Monday, December 10, 2012

Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program

Each year the Portland and Walla Walla Districts in the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) fund biological studies designed to answer important questions about adult and juvenile salmon, steelhead, bull trout and Pacific lamprey condition and survival as they migrate upstream and downstream, over and through, eight large hydropower dams (Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite) owned and operated by the Corps in the mainstem lower Columbia and Snake Rivers.  The program is called the Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program or AFEP for short.  Annually, representatives from the regional fish management agencies (federal, state and tribal) meet throughout the year with the Corps to discuss current information gaps and needed studies about fish passage condition and survival at the hydropower projects as the physical structure/configuration (new turbines, spillwalls, surface passage structures, fish ladder improvements, etc.) of the projects and their operations (powerhouse /turbine operations, spill patterns, amount and timing, fish collection and transportation, etc.) change from year to year.  Study proposals are developed from the compiled list of study needs by researchers, reviewed and commented on by the AFEP participants for scientific appropriateness to answer the specific question(s) the study proposal is dealing with, and then finalized.  After receiving agency and tribal input on their recommendations for study priorities, the Corps selects the studies to be funded the following fiscal year that fit within the allotted budget.  After the end of the fieldwork/study season preliminary results are presented at the annual AFEP Review, typically in late November.  The results of these studies feed into decisions on the operation and configuration of the eight hydropower projects, and discussions on further needed studies during the following AFEP cycle. 

The Dalles Dam and the 800 foot long spillwall completed in 2010 to direct juvenile fish passing over the dam into the safety of the deep main channel, away from predators. (USCG and USACE)
The Dalles Dam 800 foot long spillwall as seen from the dam. (USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has a responsibility for all public and treaty tribal trust species, as do all federal agencies, but the Service is particularly interested in improving the fate and survival of bull trout and Pacific lamprey as they migrate in the mainstem.   The 2012 Annual AFEP Review just concluded on November 29 after three days and over 35 research presentations.   The research presentations were divided into seven categories; estuary studies, avian and pinniped (bird and sea lion) predation studies, adult fish passage and survival studies (includes bull trout), juvenile fish passage and survival studies, system survival studies, transportation studies, and lamprey studies.  The 2012 research presentations may be viewed at:  The Service has been pleased to be a partner in the AFEP process for many years, not only as an active participant in the discussions for study needs, their development and review, but also as a research partner in the field studying bull trout use, movement and passage in the mainstem Columbia and Snake Rivers. 
Adult fish ladder at Lower Granite Dam. (USFWS)

Well, the 2012 AFEP season is now officially over.  However, the AFEP respite is short, for in early January the Corps will present its selection of studies for the 2013 fieldwork season, and the meetings will begin to review the final results of the 2012 work, and begin to develop study needs for 2014.  The cycle continues with the goal of making fish passage as safe as possible to prevent irreparable loss that would adversely affect the continued existence of an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species.

Spill for juvenile fish passage at McNary Dam.  Surface top spill weirs are in place in spillbays 19 and 20 (3rd and 4th bays from the right). (USFWS)

Submitted by Dave Wills 

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