The Northern Pikeminnow Management Program (NPMP) is a basinwide program to harvest northern pikeminnow (hereafter referred to as pikeminnow) with the goal to reduce predation on salmon and steelhead. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) administers the NPMP in cooperation with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). ODFW conducts program evaluation, population indexing, tagging operations, and evaluates other predator responses. WDFW implements the Sport Reward Fishery through operating Sport Reward Fishery registration stations, collecting and disposing of pikeminnows caught, and issuance of reward vouchers. The PSMFC provides fiscal and technical services to the two state agencies, pays all rewards, and assists WDFW in staffing the registration stations.
On August 31, 2020, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council asked the ISRP to review a response from ODFW, WDFW, and PSMFC regarding the Northern Pikeminnow Management Program (Project 1990-077-00, Development of Systemwide Predator Control). The response, titled A Plan in Response to the 2019 Independent Scientific Review Panel’s Qualifications for Renewal of the Northern Pikeminnow Management Program, is intended to address the conditions the Council placed on the project as part of the Mainstem and Program Support Project Review in August 2019.
The Council’s conditions directed the proponents to address the ISRP’s qualifications regarding:
- re-examining and validating the NPMP’s long-term project analytical methods and exploring the use of alternative models (e.g., bioenergetic models)
- collaborating with avian predation researchers and determining if monitoring and evaluation approaches used in the Basin for avian predation can be applied to fish predation on salmonids
- describing an adaptive management process for the NPMP
After reviewing the response, the ISRP finds that the NPMP “meets scientific review criteria (conditional).”
The ISRP greatly appreciates the proponents’ response and constructive approach to peer review. The response and scientific dialogue benefited from a July 16, 2020 teleconference between several ISRP members and the project proponents to clarify details of the ISRP’s qualifications. The response demonstrates that the NPMP understands the ISRP’s recommendations and will be exploring alternatives to address them. In the project’s presentation to the ISRP in 2019 and the ODFW M&E team’s response to our review, the Program leaders responded positively and agreed with the majority of our recommendations and concerns. The proponents point out that modifications to the project require collaborative decisions by the proponents’ agencies and must be legally implementable under their fish collecting permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Although the proponents agree with the majority of our recommendations and intend to explore actions to address them, it is unclear how and when the recommendations will be addressed. Consequently, the ISRP requests that the PSMFC, ODFW, and WDFW respond collectively to the ISRP review and indicate how the recommended actions will be addressed. Understanding the need for flexibility, the ISRP suggests that the proponents and the Council staff agree on a mutually determined date for a response to the following requests, preferably before the field season in 2021:
- Action Implementation: Based on the proponents’ response, the ISRP asks the three co-managers to report which actions will be implemented to assess and reduce impacts of pikeminnow predation on salmon and steelhead recovery, explain how they will be conducted, and provide a timeline for each effort. The actions identified in the response include use of the Barker Model, Brownie Bird Band Model, and Wisconsin Fish Bioenergetics Model, as well as evaluation of compensatory or additive mortality of juvenile salmonids and compensatory responses of other predators. If funds need to be reallocated to accomplish these tasks, the response should update the original budget to reflect the reallocations.
- SMART Objectives: The proponents need to develop SMART objectives for the new activities the proponents plan to pursue over the next 5 years.
- Adaptive Management: A project with three independent co-managers and other collaborators requires a formal adaptive management process. The ISRP asks the PSMFC, ODFW, and WDFW to develop a collective adaptive management process for both the Sport Reward Fishery and the ODFW M&E components and provide a description of the process to the ISRP.
The NPMP is managed jointly by multiple agencies, so modifications to the program require support from the co-managers. The response focuses on the efforts of the ODFW M&E team, which is only partially in control of their monitoring actions. The NPMP receives more than $4 million annually, over $2 million of which funds the Sport Rewards Fishery and creel stations. The ISRP assumes that the NPMP co-managers can reallocate or request more funds to address needed additions or changes. The ISRP asks the co-managers to describe which actions will be implemented and by whom, and to indicate how the Program’s resources will be allocated to accomplish these tasks. These joint adaptive management decisions will directly influence the scientific soundness of the collective pikeminnow management efforts in the Columbia River and predator management throughout the Basin.
One of the immediate challenges for the co-managers and adaptive management process is potential permit limitations on future sampling by boat electrofishing. The ODFW M&E team indicates that the 2020 Columbia River System BiOp requires them to substantially reduce the take of ESA listed salmonids by 2023 and potentially eliminate boat electrofishing. This would significantly reduce their ability to monitor abundance of pikeminnow, smallmouth bass, and walleye and would limit their ability to evaluate mortality of juvenile salmon and steelhead. It also eliminates options for recalibrating the abundance indices and increasing control efforts near areas of high pikeminnow predation (e.g., tailraces of the dams). The lack of credible evaluation options greatly decreases the ability to measure effectiveness of the pikeminnow control efforts and inform adaptive management decisions. The ISRP recommends that the NPMP co-managers notify the Council and BPA if the NPMP cannot obtain scientifically credible information because sampling by electrofishing is reduced or eliminated.