200001200 - Evaluate Factors Limiting Columbia River Chum Salmon

Sponsor: USFWS-Columbia River Fisheries Program Office

Budgets: FY07: $304,626 | FY08: $319,879 | FY09: $335,131

Short description: The project sponsors propose to evaluate factors limiting Columbia River gorge chum salmon populations. This is to provide an understanding of factors affecting chum salmon spawning primarily in Hardy Creek and Hamilton Springs.

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Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $151,666 | FY08: $151,666 | FY09: $151,666

Comment: Budget reductions not specific. Project to be implemented as proposed with reduced scope.

ISRP final recommendation: Fundable

Comment:

Technical and scientific background: This project has been in existence since 2000 and has provided some very useful information on one of the basin's most overlooked species -- Columbia River chum. This chum population is recognized as a key conservation unit and the proposal does put it in that context. In general, the technical background is adequately presented, although the scientific findings to date could have been more thoroughly presented. There is an excellent description of the problem and explanation of the importance of conserving this chum population. The proposal would benefit from an acknowledgement that estuarine and marine factors could also be limiting. Reviewers should be given data on temporal trends in chum spawning numbers. Given the length of existence of this project, it would seem to be appropriate for the proponents to provide some historical context describing any trends in abundance of chum salmon and developing some testable hypotheses that might explain the data. Such an analysis might suggest what factors are limiting abundance of chum. For example, although coho are mentioned as possible competitors for entry into the spawning channel, no discussion is presented as to how or whether this might or ought to be dealt with. Note: The abstract refers to chum salmon "smolts", but the main proposal properly refers to chum salmon fry. The latter is the correct term. Chum salmon fry are silvery and migrate to sea immediately upon hatching, so there is no "smoltification" process per se, although they resemble other salmonid smolts with respect to their silvery appearance. Rationale and significance to subbasin plans and regional programs: The proposal does a good job of relating the project to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program and the Lower Columbia subbasin plan. This section does not mention the BiOp, although providing winter flows for chum spawning has been one of the action items in the BiOp. The BiOp, however, is mentioned in the "Relationships to other projects" section. Relationships to other project: The proposal puts the work in the context of other Fish and Wildlife Program funded projects, as well as USFWS projects. Collaborative efforts in the spawning area are in place. Coordination of sampling protocols with the Pacific Northwest Aquatic Monitoring Partnership (PNAMP) and Collaborative Systemwide Monitoring and Evaluation Program (CSMEP) illustrate the collaborative nature of the project. The proposal would benefit from collaboration with researchers working in tributaries downstream (e.g. Grays River- 200301000) and in the estuary, given that chum fry are known estuary users. Project history: The history of the project is generally well described, including the failure of the Hardy Creek spawning channel in 2001-2002 (but did it function as intended in 2003-2004?). However, it would have been very helpful to have summarized what is currently believed about limiting factors for Columbia River chum. This history section contains a good description of what was done in terms of actions, but it doesn’t really address what has been learned in the process. Hopefully the access problems for the spawning channel can be overcome as this technology is usually successful if adequate flow can be provided. Objectives: Objectives are briefly presented as a series of six tasks that would be repeated for the next three years. Timelines are assumed to be seasonal. Objectives are not explicitly related to subbasin plans or the Fish and Wildlife Program. Most of the objectives are measurable and clearly defined (e.g., escapement, fry outmigration). The assessment of survival rates between life history stages (which are not defined in the proposal) will be more difficult with the present design, unless the proponents are only going to try to estimate egg-to-fry survival. Tasks (work elements) and methods: Overall, the methods are clearly described by life history stage. For the spawning phase, there is no mention of determining spawning gravel composition -- in particular, the amount of fine sediment -- and this omission is somewhat surprising. The egg environment work seems to focus mainly on temperature, and the rationale for this is unclear. Likewise there is little discussion of measuring egg scour (not a problem?) or redd stranding (related to Bonneville Dam operations?). This struck the reviewers as a serious oversight, because redds are located in an area highly subject to fluctuations of flow, and an area in which BPA has been cooperating to a degree by maintaining flows at times. The suite of parameters monitored in the intragravel environment needs better justification. The area under the curve method for estimating the number of chum salmon redds needs to be better described. It is not clear whether the redd surveys encompass the entire reach or take place only in sample reaches that are accessible. Perhaps some thought might be given to a random sampling design. It isn’t clear whether the juvenile dye marking and recapturing technique had been used with these fish before, or whether a rigorous analysis had been conducted to determine the number of fish marked (200 per week). What is the basis for that number? No information is given on statistical aspects, such as addressing the variance associated with outmigration population estimates. An explanation of de Kroon's (1986) method for determining population growth rate would be useful for reviewers. There may be better/more accurate methods available for determining this key parameter. Monitoring and evaluation: Monitoring of chum escapements is a key component of the project. The proposal will continue an important time series. The project has a generally good history of evaluating the results and adjusting methods accordingly. Facilities, equipment, and personnel seem quite adequate. The personnel have had direct experience with Columbia River chum salmon. Information Transfer: Provisions for information transfer appeared to be adequate, and the project has a generally successful track history in this regard. Annual reports have been faithfully produced and are proposed. Peer-reviewed publications have not been produced although there is potential for some because of the uniqueness of this chum population. Benefit to focal and non-focal species: This project has a clear, persistent benefit for a species that is at-risk and generally overlooked. Knowledge of chum ecology and habitat requirements from this well-integrated study will benefit chum populations elsewhere in the Columbia River Basin. If the spawning channels can be made useful for chum they may also benefit coho. Coho smolts are known to rear in (successful) chum channels. If the spawning channels can be made useful for chum they may also benefit coho. Coho smolts are known to rear in (successful) channels.

State/province recommendation:

Review group:

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

Comment: