At the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s June 18, 2013 request, the ISRP reviewed the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s (CTUIR) Walla Walla Spring Chinook Master Plan. As described in the Master Plan, the goals of the CTUIR (the Project Sponsor) for Walla Walla Basin spring Chinook are to provide treaty and non-treaty fisheries in the basin and to restore natural spawning. The proposed hatchery’s purpose is to contribute to harvest and natural spawning in the near term, in a manner consistent with the long-term goal to reestablish a self-sustaining naturally spawning population through an “all-H” approach that includes hatchery production and habitat and passage improvements. The program is proposed to end the dependence on imported broodstock, improve survival through local adaptation, and meet harvest and natural spawning objectives. Implementation is proposed in three phases, moving from one phase to another based on the performance of hatchery and naturally spawning fish in the South Fork Walla Walla River, Touchet River, and Mill Creek.
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 Tribes’ responses to the Step 1 scientific review elements and to previous ISRP reviews of the hatchery Master Plan in 2008 (ISRP 2008- 14) and 2010 (ISRP 2010-17).
The ISRP finds that this submission is as an improvement over previous submissions as it attempts to address many of the ISRP’s concerns and requests for information. However, the ISRP requests a response to fill remaining gaps in information and analysis that are critical to demonstrate the efficacy of the proposed project. Such a response is not envisioned as a major re-write, but rather as a request for information, data, or analyses as supporting documentation, preferably provided within a few weeks or months of this request. For most of these issues, it is important that the responses go beyond a written description of justification to include, where appropriate, a modest level of quantitative analysis. The ISRP recognizes that while there are important ecological challenges within the subbasin to reintroducing a self-sustaining population of spring Chinook, there are also opportunities because complementary efforts to address the other H’s in the subbasin are underway. Moreover, current and previous artificial production provides an important foundation for framing realistic expectations about carrying capacity, rates of return, likelihood of straying, and other characteristics.
The Sponsor proposes a program for re-establishing a self-sustaining natural population of spring Chinook in the subbasin (particularly in the South Fork Walla Walla). The Chinook salmon has been extirpated as a self-sustaining stock for 75 years as a result of human practices within and outside of the subbasin. The proposed program includes a three-phased approach toward creating an “Integrated” artificial production program capable of sustaining a harvestable surplus of both natural and hatchery-origin adults for a tribal fishery (terminal and mainstem Columbia River) and a selective non-tribal recreational fishery on surplus hatchery-origin adults. To achieve these two goals, the Sponsor proposes expansion of artificial production facilities within the Walla Walla subbasin capable of producing and rearing 500,000 smolts; 400,000 for release into the South Fork and 100,000 for release into the Touchet River.
A fundamental outcome of hatchery reform in the Columbia River Basin, both through the Council’s Artificial Production Review (APR) process and the Hatchery Science Review Group (HSRG), has been the recognition that adult production rather than simply hatchery smolt production is an appropriate metric of success. Moreover, hatcheries need to be managed consistent with natural stock conservation. Last, habitat conditions ultimately constrain natural production levels. Therefore, a program that relies on a fixed level of artificial production (in this case 500,000 smolts) is inconsistent with the guidance from the APR, HSRG, and the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Program. Rather, a Master Plan for an Integrated hatchery ought to guide the design of hatchery facilities to achieve specific production levels aimed at the Plan’s goals and determined by adult return rates, harvest, and escapement developed in the Plan. Ultimately, the Plan’s decision framework should include comprehensive evaluation that might lead to alternative production levels if empirical evidence suggests the original estimates or assumptions are not attainable (or conversely, exceeded).
The ISRP requests information on 1) the production levels and productivity for each of the three phases, 2) how long each of the two initial phases is expected to last, and 3) some clarification on the precedence of the decision rules and guidelines that will be used to transition from one phase to the next.
The ISRP provides specific details on individual response elements in its full report.