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200721300 - Assessing Recruitment Failure Across White Sturgeon Populations: Differences in Prey Availability and Physical Habitat Among Areas with Consistent, Inconsistent, and no Annual Recruitment to Age-1

Sponsor: US Geological Survey (USGS) - Cook

Budgets: FY07: $547,057 | FY08: $773,105 | FY09: $727,882

Short description: Investigate causes of recruitment failure in white sturgeon populations across the Columbia Basin by comparing availability of forage at the onset of exogenous feeding, channel morphology, and hydraulic conditions in several sturgeon spawning areas

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

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


ISRP final recommendation: Fundable in part


The ISRP provides the following clarification on its Fundable in Part recommendation in the preliminary review: On the whole, the ISRP found the proposal scientifically justified, but the proposal had two flaws that caused the ISRP concern. The first flaw was the go-it-alone approach that did not seem to show sufficient effort to coordinate with other white sturgeon researchers except for Gary Barton, a fellow USGS staffer who has done hydrodynamic modeling in the Kootenai River spawning site. There were only general references in the text of the proposal to the work of other investigators who have contributed a great deal toward raising, studying, and publishing the importance of habitat relationships. Although several of the other BPA projects were listed in the Relationships to Other Projects section. It seemed to the ISRP that the project could be more effective if there was more cooperation with researchers at the sites they plan to use. Some of the sampling for food availability and habitat factors might be done by those respective field crews rather than by the Cook USGS folks. At least that cooperation might be explored. The second flaw was the amount of effort suggested for building the spatially explicit hydrodynamic and sturgeon growth models. It seems that some existing models might be used to advantage, including the one Barton did for the Kootenai and the one for striped bass in Chesapeake Bay. This use would cut down on model development time. Reviewers were concerned, however, that the models would simply incorporate the standard hydrodynamic, habitat, and bioenergetic features that have not adequately explained the sturgeon recruitment problems in the past. The primary goals seem to the ISRP to be getting the necessary field data on habitat and food availability and use and the lab studies of feeding needed to prevent starvation. That work would provide really new information that could feed into models or simply be used directly for habitat analyses and management. The models can serve as useful conceptual guides but may not be that useful for quantifying white sturgeon production for use by managers in population management, as the proposal suggests. The "Fundable in Part,” therefore, referred first to enhancing more cooperative effort for the field sampling across the basin and second to downplaying the model development until the more important lab and field information indicated what features are especially important and need to be in the models. Both reservations by the reviewers were not show-stoppers but were intended to provide more direction for project emphasis. ISRP preliminary comments (June 2006): This is a generally well-prepared proposal on work that is logically important for understanding the mystery of poor white sturgeon recruitment in many parts of its range. Sponsors are uniquely qualified to do the laboratory studies, but proposed field studies are not well coordinated with others in the field already. The modeling seems overemphasized except as a conceptual framework for more data collection and analysis. Therefore, the ISRP recommends funding in part for the laboratory work and coordinated data collection and analysis from existing field studies. The otherwise adequate background fails to cite relevant literature on the topic. Much of what is proposed has been published in concept by others, but not acknowledged in this proposal. Recognition of the reproductive bottleneck in the egg-to-early-juvenile stage should have referenced Vaughn Paragamian and his colleagues, who have published several papers on the Kootenai River situation. The importance of riverine habitat differences among spawning locations across the species’ range should have been credited to recently published reviews. It is entirely appropriate to propose to investigate these ideas, which are presented with significant logic and justification, but their origins should be properly credited. There are links to plans and programs in the basin. Other relevant projects are noted but without adequate acknowledgment of their contributions to the logic of the present proposal. The proposal is not adequately integrated with ongoing field activities in the region. The objectives are well expressed for the several main areas of work, as are the relevant tasks. But there seems to be more emphasis on modeling than necessary or useful. The main tasks are the lab and fieldwork. Methods seem appropriate to the tasks. It is unclear that the tasks provide adequate linkages between expected results and conclusions that can be drawn. For example, if prey are scarcer in the Kootenai, would we not already know that? Does this necessarily imply a causal linkage to less recruitment? If so, can it be proven by the work to be conducted? The Cook lab has excellent lab facilities suitable for the laboratory portions of the work. Although the lab also carries out much fieldwork on a variety of projects, the bulk of the white sturgeon field research across the basin is carried out by others (states, consulting firms, tribes). The field sampling of this work would have been better if coordinated (or better yet, run completely) by these organizations because each has ongoing field sampling in the locations proposed for sampling here. How many different field crews need to be out there only partially coordinated with each other? It is not clear that the USGS staff is the best for this fieldwork. With good coordination, the existing field crews could obtain data not now being collected but perceived valuable by the Cook staff. The lab staff has an excellent record of publication, so results would likely become readily available. There is likely great benefit to white sturgeon management from establishing the sorts of habitat relationships suggested in this proposal. There are probably some important general habitat attributes and other site-specific factors. However, the benefits are less likely to happen if these investigators go it alone without coordination with others working on the same topic.

State/province recommendation: Fundable

Review group: Mtn Col

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

Comment: This project was reviewed under the mainstem/systemwide province review and was deemed a "recommended action". There is not enough funding in the systemwide allocation to fund recommended actions. There is a critical need for the Kootenai objectives of this project to be funded and implemented (2006 USFWS Sturgeon Biological Opinion - RPA Component 2) to inform the design of spawning and rearing habitat restoration for the Kootenai sturgeon (Project 200200200). For this reason, the Mountain Columbia Oversight Group recommends funding the Kootenai objectives of this project that address the RPA Component 2 in the April 2006 USFWS Sturgeon Biological Opinion, if the project objectives and budget can be folded into Project 200200200 to maintain the Mountain Columbia Province project and budget recommendations presented to the NWPCC by the Oversight Group on June 9th. The USFWS White Sturgeon Recovery Team will identify and oversee the implementation of the project objectives through the contract for Project 200200200.

State/province recommendation: MS: Recommended Action

Review group: MSRT

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

Comment: The sturgeon proposals should be reviewed together. The results of the current sturgeon workshop would help in prioritizing the sturgeon proposals. A comprehensive management plan for sturgeon is a High Priority need.