< Back to list of FY 2007-2009 projects

200300900 - Canada-USA Shelf Salmon Survival Study

Sponsor: Canada Department Of Fisheries & Oceans

Budgets: FY07: $604,400 | FY08: $598,900 | FY09: $604,400

Short description: The primary objective of this research is to determine how the ocean environment and climate affect the production of Columbia River salmon by sampling juvenile salmon and oceanographic data in an area of critical importance to Columbia River salmon.

view full proposal

Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $191,664 | FY08: $191,664 | FY09: $191,664

Comment: Only funding a portion. Address ISRP concerns during contracting.

ISRP final recommendation: Fundable in part


This is an excellent proposal and evaluation of our understanding of the problems of juvenile salmon migration, marine survival and growth and their interannual linkages to the ocean environment, with a focus on spring/summer Columbia River Chinook and coho off British Columbia. The benefits of improved knowledge of when and where critical periods of juvenile salmon growth and survival occur in the ocean are significant. This project could be funded in part depending upon available funding. At a minimum, funding for ship time (21 days) and sample processing should be continued (Work Element 1, p. 32). The ISRP recommends deletion of the insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) analysis and the metabolic rate study from this proposal (see explanations in items 3 and 7 below). The proposal would have been improved by a strategic plan that prioritized the various elements of the proposed field and laboratory research in the event that only partial funding is available for this project. Information on how project effectiveness is being monitored and evaluated would also have been useful. Further justification for requested BPA funding for 100% FTEs for three Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) personnel, travel, and a proposed workshop(s) might be necessary before final approval for funding (see item 10 below). Further explanation and justification for the proposed workshop, and the high annual travel costs ($10,000) for the proponents to attend conferences and workshops might be necessary. It is not clear if this proposal includes funds to support the proposed annual workshops. Additional ISRP comments and questions are provided to the proponent, but do not require a written response to the ISRP: 1. Review of Project History (section E, p. 26-28). The proponent’s reference list suggests that most of their peer-review publications have not specifically addressed Columbia River salmon (see Appendix J, p. 65-66). Although reporting of monitoring results in processed reports and non peer-reviewed publications has improved in recent years (since 2004), the ISRP encourages the proponents to develop a specific work plan for timely publication of the results in the scientific literature. The project history would have been improved if it had included an analysis of catch data of salmon and associated species, as well as abundance estimates of Columbia River stocks in the research vessel catches. 2. Work Element I (p. 32-33). Are the cruise dates in the spring, when Columbia River stocks are leaving the estuary, coordinated with the NOAA plume cruises (#199801400, “Ocean Survival of Salmonids”)? There is no mention of trawl gear selectivity. The proposal does not address the potential harmful effects of repetitive (lethal) research trawl sampling of juvenile salmon in their resident ocean feeding areas, or whether there are potential harmful effects on Ecologically Significant Units (ESUs) of salmon and steelhead listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). What are the expected species, stocks or ESUs, and sample sizes of Columbia River fish expected in the catches? Why aren’t steelhead included in the study? Do surface trawl catches include older immature or maturing Columbia River salmon, and will DNA and other samples also be collected from these older fish? Will preferential sampling of only those salmon with preferred body area scales bias the results of growth and other analyses? 3. Work Element II (p. 33-34). What specific stocks and/or ESUs of Columbia River chinook and coho salmon will be identified by the DNA analysis? Will DNA analysis also be performed on chum salmon? The sample sizes in the genetic analysis (pooled over 7 years; Figs. 5 and 6, p. 9) suggest that catches of coho and Chinook salmon during the research vessel surveys are low. The ISRP is concerned that samples are not/will not be sufficient to carry out the stock-specific analyses proposed. What are the sample sizes for each part of this work element, and whether they will provide adequate statistical power? Because of the large mixture of salmon stocks in the region to be surveyed, it is not clear whether results will be directly applicable to Columbia River fish. Will the analysis of IGF-1 be stock specific, i.e., use the same samples of fish that are identified by DNA analysis? Have the proponents considered using scale growth increments to estimate growth rates rather than published values of size and date of ocean entry? The ISRP recommends deletion of the insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) analysis from this proposal. The proposed collaboration on IGF research with Brian Beckman is excellent, because IGF-I provides good data on growth that can be related to Beckman's work in the Columbia River plume. Beckman is funded by NOAA. Why is $40,000 needed by DFO for IGF-I work, when the proposal states that Beckman will analyze the DFO samples, p. 40? The Council and BPA should consider whether DFO should fund their part of this collaboration directly? What prey species would be used in the cesium (Cs) analyses to estimate food consumption (Work Element II, p. 34-35)? Juvenile chinook and coho salmon do not feed on copepods. The analyses need to be specific to the prey that the fish eat. Will the prey used in the analyses be caught in zooplankton (bongo net) samples? Will lipid analyses account for likely differences between stocks, ESUs, or hatchery vs. wild origin of fish? 4. Work Element III (p. 36-37). What specific data sets (locations, years, sample sizes) will be used in the nutrient limitation analyses? 5. Work Element IV (p. 37). Will sample sizes in the mixture be sufficient to identify 250 different populations? How will stock identification results be validated? 6. Work Element V (p. 37-38). Will IGF-1 analyses be carried out by DFO or NMFS? It is not clear how regression models developed by the proponents to predict marine survival would actually be used to manage harvest strategies. How will changes in horizontal and vertical distribution of immature salmon during winter affect analyses to determine overwinter mortality? 7. Work Element VI (p. 39). It is not clear what methods will be used for the proposed spatially-explicit bioenergetic models. From the results of their past work, the proponents hypothesize that poor feeding conditions for salmon off the west coast of Vancouver Island may act as a "bottleneck" to Columbia River salmon survival, and that further work (controlled laboratory experiments) is required to refine Chinook and coho salmon bioenergetic models. The proposal would have been improved if the proponents had provided examples from other programs of the successful use of bioenergetics models to forecast or predict survival of salmon or other marine fish species. Salmon in the natural ocean environment are likely to self-regulate physical forcing effects (temperature, salinity, current) on metabolic rates (oxygen consumption) by changing their vertical distribution. Will maps of growth potential have both a horizontal and vertical component? The ISRP recommends deletion of the metabolic rate laboratory study from this proposal. The proposed laboratory study on metabolic rates is peripheral to the primary objectives of this project. Perhaps this is good basic physiological research. However, could the results of metabolic research already published in the scientific literature (e.g., Brett) be used as a basis for computer modeling? If more data on metabolic rates are needed, the BPA and the Council should examine if DFO should fund this laboratory research directly. NOAA is a funded by BPA to do similar bioenergetic modeling work (#199801400, “Ocean Survival of Salmonids). If both NOAA and DFO are funded by BPA to do bioenergetic modeling, then how will the two studies be coordinated? 8. Work Element VIII (p. 39-40). The proposed survival estimates from BPA-funded acoustic tracking study (#200311400, “Acoustic Tracking for Survival”) would pertain to only two stocks of Columbia Basin hatchery spring chinook (Columbia River mainstem and Snake River). How would these results be applied to identify regions of poor survival for other species, stocks, or ESUs of Columbia Basin salmon? 9. Work Element IX: The ISRP encourages the proponents to collaborate in their research in Southeast Alaska with NMFS/Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientists who are also conducting ocean work on juvenile salmon in this region. 10. Personnel are highly qualified to accomplish the proposed work elements. However, it is not clear as to why 100% of the salaries of three DFO personnel (including the PI) are requested to be funded by the BPA. It seems highly unlikely that these personnel will not have other duties and responsibilities to perform for DFO over the 3-year period of this proposed BPA-funded project. It is not clear from the proposal what work some of the listed DFO personnel (Hinch, Mackas, and Whitney) will do on this project. BPA and the Council should consider whether DFO should provide support for these DFO personnel. 11. Non-focal species. What were the annual bycatches of all non-focal species during all past years of the BPA-funded trawl surveys? What precautions are taken to minimize bycatch of non-focal species? Some discussion of potential adverse effects related to trawl bycatch would be appropriate. 12. Information transfer. More information on the "High Seas Salmon database" maintained at the Pacific Biological Station would have been useful. Are meta-data summarizing the database contents, formats, etc., and information on how to request the database available online? What are the plans for long-term storage of the "High Seas Salmon database", and how accessible is the database to non-Canadian government researchers?

State/province recommendation: MS: High Priority

Review group: MSRT

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

Comment: The project collects coded wire tags of juvenile fish to piece together distributions during their first year in the sea. Some prioritization of tasks proposed in the suite of ocean projects must occur. 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 an available budget and address management questions with enough certainty to be useful for decision making.