In response to the Council's request of March 2021, the ISRP reviewed a submittal from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) titled, Three-Step Review of the Grays River and Duncan Creek Chum Salmon Hatchery Programs, associated with Project #2008-710-00, Chum Salmon Restoration in the tributaries below Bonneville Dam. The submittal is intended to address the Step review process and numerous Council recommendations since the initial review of this project in August 2009 and most recently as part of the Mainstem and Program Support Projects review of August 2019.
WDFW’s Grays River and Duncan Creek hatchery programs are part of a larger effort, including habitat restoration, that has an overarching recovery goal to restore Columbia River chum populations to levels that are self-sustaining and can provide ecosystem-level benefits and fishing opportunities. The hatchery programs are intended to serve conservation and “safety-net” purposes to provide a source of chum salmon for reintroduction efforts, preserve the genetic diversity in the Coast (Grays) and Lower Gorge (Duncan) Strata, and reduce extinction risk.
The ISRP recommends that the project Meets Scientific and Step Review Criteria (Conditional).
The proponents are complimented for a comprehensive and detailed 2021 Step Report. In combination with the Hatchery Genetic Management Plans and other referenced documents, the report provides an excellent summary of all aspects of program operations and performance to date.
The project has many strengths and accomplishments from more than 20 years of implementation. However, the project is approaching a critical phase where decisions regarding future strategies and actions need to be addressed, a possible crossroads. Many critical uncertainties and questions remain related to the project objectives, strategies, and actions for the future.
The project has generated a wealth of valuable data that are available for analyses and interpretation to help resolve some critical uncertainties and to better understand the benefits and risks. The proponents identified critical data analyses and planning efforts needed to address remaining uncertainties and questions. The information that will be generated from these analyses and plans is essential for not only better understanding the benefits and risks of these programs but also for guiding the future implementation strategies and role of artificial propagation in chum salmon recovery.
Notwithstanding these strengths, the ISRP is concerned that most of the six main issues identified in the 2005 Combined Step Review have not yet been resolved, over 16 years later. Five of the six issues (Spawning Strategy being the exception) still need additional evaluation to complete. However, the project appears to be applying adequate methods to address each of the issues in the future.
The project meets scientific criteria with the conditions that the project complete the following analyses and planning efforts to address past ISRP issues and guide the project in the future:
- Duncan Creek reintroduction evaluation
- Grays River reintroduction evaluation
- Integrated Population Model (IPM)
- Straying level - Habitat capacity scenario evaluation
- Assess fitness effects of the three supplementation strategies
- Revised Enhancement and Recovery Plan (E&R Plan)
- Evaluate the efficacy of hatchery supplementation
- Develop a plan to assess the effects of the hatchery supplementation on wild fish in the receiving stream systems
Some of these analyses and products were identified by the proponents as important in the 2021 Step Report.
The ISRP understands that these conditions will require a major effort by the proponents. However, the ISRP believes the success of the project hinges on the information and guidance that these efforts will provide. The ISRP strongly encourages the proponents to expedite completion and share their findings and recommendations through journal publication. There are relatively few publications of studies assessing the benefits and risks of salmonid hatchery supplementation and reintroduction, especially for salmon populations that have short freshwater juvenile rearing and sub-yearling smolt life history strategies.
The ISRP does not see any need for additional ISRP review of the project associated with the Step review; the ISRP’s review is complete. The ISRP looks forward to reviewing the proponent’s progress on these conditions as part of the next major project review that includes this project.