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Tribes Critique ISAB Report,
Detail Supplementation Success

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 18, 2003

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's executive director says the tribes "question the value" of a recently released scientific report that advises limited use of hatchery "supplementation" until its risks and benefits can be better evaluated.

That advice "would diminish the Fish and Wildlife Program's effectiveness at rebuilding runs and increase the cost of projects," according to comments on the report forwarded this week from CRITFC to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The report also errs, according to CRITFC, by virtually ignoring the many successes of supplementation. ". the report provides little guidance for existing projects, other than to note that they appear to have had little effectiveness at restoring populations, a conclusion the Commission does not concur with."

The cover letter to CRITFC's critique notes that the Council in its first Fish and Wildlife Program in 1982 proposed the use of supplementation.

"Since then, the member tribes of the Commission have successfully utilized supplementation to substantially increase natural spawning numbers in a number of upriver tributaries including the Clearwater, Umatilla, Yakima, Deschutes, Imnaha, Wenatchee, Methow, Okanogan, mainstem Snake and Salmon rivers among others," Olney Patt Jr. said in a cover letter accompanying CRITFC's comments.

"Perhaps more importantly, the presence of additional spawners in the basin has also contributed to the Council's wildlife mitigation obligations by providing critical nutrients that benefit watershed ecosystems by supplying food for a wide range of insects, birds and mammals as well as nutrients for flora in riverine environments," Patt wrote.

The comments are directed at an April report of the Independent Scientific Advisory Board, "A Review of Salmon and Steelhead Supplementation." The ISAB report was produced in response to NOAA Fisheries and the Council requests to consider the benefits and risks of supplementation to natural populations of salmon and steelhead.

The Council's fish and wildlife program funds numerous hatchery projects, including supplementation programs. The Council program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration. CRITFC's member tribes -- the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs -- manage supplementation and other hatchery programs and have been among the strongest advocates of expanded supplementation.

The primary goal of supplementation is to increase naturally spawning populations by releasing hatchery-origin fish that return as adults to spawn in the wild among natural-origin fish.

Two points of view dominate regarding supplementation. Some, such as the tribes, believe the management strategy will produce an increased abundance of natural-origin salmon and that refined hatchery practices can reduce the risks to wild stocks. Others doubt that the abundance increases can be sustained and say there is a high probability that supplementation will cause harm, reducing the overall productivity of the naturally spawning population.

The ISAB stressed that the region should go slow and implement for rigorous monitoring and evaluation protocols to solve the many uncertainties about the risks posed by supplementation and about its effectiveness.

"It turns out that most of these things are implemented in our programs," CRITFC's Andre Talbot told the Council. The risks posed by supplementation are understood, and hatchery practices are tailored to minimize those risks. And new technology and genetic knowledge allow for the careful monitoring of supplementation programs, Talbot said.

The tribal programs "have a head start" toward the goal of minimizing risks to natural populations, Talbot said.

CRITFC's Talbot and Paul Lumley both said the ISAB's latest report was an improvement over previous products on the topic from the science panel. It takes a small step forward in at least acknowledging some benefit to the hatchery practice and gives helpful advice on the need for monitoring and evaluation.

Lumley said that a region determined to "avoid dam breaching" as a salmon recovery tool cannot ignore supplementation. The capability to improve salmon and steelhead survival through harvest limits and habitat and hydrosystem passage improvements is limited.

"That leaves hatcheries as a tool that should not be taken off the table," Lumley said. He also said it is a misconception that the tribes want to use supplementation willy nilly across the basin without regard to genetic rules. Advocates realize that supplementation must be customized in each usage with local, natural broodstock and protocols to maintain genetic diversity.

"Artificial production has to be taken into consideration" in the region's salmon recovery planning, Talbot said.

The Yakama Nation's David Fast cited the growing record of success of the Yakima-Klickitat Fishery Program's Cle Elum, Wash., hatchery, which has shifted its purpose from pure production for harvest to supplementation and research. The high tech program is geared to track post-release survival of supplementation fish, as well as their reproductive success and long-term fitness. It also charts their ecological interactions, including population abunndance, distribution, growth rates, predation and competition with other fish.

He pointed to a blossoming upper Yakima River spring chinook population that, until 2000, normally counted only 1,000 to 5,000 spawners per year. In 2001 and 2002 Fast said the results of the supplementation program were truly felt with returns of 13,550 and 10,746 spawners respectively.

"We've averaged about a 90 percent increase in adult returns to the upper Yakima because of supplementation," Fast told the Council.

Likewise, a supplementation program coupled with an aggressive effort to improve habitat, in-stream flows and fish passage has yielded results in the Umatilla River basin, according to Gary James, fisheries program manager for the Umatilla tribes.

Since a spring chinook salmon reintroduction program began in 1989 via supplementation with so-called Carson stock, the number of returning adult has grown steadily. The returns have been sufficient of provide for broodstock needs in eight of the past nine years and also provide fisheries in 11 of the past 15 years.

The tribes say they are in accord with the ISAB regarding the need coordinate the effort at basinwide monitoring of supplementation programs to allow adaptive management that both protects wild stocks and allows population enhancement.

"The region is currently proposing to fund large-scale research, monitoring and evaluation programs," according to CRITFC's comments. These proposals justly concentrate on habitat (including hydrosystem) impacts.

"There is little proposed for evaluation of artificial production impacts. Given CRITFC's regional role, infrastructure, technical expertise and the central role the tribes play in supplementation programs, we are in a strategic position to fill this gap in a very cost-effective manner. CRITFC proposes to begin a regional monitoring and evaluation for supplementation projects immediately with no additional funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2003."

Barry Espenson
Tribes Critique ISAB Report, Detail Supplementation Success
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 18, 2003

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