Fish tagging and marking play important roles for stock assessment, research, management, and recovery efforts for salmonid and other fishes in the Columbia River Basin (CRB). Current fish tagging programs in the CRB include a large set of varied and complex activities, aimed at addressing dozens of management questions involving multiple objectives, multiple species, and differing spatial and temporal scales and geographic domains. Specific tagging programs involve various government agencies and non-governmental entities that overlap and intersect in terms of their interests, responsibilities, and funding. Fish tagging generates information on over one hundred “indicators” used to address a wide range of management questions. The total cost of these programs in 2012 was about $70 million.
This report summarizes the efforts of the Independent Economic Advisory Board (IEAB) to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of CRB fish tagging programs. Those efforts include: a) development and application of a Fish Tagging (FT) mathematical programming model as a tool for evaluating the cost effectiveness of fish tagging, and b) observations and insights gained from the model, as well as from the Fish Tagging Forum and Council staff.
The analyses described in this report reflect findings of an exploratory examination of how a model of this kind can contribute to fish tagging programs. Our observations are both general and specific. One general observation is that fish tagging in the CRB is complex scientifically, technologically, administratively and jurisdictionally. The many sources of overlap, complementarity and spillover represent some of the ways that achieving cost-effectiveness is not straightforward or obvious. The main findings of the study are:
- The marginal (incremental) cost of generating valid indicators needed to answer management questions varies greatly across locations, subbasins, and species. Indeed, the marginal cost of augmenting detections by one fish can be zero in some cases and hundreds or even thousands of dollars in others. Similar results were found for PIT detections for adults and juveniles, as well as for harvest recoveries.
- The FT model was used to evaluate the differences in cost between coded-wire tags and genetic marking for harvest indicators. Despite some cost advantages in tagging and other qualitative advantages, under current conditions, the model suggests that high sampling and lab costs for genetics makes it more expensive than coded-wire tags (CWT) for most stocks. Genetic marking, however, generates data that has qualitative advantages over CWT data, and may have advantages over CWT in some situations. For example, CWT is not cost-effective for monitoring harvests of wild stocks and genetic marking may have cost advantages in basins with few non-target fish in the fishery, such as the Snake River basin.
- To achieve cost-effectiveness, and also to maximize program effectiveness, there is a need for a more centralized and coordinated management program aimed squarely at “rationalizing” (achieving cost-effectiveness and program effectiveness). We see a need for “rationalization” of fish tagging programs basin-wide, where by “rationalization” we mean organizing according to principles of management in order to increase efficiency. Current programs are fairly decentralized, and yet positive spillover effects and coordination benefits exist at many levels. Taking advantage of wide-ranging mutual benefits represents a complex coordination problem. A rationalization program could both improve program efficiency and bring about cost savings at the same time.
- It is generally difficult to answer the “fair share” question (Who should pay for what share of the fish tagging activities?) using objective information alone. This is the case because of: a) the complex spillovers and mutual benefits in tagging and detection actions, b) the strong interdependencies for generating and using data indicators and addressing management questions, c) the complex legal, jurisdictional, and institutional dimensions of responsibility and accountability that characterize relationships between BPA, the Council, the tribes, the states, federal laws, and international agreements, and d) subjective opinions regarding importance, responsibility, and appropriate baselines.
Finally, the initial analyses described in the report give a strong indication that the programming model developed for the study could serve a valuable role in promoting future improvements in fish tagging cost effectiveness and program effectiveness. Indeed, a refined version of the current model could play a key role in the kind of rationalization process being recommended, although the results presented in this report barely scratch the surface of what is possible with the FT model. Many additional issues can be address by examining results from the model, and scenarios can be run to evaluate “what if” questions related to costs, detection probabilities, fish populations, hatchery operations, allocation of budgets and responsibilities, etc.
The kinds of cost metrics that are needed as the basis for making decisions about how to allocate scarce resources for fish tagging cannot be found in project or agency budgets, but rather require a model like the one utilized here, which recognizes and takes account of binding constraints, economies of scale, and spillover effects (sharing data), all of which have sizable effects on questions of cost effectiveness.