June 2010 update: Cover letter, revised master plan and response (16mb PDF)
At the Council’s August 14, 2009 request, attached is the ISRP’s preliminary review of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Master Plan for the Kootenai River Native Fish Conservation Aquaculture Program. This is a Step 1 review in the Council’s Three Step Review Process. Step 1 is the feasibility stage, and all major components and elements of a project should be identified. This review focuses on the Kootenai Tribe’s responses to the Step 1 scientific review elements specified by the Council.
The review and Master Plan cover plans for white sturgeon and burbot. As described in the Master Plan, the goals of the Kootenai sturgeon aquaculture program are to prevent extinction of Kootenai sturgeon and restore a healthy age class structure to enhance demographic and genetic viability and persistence of the population. The burbot aquaculture program’s goal is to re-establish a native burbot population in the lower Kootenai River capable of future sustainable subsistence and sport harvest. Through this Master Plan, the Kootenai Tribe is proposing to construct a new hatchery on Tribal-owned land at the confluence of the Moyie and Kootenai rivers.
The ISRP requests a response (preferably as an updated draft of the Master Plan) before it issues a final Step One review.
For white sturgeon, the Kootenai River Master Plan is generally consistent with using artificial production in ESA listed species management in the United States. The plan recognizes the uncertainties in using artificial production and emphasizes the need for a parallel habitat restoration plan. The plan also recognizes that habitat restoration may be unsuccessful in re-establishing environmental conditions required for natural production of sturgeon. The Master Plan is well integrated into the Kootenai River Subbasin Plan, the USFWS recovery plan for Kootenai sturgeon, and the Libby Dam BiOp. In general, the plan meets many of the requirements for the Step 1 process for artificial production of Kootenai River white sturgeon. The ISRP also appreciates and recognizes the critical need for expedience. However, the ISRP requests additional information and answers to a number of questions in order to complete the Step 1 review process. The ISRP recommends that this information be incorporated into a revised Master Plan, rather than provided in a memorandum.
The burbot component of the Master Plan is more difficult to justify on a full implementation basis before completion of a feasibility effort. Burbot have largely disappeared from the lower Kootenai River but are not listed because other independent populations within the distinct population segment are sufficiently abundant and productive. The ostensible goal of the burbot program is to reintroduce burbot and attempt to re-establish a self-sustaining population (presumably independent of artificial propagation and supplementation). It is not clear that the environmental conditions required for sustainable burbot production will be re-established – a precursor to the goal of self-sustainability. The program has yet to release fish on a study basis to determine the fate and likelihood of survival-to-maturity and participation in natural reproduction, let alone recruitment of any progeny into a wild population. No evidence of recruitment to reproduction or fisheries for other burbot culture programs is provided. This would provide a basic level of justification. At this time the ISRP feels that resources need to be allocated to gain an in-depth understanding of factors affecting burbot survival after stocking before development of a production-scale hatchery to rear and release burbot is initiated. Specifically, a deliberate step-wise approach proceeding from feasibility investigations to pilot studies is warranted prior to planning full implementation.
Following acceptable revisions in response to the above questions and comments, the ISRP anticipates that the Kootenai River white sturgeon sections of the Master Plan will likely meet the requirements to proceed to Step 2. However, the required elements in several of the burbot sections of the Master Plan are incomplete/inadequate (e.g., missing HGMP, subbasin-wide risk assessment, and harvest plan). Additional background and technical justification are needed to be put into the Master Plan for burbot before Step 1 requirements are met.
Combining the two species into a single Master Plan when there are such substantial gaps in the understanding of limiting factors and development of culture technology between the species may slow down the process for white sturgeon. The ISRP recommends that the proponents either clearly separate the two species within the document (e.g., Parts I and II) or preferably cover the species in two separate documents.