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NW Fishletter #388 Dec. 3, 2018
 Columbia Basin Research 'Among Best In The World,' Independent Scientists Say
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) should be proud of the scientific research they're funding in the Columbia Basin, which is creating a legacy that will allow policymakers to prioritize funding for the most effective methods to recover salmon runs, according to Independent Scientific Review Panel Chair Steve Schroder.
In an Oct. 9 presentation to the Council, Schroder focused on the importance of the scientific research examined in the panel's project status review of 25 BPA-funded salmon studies. The review also included several suggestions on how to improve fish research in the region.
Schroder told the Council that of the 25 projects reviewed, 10 "were terrific and met all of our criteria. Four of them had been completed. And the 11 others just had some minor things we thought could be improved."
According to an NWPCC article, the review will help inform the Council as it considers recommendations to amend its fish and wildlife program, which was last updated in 2014.
The 25 projects reviewed by the ISRP fell into three categories--fish populations, including their growth, survival or migration and genetic diversity; habitat and its limiting factors; and fish propagation and the effectiveness of hatcheries in supplementing steelhead and spring Chinook runs.
The review notes that long-term studies are necessary, and that "decisions to interrupt, modify or terminate long-term studies must be made very carefully."
The value of incremental information acquired from each additional year of research can be "extremely high, particularly as the frequency of extreme weather events increases," it noted.
The review asked for continued support of NOAA Fisheries' Ocean Survival of Salmonids project, which should provide answers to key management questions, such as the effects of forage fish abundance on salmon survival.
The review also recommends that the Council evaluate salmon predators on an ecosystem-wide scale, expanding research to assess the impacts of fish, bird and mammal predation at all stages of the life cycles of salmon and steelhead.
It recommends support for and advances in genetic research, noting that "it may be time again to examine the potential of using parent-based tagging (PBT) and genetic stock identification (GSI) to identify the origin of salmonids caught in ocean fisheries."
Research should also consider climate change, which is expected to alter conditions in the Columbia Basin, the ISRP review said. "Climate and land use changes may determine where restoration is most beneficial and should be considered in prioritization of investments," the review said.
Many other recommendations were offered, including a comprehensive review of assessments into the reintroduction of anadromous salmon into blocked areas; incorporating monitoring protocols and data from long-term studies into future habitat assessments; improving practices for hatchery supplementation; and improvement in communication with the public and between researchers and decision makers about their research, ranging from peer-reviewed scientific papers to newspaper articles, podcasts and conferences.
In his presentation to the Council, Schroder detailed the importance of just some of the studies examined in the ISRP review. One involved ongoing research into the effectiveness in detecting PIT-tags in juvenile migration, of which only about half are now being detected due to the large number of fish now migrating over dam spillways, where the PIT-tags cannot be detected.
Another involves a genetic study by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which is working to estimate the arrival time and abundance of Chinook, steelhead, sockeye and coho. Schroder said this information can be used to help determine the potential to reintroduce extirpated populations in specific reaches.
He also said that detailed research into habitat improvements to determine which factors are most effective at improving salmon returns could help policymakers decide how best to use limited restoration funds to prioritize projects.
"You can see that there is a tremendous array, I think, of extremely interesting projects that come out," Schroder told the Council. "And you guys ought to be proud of the fact that you're supporting this work. BPA should be as well, because this work really, in many cases, is the best in the world. And it acts as a guide to many projects in additional research, really, around the world." -K.C. Mehaffey
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