Monitoring: Purpose, Types, Implementation


Often in the past, various programs designed to maintain or improve salmon abundance (e.g., hatchery mitigation programs, harvest management, mainstem passage programs) have claimed credit when abundance improved, but have blamed others when abundance declined. This has been easy to do and difficult to avoid, because people tend to draw conclusions from looking at only a portion of the salmon life cycle. A true picture of the response of salmon populations to environmental and anthropogenic perturbations and restoration actions under this plan will emerge only when we systematically track key parameters at each stage of the salmon’s life.

A systematic monitoring program is necessary to assure that restoration actions at all levels are accountable for the funds expended and are effective in restoring anadromous fish populations. Coordination between monitoring programs throughout the Columbia Basin will also increase our rate of learning, reduce redundancy, and accelerate the rate of restoration.

The framework of a basic observation or monitoring program consistent with all human impacts on salmon is presented in Table 5D.1. This framework is initially general, allowing us to measure the total survival at each life stage and the impact of a few of our direct actions (e.g., fishing and operation of the hydropower system). The impacts of various activities at other life stages are initially aggregated (e.g., the effects of logging, grazing, road building, and agriculture on egg-to-smolt survival). Cause and effect relationships in these cases will be addressed in future modifications of the monitoring program or by targeted individual studies.

Types of Monitoring

Monitoring programs are needed for each of the major environments occupied by salmon during their life cycle: tributary watersheds where they spawn and rear; the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers which are key rearing and migratory corridors; and the ocean where salmon grow and mature. Tracking annual changes in environmental conditions, salmon abundance, and the effects of management actions will allow us to separate environmental from anthropogenic effects on salmon abundance.

Monitoring often means different things to different people. The confusion is often due to failure to clearly define the level of spatial and temporal resolution involved in a monitoring plan. For purposes of this plan, we recognize four primary levels of spatial resolution as follows.

  1. Implementation of individual projects (provides fiscal accountability);
  2. Effectiveness of individual projects in producing the anticipated results (project effectiveness monitoring);
  3. Effectiveness of groups of related projects in producing desired aggregate results (program effectiveness monitoring);
  4. The response of anadromous fish populations to man-caused changes in the ecosystem, by life stage (biological response monitoring); and
  5. Trends in environmental conditions and the productivity of anadromous fish populations over their entire life cycle (ambient or environmental monitoring).

For each level of spatial resolution we assume an annual level of temporal resolution, unless stated otherwise. This recognizes that yearly measurements of most key parameters will adequately track environmental conditions and life stage survival rates.

Watershed-level Monitoring

It is not the purpose of this document to describe these monitoring efforts in detail. Important parameters are summarized in Table 5D.1, and readers are referred to appropriate source documents (e.g., Rhodes et al. 1994; McCullough and Espinosa 1996) cited in this plan for further details. Conditions will vary somewhat between watersheds, and flexibility must be preserved for watershed teams to customize the monitoring program to meet the local situation.

In addition to routine monitoring activities that are needed in all watersheds with active restoration programs, we propose that a set of eight index watersheds be established for more intensive monitoring activities. These would include projects to estimate the total numbers of anadromous fish at each freshwater life stage, to obtain detailed quantitative information on land use activities and habitat conditions, and to conduct special studies of critical uncertainties concerning anadromous fish restoration (e.g., natural stray rates between watersheds, the effects of supplementation on genetic diversity and fitness, full characterization of anadromous populations, etc.).

The implementation of watershed restoration actions in Volume II should include the involvement of citizens in monitoring and evaluation at the watershed level. This local involvement will increase education, awareness, and understanding about the watershed.

Mainstem and Estuary Monitoring

The major problems for anadromous fish in the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers are environmental conditions (pollutants, temperature, and–especially for juvenile fall chinook–rearing habitat) and juvenile and adult passage conditions. Major estuary problems include the amount and quality of habitat available for fish during their transitions to and from salt water, changes in the food chain from a macrobenthos to a microbenthos base, and changes in hydrology caused by operation of the hydropower system. As changes are made to improve these situations, a monitoring program addressing the five elements described above must be implemented. Core parameters are listed in Table 5D.1. These will probably be expanded upon as specific actions and information needs are identified.

Ocean Monitoring

The main factors affecting salmon survival and abundance in the ocean are environmental conditions and fishery harvests.

Some believe that the ocean environment is limiting to salmon production, largely because of decreased ocean upwelling or the warming effects of El Niño (Pearcy 1992). These events have occurred in the past and salmon populations have endured. In fact, regular decades-long cycles occur in ocean environmental conditions. We must understand and follow changes in these conditions to be able to distinguish changes in abundance caused by the environment from those caused by actions under this restoration program. Changes in ocean environmental conditions and their effect on salmon abundance can be estimated from environmental monitoring data (e.g., the Aleutian low pressure index) and salmon scale patterns.

The present harvest monitoring programs coast-wide provide basic information on fishing effort and catches. We must maintain and enhance these programs to refine our ability to identify catches by area of origin. Presently this depends upon the recovery of coded-wire tags placed in juvenile salmon before they leave freshwater.

Implementation and Coordination

We believe such a monitoring program can be implemented at reasonable cost if it is properly coordinated with ongoing and new projects where appropriate. For instance, coordination of planned habitat and supplementation projects provide opportunities for studying habitat/survival interactions without implementing a special project. Similarly, extending planned supplementation projects to study critical genetic uncertainties will be cheaper than creating entire additional projects. Existing field activities could be standardized and broadened slightly to collect multiple types of data in standard formats. This would reduce the need to pay for multiple field sampling trips to collect each type of data.

We must integrate the results of monitoring activities described above to evaluate the overall impacts of anadromous fish restoration actions. A coordinated assessment of monitoring results will provide the following benefits:

  1. Ensure that impacts throughout the anadromous fishes life cycle are used to evaluate program success;
  2. Provide information on rates of natural variation among watersheds;
  3. Increase learning about the effects of human actions on anadromous fish populations, because information will be shared and each watershed group will not have to learn everything for itself;
  4. Reduce redundancy of efforts through use of and coordination with existing monitoring programs;
  5. Speed recovery by identifying the most effective actions and reducing the number of false starts;
  6. Enable watershed teams to focus on the most productive and feasible projects within the unique context of each watershed;
  7. Assist watershed teams in sharing scarce technical support such as economic evaluation, population vulnerability analysis, risk analysis, etc.;
  8. Support adaptive management approaches at all scales of geographic resolution.

Over time, results of a regular monitoring program will provide the basis for evaluating the success of restoration efforts, identifying cost-effective methods, and refining the goals and objectives of this plan.


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