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Council Science Report: Salmon Recovery Efforts Need Better Tracking Of ‘Adults In’, ‘Smolts Out’
Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 (PST)

Columbia River basin fish and wildlife project sponsors have learned a lot about how artificial production, fish passage and habit restoration actions affect fish populations, but putting that knowledge to work will require several more giant steps, according to the “Retrospective Report 2011” completed last week by the Independent Scientific Review Panel.


“The ISRP found that monitoring and evaluation has improved in all three major areas covered by this report. Nonetheless, lack of a comprehensive analysis of biological objective achievements for hatchery and habitat efforts impede the understanding of program effectiveness,” the report says. It can be found at:


“The Basin would benefit from an evaluation of management strategies and a structured decision approach for these categories, an approach that combines habitat, hatchery, passage, and full life-stage recruitment information,” the report says.


The 11-member ISRP was created by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in response to a 1996 amendment to the Northwest Power Act. Under the amended Act, the ISRP provides the Council with independent scientific review of projects funded by the Bonneville Power Administration, most of which are implemented through the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program.


The 2011 Retrospective Report expands upon the review of project implementation results that the ISRP conducted as part of its programmatic and individual review of projects in the recently completed Research, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Artificial Production Category Review.


As requested by the Council, the new report summarizes accomplishments of approximately 150 fish and wildlife program projects and the status of major basinwide programmatic issues in three key areas: 1) artificial production, 2) passage through mainstem dams, the river, and reservoirs, and 3) habitat restoration monitoring.


“The ISRP undertook this effort in response to the Council’s desire to increase the visibility of project and program results,” the report’s executive summary says.


“Although hatchery production has contributed to more adult fish, and in recent years harvest opportunities have increased, with some exceptions, supplementation experiments generally have not demonstrated improvement in the abundance of natural-origin salmon and steelhead.


“An analysis of abundance and productivity is urgently required for projects in the supplemented locations, especially for those tributaries where there is a conservation objective in the management plan,” the report says. Supplementation involves outplanting hatchery raised juvenile fish in rivers and streams so they home-in on those waterways to spawn naturally when they return as adults.


“Based on findings listed below, the ISRP concludes that there is an absence of empirical evidence from the ongoing projects to assign a conservation benefit to supplementation other than preventing extinction.


“The supplementation projects with high proportions of hatchery fish in the hatchery broodstock and on the natural spawning grounds are likely compromising the long-term viability of the wild populations,” the report says “Evaluation of most supplementation projects would benefit from a more thorough comparison with life-stage specific productivity and recruitment of salmon from un-supplemented reference streams. All programs should evaluate the potential influence of density-dependent effects.”


“Although managers using hatchery supplementation seem to be aware of ongoing habitat restoration efforts, there is a need to better integrate supplementation with habitat restoration because rebuilding natural populations will ultimately depend on improving habitat quality and quantity.”


The region also needs to improve its ability to assess the benefits gained from habitat improvements.


“In addition, major biological improvements have not been measured as a result of habitat restoration,” the executive summary says.


“… the ISRP recommends that Council should always view habitat action effectiveness monitoring and evaluation as a continuing work in progress, and while there is a need for an appropriate level of consistency to enable broad regional syntheses of status and trends, we doubt that a single standardized habitat monitoring approach is achievable, or even desirable.


“On the other hand, the ISRP does feel that improved standardization of measuring fish response to habitat restoration is needed,” according to the Retrospective Report “At the very least, we believe that more tributaries where restoration actions are taking place should be monitored for ‘adults in’ and ‘smolts out’ so that the ratio of smolt production to adult escapement can be established as a tracking metric for monitoring action effectiveness.


“The ISRP believes that it is important to consider how long it will take to measure the effects of habitat actions on focal species.”


“Although passage issues may seem largely addressed, several topic areas remain of concern, including contaminants, altered life histories (e.g., mini-jacks), and competition and predation from non-native species,” the report says.


The ISRP will present the report to the Council in Portland during its Jan. 10-11


The Council welcomes public comment on the ISRP's reports and recommendations. Unless otherwise indicated, the Council will accept comments on the ISRP report for 30 days following the date of the report.


For more information about the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and its role in Columbia Basin fish and wildlife restoration go to


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