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199801400 - Ocean Survival Of Salmonids

Sponsor: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Budgets: FY07: $2,499,879 | FY08: $2,578,533 | FY09: $2,655,894

Short description: Assess the role of the Columbia River plume and California Current on growth and survival of juvenile salmon from the Columbia River basin. Develop ocean condition indicators that can be used to forecast salmon returns and assess climate change impact.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $2,170,600 | FY08: $2,170,600 | FY09: $2,170,600

Comment: Sponsor is to consider the ISRP’s questions and considerations as the sponsor implements the project, prepares the annual project reports, and prepares for the next project review cycle.

ISRP final recommendation: Fundable (Qualified)


This is an innovative project that has yielded new and critically needed information on how conditions in the ocean and plume affect salmon survival. A unique aspect of this work is the ecosystem approach that is taken to understand salmon survival. This approach is highly consistent with science principles in the Fish and Wildlife Program. Proposals for the project have expanded to encompass new objectives well beyond the scope of those previously reviewed by the ISRP ("research in the Columbia River plume to investigate juvenile salmon growth and survival, and modeling studies to investigate management of Columbia River flows to improve habitat opportunity in the plume"). Therefore, the ISRP qualifies this “fundable” recommendation with a number of questions to be considered (although the ISRP is not requesting a response): Could the proponents provide a strategic overview that prioritizes their proposed objectives, tasks, and subtasks, including specific information for each task on the PIs and staff, FTEs committed to that task, critical assumptions, experimental design, justification for degrees of freedom (number of years)/statistical significance, specific timelines, and costs supported by BPA? Could proponents provide an effectiveness analysis of the various results sooner than 2009, as well as a specific plan for involvement of hydro managers? Technical and Scientific Background: The proponents have provided an excellent summary of the technical and scientific background, and the logical need to address the problem to benefit salmon is clearly defined. Rationale and Significance to Subbasin Plans and Regional Programs: The proposal addresses objectives in the 2000 Fish and Wildlife Program Plan. Could the proponents relate the proposal to the 2005 research plan and provide some explicit descriptions of how the research will help with Biological Opinions? The sponsors do not indicate whether the proposed work is called for in the Estuary Subbasin Plan. Relationships to other project: There is evidence in this proposal of good integration within the large group of proponents (n=26 scientists). The modeling work is integrated with only one of the proposed or ongoing estuary projects (20030100). The proponents also relate their research to US Army Corps of Engineers and National Science Foundation funded projects. Some of the proposed work seems to be dependent upon the continuation of projects funded primarily by these other sources, which could be a problem. Will Peterson's Newport time series be funded by this proposal or from some other source? Only passing reference is made to other related and similar projects such as “Acoustic Tracking for Survival” (200311400) and the "inner estuary" (20030100) researchers. Given that the proposed ocean array studies are focused on the plume area, could the proponents enable coordination between these two projects? At present, one of the PIs plans to participate in the 2006-2009 research vessel cruises of project #200300900 (Canada-USA Shelf Salmon Survival Study). There is duplication between these two projects on some of the proposed research, e.g., bioenergetics modeling. The proponents also plan to work closely with project #200723600 ("Strategic Adaptation of the Federal Columbia River Power System to Climate Variability and Change"), that is, use remote sensing products and habitat metrics. An integrated approach is required to move the products of research in all key habitats to management agencies. Can proponents demonstrate links to specific BPA-funded restoration or salmon management projects that might be potential users of their proposed ecological indicator/run forecast products? Project history: This innovative project has contributed significantly to understanding how plume and near shore ocean conditions influence salmon survival. Excellent background and history material are provided. The proponents have demonstrated good monitoring for results, a strong publication record, and all data are archived and/or made available for others to use. Objectives: A more strategic approach is required to select the most important topics to improve understanding of ocean survival. Can the proponents provide a discussion of what they see as the most important subprojects? The desired outcome of this project (last 2 paragraphs, section F, p. 30) is that products (ecological indicators; forecasts of the effect of climate and ocean conditions on salmon survival) provided each year by the proponents will help BPA managers evaluate the success or failure of various mitigation programs. For example, if return rates of adult salmon from a particular mitigation program are lower than expected, then changes in ocean conditions "would provide a least one reason why." At the end of the next funding cycle (2007-2009), the proponents promise to provide and "in-depth analysis of the efficacy" of their monitoring and to design a smaller-scale, longer-term, cost-effective monitoring program that will provide these products for as long as managers find them useful. Could the proponents conduct this "in-depth" analysis each year? If "in-depth" analysis is postponed until the end of the next funding cycle, the proponents might discover that they have insufficient samples sizes, variables, etc., to produce the desired outcome (run forecasting products). Key to this is whether or not they have sufficient stock-specific data on Columbia River Chinook and coho salmon ESUs. Tasks (work elements): The comprehensive ecosystem/mechanistic approach is the major strength of this proposal. Most of the scientific methods are based on sound scientific principles. Cutting edge techniques will be used to accomplish many of the objectives. On the other hand, methods for specific tasks (work elements) are often not of sufficient detail to evaluate by the narrative alone. The experimental design is very complex with multiple variables. Throughout the proposal, there is seldom if any explanation of experimental or field sampling design, how sample sizes were determined, or whether sample sizes are sufficient for the proposed statistical tests. Critical assumptions or consideration of alternative methods for specific tasks are usually not presented or discussed. There is some coordination with other projects conducting similar research. However, are the times and areas of proposed surveys complementary or redundant with other projects? The proponents are counting on models to do the integration of results; however, plans for verifying the models are not specified. Mathematical algorithms for computer models are seldom if ever described in sufficient detail to permit evaluation by reviewers from the narrative alone. The benefits of the proposed computer simulation modeling (other than to generate new hypotheses) is questionable given the lack of sufficient time series of field data from objective 1 to validate results. Methods for bringing results to managers are not well described. Questions and comments by the reviewers on specific tasks are as follows: Task 1.1a: The proponents imply that individual fish can be identified to stock of origin or ESU of origin. Can the proponents provide details on genetic baselines and data analysis methods? Task 1.1b: Ocean growth and bioenergetic tasks, as well as most other tasks in this proposal, would be improved if they were genetic stock or ESU specific. Differences in ocean growth and bioenergetics between hatchery and wild fish might be significant, e.g., hatchery fish might start their ocean life with a larger reserve of lipids than wild fish, but did the proponents consider these factors? Task 1.1c: Can the proponents describe potential problems with otolith techniques? It is not clear if catch location vs. residence time in the Columbia River plume can be resolved by this technique. Sulfur is mentioned as an isotope to be measured. Is this in addition to carbon and nitrogen? It should be. Task 1.2a: How useful are the avian predator data without direct feeding studies? Task 1.2b: Pathogen studies would be more useful if they were stock or ESU specific. How were sample sizes established? Task 1.2C: Would the results be more useful if they were stock-specific? Task 2.1a: Chinook smolts and fry likely continue to trickle out of the estuary into the autumn as per six life history types described so far. The planned sampling scheme might miss them. Will salmon in the catch be identified to stock or ESU? Will results from purse seine sampling be comparable to trawl sampling used for other tasks? Can the proponents provide detailed descriptions of sampling gear/methods, fishing stations, statistical or analytical procedures? Task 2.1c: Fine scale studies of salmon and prey in relation to the plume are to be completed in one year (2007); does this assume that data on interannual variation at this fine scale are not necessary? This task is contingent on availability of a large NOAA vessel, as well as analyses performed as a part of studies funded by other grants (NSF, etc.). Can the proponents provide information on the experimental design, sample size/statistical power, etc., to evaluate whether the results would be statistically valid? Task 2.1d: Can the proponents provide information on permits, methods, analytical details, etc.? Task 3.1: This seems to be a very complex series of models - as per comments above, have they been chosen strategically? Task 3.1a: This physical circulation model has already been developed. Can the proponents provide information as to algorithms used, how the model was validated, or how it is integrated with other models? Task 3.1b: Can the proponents provide details on how the existing model of plankton and nutrient dynamics will be adapted for use in the Columbia River estuary and plume and coupled with the physical circulation model? The proposed computer simulations will be used to fill data gaps, but it is not clear how these will be validated. Task 3.1c: Can the models be developed so they are stock/ESU specific and related to timing of ocean entry? The SBMs (spatially explicit) would focus on horizontal and vertical variation in salmon prey densities with respect to oceanographic features in and near the Columbia R. plume. Temporal variation is likely to be important but the proposed seasonal scale is likely too broad to capture the critical ocean entry period. The GOA/GLOBEC bioenergetic studies (Beauchamp, UW) mentioned focus on Prince William Sound pink salmon, which have a very different ocean life history than Columbia River coho and Chinook salmon. How would close coordination with this project be beneficial? Task 3.1d: IBM models of salmon growth and migration might be more useful if they were stock/ESU specific. No mathematical algorithms are provided for modeling movements. Are existing data of fine enough scale to develop a model that can be validated? Task 3.1e: Can the proponents provide examples of how Ecopath with ecosystem models have proven to be useful for salmon forecasting and management? Salmon are a very minor part of the California Current ecosystem. Could potential problems with this broad-scale snapshot approach be provided? Task 3.2: A number of predictors (or forecasters? Note: the terms seem to be used interchangeably but in reality are very different, they should use forecasters) are rejected here because they need more degrees of freedom (df). How do the proponents know that the predictors they have chosen have enough degrees of freedom? Forecasts of return rates are dependent on individual genetic assignments, and it is not clear when these will be available. The proponents have some promising ecological indices but need more degrees of freedom. GAMs will be used to estimate return rates. Can methodological details be provided? A key question is whether or not stock/ESU-specific data series and sample sizes are sufficient. Task 3.3: How do the proponents plan to engage managers? It is not clear how the managers can directly use the products provided. Can the proponents demonstrate direct coordination and input from BPA managers, as well as state and tribal fishery managers? Monitoring and evaluation: Monitoring and evaluation of results is an integral part of the whole program, and data are used in scientific publications. Can plans for long term M&E assessment of ocean survival, or conditions that affect ocean survival of Columbia River Basin salmonids be provided? Ultimately, the success or failure of this project will be measured by the utility of the products (ecological indices, run forecasts) to BPA managers. One concern that would benefit from further discussion in the proposal is whether the spatial, temporal, and biological scales/sample sizes are sufficient to provide useful products. In the face of increasing climate variation, it's not likely that remote sensing or computer modeling will ever be a useful substitute for direct sampling and monitoring of juvenile salmon in the Columbia R. plume. An annual "in-depth” evaluation of the efficacy of monitoring would be useful, rather than delaying this to the end of the next funding cycle. Facilities, equipment, and personnel are better than adequate. Vessels are a key facility for the program and seem to be available. Staff proposed for the work have very good scientific credentials and are exceptionally well qualified. Can information on FTEs/hours of time commitment by the 16 PIs and 10 Associate Investigators, as well as information on which PIs and AIs who will carry out specific tasks be provided? Information Transfer: Data will be made available in the scientific literature through peer reviewed papers and reports and through talks at scientific meetings and coastal forums. Can the proponents provide a strategy to provide for better transfer of information to people concerned with management of the river (e.g., USCE, hydro groups) since flow dynamics clearly affect the oceanography? Benefit to focal and non-focal species: Increased knowledge of how oceanographic factors affect salmon survival will provide significant benefits to anadromous salmonids. It should lead directly to measures that can be undertaken to improve salmon survival in the ocean and forecast return rates of salmon. This ongoing project has demonstrated significant benefits that are likely to persist over the long-term. There are ample benefits to non-focal species such as non-salmonids and forage species through increased understanding of oceanographic processes. The proposed fieldwork may affect non-focal species, however, in general "reasonable" precautions seem to have been taken. Can information on the catch and bycatch of all non-focal species during trawl and purse seine fishing operations be provided?

State/province recommendation: MS: High Priority

Review group: MSRT

Recommended budgets: FY07: $2,170,600 | FY08: $2,170,600 | FY09: $2,170,600

Comment: The predator/prey studies included in the proposal are unique and important for ocean studies. Levels of cost share by NOAA should be evaluated since this project addresses NOAA's core mission activities. These projects address a Core Program need, but it is unclear which tasks within the project meet that standard. Several MSRT members are concerned that the suite of ocean projects have outgrown a sustainable size for the Program and are addressing questions derived outside of the needs of the Program. This project needs to be reviewed with other ocean studies. The set of questions around ocean survival and movement are Core Program issues. Which suite of projects should be funded to address those questions needs to be strategically developed to fit within the available budget and address management questions with enough certainty to be useful for decision making.