In response to the Council’s January 19, 2012 review request letter, the ISRP reviewed the report, The Marine Ecology of Juvenile Columbia River Basin Salmonids: A Synthesis of Research 1998-2011 (hereafter the ocean synthesis report). The studies summarized in the synthesis report are the Ocean Survival of Salmonids Study, which the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), began in 1998; the Canada-USA Salmon Shelf Survival Study, which Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has conducted since 1999; and the Coastal Ocean Acoustic Salmon Tracking project (formerly Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project), which was initiated by Kintama Research Services Ltd. (Kintama) in 2005.
ISRP Review Summary
This is the ISRP's final review of the ocean synthesis report. The authors presented their report to the ISRP during a teleconference on February 9, 2012. During this teleconference the authors and the ISRP agreed that the development and reporting of a synthesis of results was a useful process. The process encourages and enhances cooperation and coordination among projects, and provides a mechanism for demonstrating collective progress toward addressing the ocean strategies in the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program. The ISRP recommends continuation of the synthesis-reporting process.
Answers to Council's questions
1. Does the report adequately address the points emphasized by the Council in its recommendation?
The ISRP concludes that the report adequately addresses the points emphasized by the Council in its recommendation. While the ocean projects represent only a small part of the Council's 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program, the projects are making important contributions. The ocean science synthesized in this report demonstrates order-of-magnitude advances in our knowledge of the role of the ocean on the early marine life history of Columbia River Basin salmon, since the pioneering marine research on the topic in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the ISRP concludes that there needs to be a stronger link between studies of marine ecological processes and salmon survival estimates. The acoustic tagging work has achieved the goal of demonstrating basic feasibility. However, in terms of being a complete pilot study, there are problems with the limited types of fish tagged and overall sample size. That stated, survival data are needed to increase the meaningfulness of the research on processes.
2. Is the information well synthesized and described?
In general, the ISRP concludes that information in the report is well-synthesized and described, particularly the process study work by NOAA and DFO. The acoustic tagging work, with brief statements and publication lists, does not include enough details to be as well integrated into the report as the other studies. Future syntheses should improve reporting of this integration. In addition, some of the findings presented by the three projects are confusing and stated rather conclusively, without providing solid evidence. Clarification of the metrics being reported should be improved. The ISRP attempts to provide constructive questions, suggestions for further clarifications, and recommendations for improvements to the report in our detailed comments below.
3. Are the critical gaps addressed?
The ISRP is encouraged that the research has progressed to the point of being able to ask questions and obtain results concerning how ocean conditions influence interactions between hatchery and wild salmon, stock-specific responses, and potential density-dependence. It is clear that complex interactions of factors influence survival so careful prioritization is necessary to identify the most crucial data gaps in future work. In particular, the ISRP recommends that obtaining stock-specific data on oceanic effects on salmonid survival wherever possible is important. A more systematic approach to any additional survey work is recommended for both the existing objectives and for the gaps and uncertainties identified by the ISRP in the RME and AP categorical review (ISRP 2010-44).
4. Are there elements proposed for future work that are not consistent with the Program?
All of the elements proposed for future work are consistent with the Program. The ISRP concludes that there is still a need for the NOAA project to develop a strategic plan that prioritizes their hypotheses, objectives, and work elements to provide critical management information. NOAA does not clearly state their research priorities, just that they will prioritize (Appendix H). DFO does a good job of prioritizing research actions under various funding levels (Appendix I). Further improvements to coordination among the three ocean projects and between ocean and freshwater projects are needed to maximize the benefits of research, monitoring, and evaluation to Columbia River salmonids.
In conclusion, the ISRP recommends that the Council maintain an ongoing dialog with the ocean research projects and projects in other realms to ensure that (1) the Council understands what these projects can and cannot contribute to Columbia River Basin salmon restoration and management, and (2) project proponents understand the questions and issues facing the Council and regional co-managers. For example, one of the stated benefits of ocean research is the ability to estimate how ocean survival affects overall life-cycle survival. However, estimates of total smolt-to-adult marine survival can be obtained without ocean research and monitoring, and might be sufficient for some management questions. For other management questions estimates of daily survival calculated by the ocean projects are important, for example in determining whether expediting the movement of fish from one habitat to another improves overall survival. The ISRP's view is that information provided by the ocean projects' process studies on what, when, where, and how ocean mortality occurs will lead to improved hatchery, hydrosystem, harvest, and habitat management practices needed to help restore Columbia River Basin salmon.