawning (time and location, interaction with wild, role of morphology), and further work on residualism (predation, competition, spawning, survival). This research project is potentially fundable as it addresses a key uncertainty (equivalency of wild v. supplementation steelhead). The approach is relatively solid, albeit exploratory and a first step. There are some improvements possible in design (or at least in presentation) to address a couple issues regarding statistical power and logical next steps (response requested). The title is somewhat misleading; this work itself will, in fact, not minimize behavioral difference, but rather will investigate a limited number of these differences. Moreover, important differences that occur in the wild are not as well covered. Observations planned are mainly in the hatchery, and may not reflect the differences that occur in the wild. A more thorough literature review and expansion of the proposal (including graduate work) may capture a broader spectrum of the differences that remain within "integrated" populations. The proposal is not specifically tied to any single subbasin plan. The sponsors might conduct a rapid screen of such plans for specific priorities and present these as a rationale to strengthen the proposal. Regardless, it is tied to the Council’s 2005 research plan. An important element is the addressing of groups of interlinked behaviors that might emerge from the transitional hatchery experience (1 generation) associated or expected with supplementation. This study begins to address key assumptions of supplementation: i.e., behaviors among wild v. supplementation are effectively similar and that any differences will have little consequence (fitness, viability, etc.) to the recipient population. This project may provide some basic data as to whether supplementation steelhead have similar or comparable behavioral responses to stresses associated with the hatchery environment as wild steelhead. Similarly, some basic data will be provided to assess similarity in fitness and viability. The timelines are appropriate for such exploratory experimentation and are tied to the Fish and Wildlife Program through the 2005 research plan. Objectives are concisely stated as experimental hypotheses with appropriate methods described. While the work is largely based in the hatchery environment, some attempt to make field observation and expand experimental channel studies would strengthen the value of the work. More specifically, from this work we will learn about hatchery stresses. If correctly understood from the motivations of the study, however, we need to learn about how the supplementation steelhead endure the stresses of the wild environment. That said, this is probably a tractable and manageable first step (but, the sponsors might wish to contemplate the logical and much needed next step). Thus, the handling event is "stressor" to which the first variable will test, is this the typical stress event in the hatchery environment (as opposed to feeding aggression, heron predation, human presence, etc.). Little background is provided regarding the adequacy and appropriateness of the opaque container method. The sponsors would also improve the proposal by including a basic “power” analysis that addresses sample sizes needed and a discussion of what the experimental unit actually is (individual fish or the cohort). This latter consideration is critical for statistical power and how generalizable the results will be. Lastly, the sponsors indicate that genetic analyses for pedigrees will be conducted. Will this be part of the sponsored project? It is not clear why, by whom, and how it really ties in with the hypotheses to be tested.

State/province recommendation: MS: Recommended Action

Review group: MSRT

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

Comment: If this project were recommended for funding by the Council, a specific time frame should be determined for the course of their study. This proposal should be reviewed with all hatchery reform or hatchery research projects.