At the Council's request, the ISRP reviewed the Step submittal for Project 199500100, Kalispel Tribe Resident Fish. The step submittal initiated a combined step review that addresses the construction of two rearing ponds in association with the Kalispel Tribal Hatchery. This step review is based in part to address comments provided by the ISRP (ISRP 2001-4) and folded into the Council's Issue Summary for the Mountain Columbia provincial review. As commonly occurs in Step reviews, the ISRP conducted a preliminary review of the Step submittal and requested additional information and response from the sponsor to help clarify issues before the ISRP releases a final report (ISRP 2002-7). This final report contains the ISRP's evaluation of the original submittal with the added information in the response.
In the preliminary review, ISRP reviewers requested additional specific information to be able to better assess whether the proposed pond construction will enable the project to meet its goals. Reviewers find that the proposal and response are uneven in quality, with some areas showing good planning, organization, and logical thinking, while others like experimental design and monitoring seem quite superficial.
Reviewers note that this project is billed as a "supplementation" program. Elsewhere in the basin, the ISRP has reviewed anadromous supplementation projects and facilities and are holding those projects to very high standards of experimental design and monitoring and evaluation. This program should be held to equally rigorous levels of experimental design and monitoring to assess project success and treatment efficacies; granted this supplementation is dealing with a non-native population of bass, and thus risks are different than with supplementation of ESA-listed native salmonids. Experimental design and monitoring and evaluation are the project's current weakest points. If those aspects of the project are not brought to higher standards, then the project is little more than a trial-and-error project, rather than adaptive management.
One of the original ISRP comments was: "The study is only intended to determine whether fish released as fry, fingerlings, or larger sub-adult bass, each released at different locations will be recaptured at the same or differing rates. This assessment may not even be possible so the proponents need to calculate how many tags must be recovered from each group so as to detect differences between groups with acceptable confidence, and determine whether that number is reasonable given their proposed methods. Further, the study does little to shed light on the impact for the overall goal, which is to enhance the quality (more large fish presumably) of the fishery. It is possible, for example, that the supplementation will reduce the number of large fish. The previous ISRP comment that supplementation of this bass population should be carried out as a carefully designed experiment still stands." After the review of the response, the ISRP still believes these comments apply. The project needs to be experimental, designed and conducted by experienced researchers, with creative methods and tight controls to assess progress (whether success or failure). It is currently none of the above.
Pond Construction and Operation
The response adequately addresses the ISRP's most important issues with pond construction and management. Specifically, size grading of fish every 10-14 days seems a reasonable approach to minimizing cannibalism. However, the timing and duration of grading is not specified in the response and appears to apply only to the rearing period prior to placing fish in ponds. If it proves to be warranted, consideration may need to be given to conducting periodic grading during the pond-rearing phase.
Having drainable ponds, as planned, will facilitate removal of fish when rearing is complete and prevent the holding over of piscivorous fishes in the ponds. Fertilizing ponds to stimulate plankton seems appropriate.
On the other hand, the response clarified but did not resolve issues in regard to the ISRP's preliminary comments on stocking strategies. Reviewers reject the argument posed in the response that since few if any bass fry were found in stomachs of piscivorous fishes from the reservoir that were checked in the past, then the 100,000 fry that would be released from the hatchery each year would not be eaten. With an average size of 55 mm and no prior exposure to predators, the fry would be very vulnerable to a number of opportunistic predators. Based on numerous published studies there is reason to believe that piscivorous and avian predators might consume the bulk of a group of hatchery-produced fry within a few days of release. Should this operation proceed, reviewers urge project staff to carefully devise and monitor release strategies intended to minimize such losses.
Program Goals and Monitoring and Evaluation
The ISRP also requested further clarification on the program's goals and monitoring and evaluation. As identified in previous ISRP comments, there is no strong basis for supplementing the bass population in the reservoir. Experiments with careful monitoring could be carried out to help conclude whether, and at what level, supplementing the population is likely to produce the desired result. However, the proposed evaluation program for supplementation is inadequate. Responses were not provided.
At this stage in the project, reviewers feel that important questions regarding the basis for this project remain unanswered. The capacity of Box Canyon Reservoir to produce significantly more large bass is unknown. Whether hatchery-produced bass fry would survive in the reservoir and live longer enough to enhance the harvest is in doubt. What was initially a relatively low cost operation, based on the use of existing sloughs for bass rearing, now becomes more expensive, elaborate, and energy-demanding if ponds are to be built. If, as reviewers believe, the larger project is a poor venture, it makes little sense to go forward with pond construction even if the ponds were perfectly constructed and operated.