Northwest Power and Conservation Council gave its conditional approval for the
continuation of funding for a Yakama Nation project aimed at determining
whether beleaguered upper Columbia steelhead populations can get a reproductive
boost through the “reconditioning” of fish with an urge to spawn a second time.
salmon species that spawn once and die, steelhead in relatively small numbers
have been known to spawn, head downriver from Columbia River tributaries and
then at points relatively unknown turn around and head upstream on a second
of their physically depleted condition, few complete that mission. In a
response to a question Tuesday from the Council, the Yakama Nation’s Matt
Abrahamse said that probably fewer than 1 percent of the steelhead that spawn
in streams such as central Washington’s Methow River successfully make the loop
to spawn a second time. Abrahamse is project lead for the Yakama Nation.
goal of the Yakama Nation steelhead “kelt” reconditioning program is to capture
potential second-time spawners and hold them at a Methow area facility for
about six months so that they can be fed and built back to full strength. The
fish are then released back into the river system with the belief that they
will have a greater chance of reproducing than they would have had if they had
been left in-river.
for the project was recommended by the Council as part of the four-state
panel’s project review of Jan. 12, 2010 and the Research, Monitoring and
Evaluation and Artificial Production Project Review on June 12, 2011.
funding recommendations came with qualifications largely linked to the need for
the project proponents to report progress toward addressing theories about
reproductive benefits that might be derived from the reconditioning work.
Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel make recommendations
regarding proposals for funding under the Columbia River Basin Fish and
Wildlife Program. The Bonneville Power Administration makes final funding
decisions. BPA markets power generated at federal hydro projects in the
Columbia River basin. It funds such projects with revenues from ratepayers as
mitigation for impacts to fish and wildlife from the existence and operation of
YN kelt reconditioning research is a so-called “Accord” project. BPA in 2008
signed memorandums of agreement with a number of Northwest states and tribes
promising funding for specific projects over a 10-year time frame. The funding
associated with this accord project totals $5,184,948 in expense funds for
Fiscal Year 2008 through 2017. The Fiscal Year 2014 expense budget for the
project is $454,086 and has a performance period of Feb. 1, 2014 to Jan. 31,
project’s goal is to enhance the abundance and life history diversity of
naturally produced steelhead in the Upper Columbia River by taking advantage of
their unique ability to repeat spawn (i.e., iteroparity),” according an Oct. 28
memo prepared for the Council by NPCC program implementation manager Mark
YN project description notes that rates of iteroparity for UCR populations are
extremely low, likely due to high mortality imposed by such factors as extreme
energetic demand, degraded habitat quality, and post-spawning migration through
the Columbia River hydropower system.
project assists in satisfying commitments under the 2008 Federal Columbia River
Power System biological opinion. That NOAA Fisheries document proposes actions
that it deems necessary to avoid jeopardizing the survival of species, such as
wild upper Columbia steelhead, that are protected under the Endangered Species
YN project proposes to recondition post-spawned wild steelhead (kelts) in
captivity under a long-term treatment program (6 to 10 months), monitor their
condition and reproductive state, release them to spawn naturally, and track
their post-release contribution to natural spawner abundance. Natural-origin
steelhead kelts will be collected from hatchery broodstock that are live-spawned
and at locations known to encounter kelts, such as UCR hydroproject fish bypass
systems, tributary smolt traps, and weirs.
intent is to determine “if we could increase the number of naturally spawning
steelhead on the spawning grounds,” Abrahamse said of a program that has
largely been focused in the Methow and its tributaries.
Council in its 2010 recommendations said that are “based on the current level
of science and the needs for answers, the Council recommends that the proposal
proceed with implementation as outlined above to provide information to the
current debate on the reproductive viability of reconditioned kelts.”
panel required a 2014 progress check-in, which was provided by the Yakama
Nation and reviewed by the ISRP.
benefit of reconditioning kelts remains to be determined and the ISRP’s
extensive review continues to challenge and encourage the Yakama Nation and the
region to address the questions asked in their qualification,” Fritsch’s memo
The prior recommendation, by the ISRP, to establish methods to assess how kelt
reconditioning may benefit population growth, abundance, spatial structure, and
diversity still needs to be addressed.
Some modeling and a power analysis need to be conducted to clarify how many
juvenile and F1 adults should be sampled to detect meaningful differences in
the breeding and reproductive success of HOR (hatchery origin), NOR (natural
origin), and reconditioned NOR females.
Methods to assess the fat levels, maturation timing, fecundity, egg size, and
gamete viability of the project’s reconditioned kelts need to be developed and
implemented. The fate of non-maturing or skip-repeat reconditioned fish also
should be disclosed.
Viable plans are needed to monitor the homing and straying rates of
reconditioned kelts released by the project.
Experiments are needed to discover the best geographic locations
times of year for release of the project’s reconditioned fish.
Council recommendation made Tuesday “is conditioned that the Yakama Nation and
Bonneville address the questions raised by the ISRP within the current scope
and budget of the project as part of annual reports and future reviews. In
addition, the Fish and Wildlife Committee requests that Bonneville and NOAA provide
an update and status review,in 2016, of this kelt project and how it relates to
meeting the intent of RPA42.2 of the 2008 BiOp.”
Council members Phil Rockefeller and Tom Karier both stressed that the
exploration is necessary.
are in trouble,” Rockefeller said of the Upper Columbia stock.
Council member Bill Booth said the researchers need to better answer the key
question – is reconditioning going to work as theorized.
looking forward to having the five qualifications addressed thoroughly in
2016,” Booth said.