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Scientists Rank Innovative Project Proposals

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - December 22, 2000

An Independent Scientific Review Panel report released this week suggests 20 projects potentially worthy of funding out of 66 proposals submitted in the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program's new "innovative" project category.

The ISRP report is a milestone in the Northwest Power Planning Council process to select a set of projects that fit into the innovative category. A review of the projects for their potential management application is due from the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority by Jan. 17.

At its Feb. 6-7 work session and meeting, the Council is expected to recommend which of the projects would be funded within the $2 million made available for the innovative category in fiscal year 2001. The 66 submittals represented $20 million in funding requests.

The category, suggested by the ISRP in its past annual program reviews, is intended to test new methods and technologies for fish and wildlife recovery. The 66 proposals fell into several broad topic areas: 1) nutrient supplementation; 2) fish health; 3) fish population monitoring; 4) information transfer/planning; 5) artificial production; 6) habitat restoration and enhancement; and 7) fisheries technology, according to the review.

The ISRP review goal was to determine whether the proposals met the Council solicitation's definition of "innovative" and evaluate their scientific merit and potential benefit to fish and wildlife. The Council called for proposals that "rely primarily on a method or technology that: has not previously been used in a fish or wildlife project in the Northwest, or although used in other projects, has not previously been used in an application of this kind."

The ISRP said 12 of the proposals are "innovative, offer a high likelihood of benefit to fish and wildlife, are scientifically sound, and provide a high likelihood of success." The first eight in the ISRP's priority ranking, if funded as proposed, would consume the allotted $2 million budget.

Funding the top 20 in the ISRP ranking would require nearly $6 million. The ISRP ranking stopped at 20, with the balance of the projects "judged to provide marginal benefit to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program, to only marginally meet the innovative criteria, or were judged to not satisfy the innovative criteria," according to the report.

Sponsors of the ISRP's top-ranked projects ranged from federal agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to academic institutions, the Umatilla Tribes and private research organizations.

At the top of the ISRP list was a $228,600 request to fund a Pacific Ocean salmon tracking feasibility study by Kintama Research Corporation.

"This excellent innovative proposal ranked the highest because it promises the greatest potential benefit among the proposals to the Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. The proposal calls for testing the feasibility of using sonic tags for tracking juvenile salmon. The tags are particularly attractive because they also work in saltwater, unlike traditional radio tags currently in use in the region. Likelihood of success seems excellent, because similar work has been tested with success in the Bay of Fundy on the North Atlantic Coast," according ISRP comments.

"Success of this project should allow design of studies for better estimation of survival rates of emigrating juveniles through the estuary and into the ocean. Ability to track fish in saltwater would also provide needed information on the use of estuary habitat. The sonic tags also work in freshwater allowing fish to be tracked from some point upstream through the estuary and into the ocean plume…."

"The sponsor proposes to also consider the design of a series of detection sites to track the migration of fish along the Coasts of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. For some species, this would potentially provide valuable information on mortality in the ocean, migration to the open ocean, residence in areas along the coast for an extended period, and exposure to ocean fisheries."

The second-ranked project, submitted by the University of Idaho, aims to "determine with molecular tests whether wild chinook salmon are correctly expressing their genetic sex, and assess the incidence of males with abnormal numbers of Y-chromosomes. Over the 4-year sampling period assess these effects on breeding populations."

The ISRP said "the authors' preliminary data show surprising evidence of sex-reversal (some genetic males are functional females) in Hanford-Reach-spawning wild chinook, apparently the result of some environmental insult (e.g., EDC's, exposure to pesticides). The data are intriguing and worrisome. Half the offspring of the sex-reversed fish will be normal males, but half will be YY males, capable of producing only sons, disproportionately increasing the ratio of males to females in the next generation, an accelerating increase if the sex-reversal continues in each generation.

"The effect would be a decreasing proportion of normal females and decreasing reproductive fitness, a serious barrier to recovery. It's clearly important to find out if other stocks of wild spawning chinook are affected, and it's important to find out if YY males are indeed present. The region needs to know the extent of the genetic sex reversal phenomenon."

The ISRP's third-ranked study aims to "pin-point areas of difficult fish passage under different flow regimes using EMG telemetry and to examine movements, habitat use, and energetic consumption of fish during the upstream migration." The Pacific Northwest Laboratory has asked for $319,000 to complete the 2001 work.

The fourth-ranked project addresses a subject area of particular interest to the Council, nutrient supplementation -- a research area specifically addressed in the Council project solicitation.

The test of "the efficacy of using salmon carcass analogs to benefit salmonid populations" is sponsored jointly by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bio-Oregon, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, NMFS, Yakama Nation and Weyerhaeuser Co. The cost would be $399,829 -- just under the $400,000 limit for proposals set in the solicitation.

"This proposal ranked the highest out of the set of nutrient supplementation proposals…. The gist of this project is to develop and test a carcass analog in cooperation with the production company, Bio Oregon. This proposal is the most thorough of the set of proposals for nutrient enhancement on examining risks of using the analogs. Use of an analog would avoid using salmon carcasses, which pose the risk of disease transmission." The analogs are nutrient pellets.

The Council received 11 nutrient supplementation proposals in all.

The ISRP said it views the new category as a "venture capital" program. Approved research should be used to test or develop new ideas, approaches, or applications that should receive priority in established project selection process.

"In general, the ISRP recommends that innovative projects should be pilot-scale, operate on modest to moderate budgets, and be of relatively short duration," according to the report. The ISRP suggested that some of the current proposals could be scaled back, thus allowing more projects to be funded under the $2 million cap.

"We believe that this year's solicitation for innovative proposals, which set a budget cap at $400,000, inadvertently encouraged the submission of larger-scale proposals…. We believe the venture capital nature of the innovative funding category and the Fish and Wildlife Program as a whole will be better served by funding a larger number of pilot-scale projects of moderate budget than by supporting fewer large budget projects" that include an implementation phase," the ISRP wrote."… the Fish and Wildlife Program will be best served if innovative projects are able to test concepts and methods in 12-18 months time (where possible), leaving the longer-term implementation phase for funding under the Provincial Review Process."

"Finally, the ISRP recommends that the annual budget for the innovative proposal solicitation be increased, and that a separate budget be set aside for targeted Requests For Proposals (RFPs). The Innovative Funding Category is now allocated 1.4 percent of the Fish and Wildlife Program's annual $127 million budget."

"Targeted RFPs are a proven vehicle to examine specific critical uncertainties but should be separated from the innovative proposal solicitation. The inclusion of 'nutrient supplementation' as a targeted research area in the FY2001 innovative proposal solicitation confused the review process because strong nutrient supplementation proposals did not necessarily have to be innovative."

Link information:

Barry Espenson
Scientists Rank Innovative Project Proposals
Columbia Basin Bulletin, December 22, 2000

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