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NW Fishletter #374, October 2, 2017

[4] ISAB Reviews NOAA Fisheries' Life-Cycle Modeling Report

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) has completed its appraisal of a NOAA Fisheries' report on life-cycle models intended to assess alternative restoration actions on threatened and endangered Columbia Basin salmon.

The suite of life-cycle models reviewed by ISAB and posted Sept. 22 was in response to a 2010 Supplemental Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion that called for expansion of models used in the 2008 FCRPS BiOp and subsequently in the 2014 Supplemental BiOp.

NOAA Fisheries requested the ISAB review of its May 23, 2017, report, Interior Columbia Basin Life-Cycle Modeling. This is the second time the panel has evaluated the modeling effort led by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. The first was in 2013.

Like the 2013 version, the 2017 report represents work by teams of scientists, most associated with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, but includes some from other federal agencies, from state and tribal fish and wildlife entities, and from consulting firms.

The ISAB acknowledged the complexity of the life cycle modeling effort, noting the wide-ranging life histories of these salmonids, the many locations where the fish live and are affected by human activities, and the changing environment.

Expanding on the previous work that modeled hydrosystem and climate effects on salmonids, the 2017 report covers more populations and habitat actions.

New chapters describe the potential effects of toxics and ways to relay results to decision-makers, yet these new efforts--along with the ocean survival model--are still in formative stages, ISAB and NOAA Fisheries admit.

Both entities acknowledge that non-native species are not covered in the more than 20 life cycle models reviewed and need to be.

The ISAB review also recommends that harvest impacts need "broader coverage in the life-cycle models."

The ISAB reviewed the BPA-funded habitat modeling project ISEMP/CHAMP and hydro-system models, particularly as the hydro models relate to spill.

The ISEMP/CHAMP model is used to estimate the effects of habitat improvement actions in specific stretches of river.

ISAB said it had the potential to be "highly useful to managers," citing the model's findings that some habitat improvements resulted in only modest benefits for fish abundance and productivity, while habitat restoration actions that reduced water temperatures had greater benefits.

Many of the models presented in NOAA's life cycle modeling report like those required by ISEMP/CHAMP "rely on long-term datasets, which highlights the value of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation needed to parametrize and validate models," the ISAB said.

The habitat model needs to be "coupled with long-term monitoring data to test and fine-tune the model further, if managers are to gain confidence in its predictions," the board said.

The two models that evaluate the effects of spill at FCRPS projects are included in the ISAB review.

One is the life-cycle model developed as part of the 2016 Comparative Survival Study. Created by Bob Lessard of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in conjunction with the Fish Passage Center, this model showed the greatest benefits to smolt-to-adult returns occurring in scenarios with highest spill and lowest flow and a potential for a threefold increase in SARs with higher spills, depending on flows.

ISAB had few concerns about the CSS model, but did recommend "the next iteration ... report on likely impacts of keeping the proportion of smolts transported fixed." The model fixed the number of smolts transported at 20 percent.

The reviewers also recommended incorporating density dependence at more than one life stage.

COMPASS, the second life-cycle model to look at the impact of spill, is a set of models designed by numerous regional scientists and led by NOAA Fisheries. The results of this model did not show a large benefit from increased spill.

ISAB had many concerns about how COMPASS arrived at its predictions. "It is not clear how scenarios were generated," the science advisory board said, describing a lack of information and clarity in the report.

The board recommended modelers address 17 different issues, most with multiple questions.

"It would be very helpful to employ COMPASS and the CSS life-cycle model using the same spill/flow scenarios to better understand if the two models agree in their findings and if not, why not," the ISAB said. -Laura Berg

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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