The ISRP and IEAB reviewed two reports pertaining to the Select Area Fisheries Enhancement Project (SAFE). The ISRP evaluation focuses on "Select Area Fishery Evaluation Project, October 1993 to October 2005" (April 2006). The IEAB evaluation focuses on the economic analysis "Select Area Fishery Evaluation Project, Economic Analysis Study, Final Report" (November 2006).
In general, the ISRP found that the SAFE project appears successful, providing high and relatively stable harvest rates with minimal impacts on non-target and listed stocks, especially those above Bonneville Dam. The project is consistent with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program and the Bi-State Lower Columbia River and Columbia River Estuary Subbasin Plan. Survival rates of SAFE fish are generally about equal to or better than those achieved at lower Columbia River hatcheries. Harvest of SAFE fish makes up a significant component of the lower Columbia River catch of salmon. Adaptive management has been a key component of the project. The fishery has been carefully monitored to assess catch and effects on non-target stocks and regulations have been adjusted when deleterious impacts have been observed or anticipated.
However, some concerns about the project and report remain. Discussion of methods in the report could have been more comprehensive and complete, and statistical analysis of the coded wire tag and experimental study data was entirely lacking. The report does not present convincing evidence that there is opportunity for expansion of production, and they do not explain why the maximum production goal of 11,300,000 smolts was chosen. Methods for estimation of harvest rates and "impact rate" of select area fisheries on non-target and listed stocks should be discussed more clearly. Because the estimate of harvested fish is not verified, concerns are raised about the validity of the income generated from the fishery. A critical unknown of the SAFE program is potential impacts of large releases of SAFE fish in the future on other populations during periods of prolonged poor ocean conditions.
Consequently, the ISRP recommends:
The economic analysis is generally responsive to the economic issues raised in the 2005 ISRP/IEAB review, although the report presents some problems with regard to documentation, detail, and clarity of analysis that make it difficult to review.
The two general questions addressed by the economic analysis are whether changes to the SAFE project would generate net economic benefits and whether the SAFE project is a cost-effective approach to a mitigation fishery in the lower Columbia River.
Does the SAFE project generate economic benefits?
- The SAFE project generates economic benefits by providing relatively inexpensive fish for harvest, but the analysis does not provide all the information needed to determine if the SAFE investment provides a net economic benefit.
- Total project costs appear to exceed benefits with or without BPA funding, resulting in a negative net economic value (NEV) for the project overall.
- The Economic Study estimates that a loss of BPA funding would cause a net economic loss by reducing SAFE project NEV to levels below current levels.
- The estimate of economic impacts is based on assumed constant SARs, but SARS vary from year to year. Therefore, actual annual project benefits could be less than or greater than those reported.
- The net benefit of expanding SAFE project recreational and commercial fisheries beyond present levels is not estimated.
- An additional benefit of the SAFE project is the positive demonstration effect that terminal fisheries can provide harvest opportunities with minimum impact on protected stocks.
- Is the SAFE project a cost-effective approach to a mitigation fishery? The cost-effectiveness of the SAFE project can be judged relative to the cost of other means to accomplish the same or sufficiently similar ends.
- The SAFE project allows for more harvest than would the release of equivalent numbers of smolts from upriver hatcheries.
- The increase in catch through the SAFE project could be achieved through expansion of upriver hatchery releases, but that would cost more per fish caught and would increase the risk of incidental catch of ESA protected species.
- The assessment of SAFE project cost-effectiveness is impeded by the current absence of alternative means to enhance catch without increasing risk to ESA protected stocks.
- The impacts of SAFE on catch of ESA stocks are not quantified. Consequently the analysis could not provide a complete cost-effectiveness analysis.
- It seems likely that the cost-effectiveness analysis, comparing the costs of alternative means of achieving SAFE project objectives, would be likely to favor the current SAFE approach to catch enhancement.
- The question of the cost-effective level for the SAFE mitigation fishery is not assessed