2
General Comments

The draft research and restoration plan (AYK SSI 2005) is a large (118 pages including three appendices) and detailed document that reflects much thought. It has much to commend it. The statement of principles and the background are very clear, and the committee members found the readers’ guides in the beginning of each chapter to be helpful. Another positive feature is the document’s emphasis on and definition of capacity building, and especially because it is noted that capacity building “will be reflected in the AYK SSI’s requests for proposals.”

However, the committee judged that the document is much longer than it needs to be. For example, the long section on salmon life history is not needed for a research and restoration plan—it is sufficient to incorporate other descriptions of salmon life history by reference. Anyone qualified to successfully compete for AYK SSI funding should be quite familiar with salmon life history. Figure 3-1, the conceptual framework for the AYK SSI Salmon Research and Restoration Plan, is a very good way to express succinctly the underlying concepts of the plan. Reducing the plan’s length this way also would allow a clearer description of how the conceptual framework leads to the priority setting and research questions (discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 of this report).

Because the core of the salmon problem concerns salmon population dynamics, the plan needs a section describing the sources of variability in salmon abundance that are important (for example, interannual variability and longer-term fluctuations, illustrated with examples).

Similarly, the plan needs a section on population dynamics that reviews and integrates current concepts of the processes responsible for



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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 2 General Comments The draft research and restoration plan (AYK SSI 2005) is a large (118 pages including three appendices) and detailed document that reflects much thought. It has much to commend it. The statement of principles and the background are very clear, and the committee members found the readers’ guides in the beginning of each chapter to be helpful. Another positive feature is the document’s emphasis on and definition of capacity building, and especially because it is noted that capacity building “will be reflected in the AYK SSI’s requests for proposals.” However, the committee judged that the document is much longer than it needs to be. For example, the long section on salmon life history is not needed for a research and restoration plan—it is sufficient to incorporate other descriptions of salmon life history by reference. Anyone qualified to successfully compete for AYK SSI funding should be quite familiar with salmon life history. Figure 3-1, the conceptual framework for the AYK SSI Salmon Research and Restoration Plan, is a very good way to express succinctly the underlying concepts of the plan. Reducing the plan’s length this way also would allow a clearer description of how the conceptual framework leads to the priority setting and research questions (discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 of this report). Because the core of the salmon problem concerns salmon population dynamics, the plan needs a section describing the sources of variability in salmon abundance that are important (for example, interannual variability and longer-term fluctuations, illustrated with examples). Similarly, the plan needs a section on population dynamics that reviews and integrates current concepts of the processes responsible for

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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon variations in the abundance of salmon. This should include coverage of such items as the stock-recruit relationship, the use of the stock-recruit relationship as the foundation for discovering environmental correlates of mortality and other dynamic rates, the value of separating marine and freshwater sources of mortality, using the spatial scale of analysis as a variable in meta-analyses to discover density-dependent and density-independent environmental correlates of mortality, discussion of the roles of density-dependent and density-independent mortality in generating stability and variability in salmon abundance, and examples of processes that might act on each life stage to regulate population size and produce variability in abundance. Perhaps the biggest difficulty the committee had with the draft plan is the lack of clear connections between the front sections (the setting forth of principles, criteria, and the intellectual model that the plan is based on) and the back sections (the areas that the requests for proposals [RFPs] will focus on). In other words, the plan does not transparently describe the process that the AYK SSI used to get from the principles to the research questions. In the next chapter, this report provides an example of how such a connection might be made, focusing on smolt survival. Finally, several sections lack sufficient specificity to be easily understood. One important example is the relationship between the SSI’s research program and the research programs of other organizations. Evidently, the SSI has a vision of how this relationship should evolve. In talking to the authors of the draft plan, it is clear that they have thought at considerable length about how their vision should be implemented. However, it is unclear from the plan itself whether, for example, the SSI will support research that also is being conducted by other programs (for example, ADF&G) or whether its support will be focused elsewhere, relying on those programs to fill in the gaps. Another related example concerns the relatively modest amount of money that is available to support the AYK SSI research and restoration plan. The SSI is obviously well aware of that limitation, but just how the program will adapt to it is not clear. The goal of the plan is, “by 2012, assemble existing information, gain new information and improve techniques for understanding the trends and causes of variation in salmon abundance and human use of salmon that support sustainable use and restoration through a collaborative and inclusive process.” The year 2012 is only 7 years away from the date of the draft plan (2005), and many of the processes that influence salmon abundance operate at periods much

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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon longer than 7 years (for example, the decadal-scale regime shifts in northeast Pacific marine ecosystems described by Francis and Hare [1994]). Also, without an immense budget, the large spatial scales involved make it impossible to fully understand the causes of changes in salmon abundance, even given enough time. This is not to say that the activity is ill-founded or should be abandoned. However, it does appear that gaining a substantial understanding of the causes of variations in salmon dynamics and productivity in the AYK region is too ambitious to be achieved in 7 years with the available budget (although, of course, some gains in knowledge should be expected), and perhaps the plan should reflect that reality more clearly. In addition, even though funding beyond 2012 has not been secured, the work should lead to a sustainable research infrastructure that could continue the studies beyond 2012 if funding becomes available then. Indeed, it would be quite appropriate for 2012 or any other year to be identified as an interim milestone for the program. A comparison with research into the abundance of Steller sea lions (Eumatopias jubatus) (NRC 2003) is instructive because it illustrates how a problem that initially seemed less complex than the AYK salmon problem remains puzzling even after the expenditure of much more research money than is planned for the AYK SSI science plan. More than $120 million has been spent on that research in the past 5 years (Dalton 2005), and yet, considerable uncertainties remain. Also, the Steller sea lion problem is in principle more tractable than the salmon problem because sea lions are not anadromous; only one species—indeed, only some populations of that species—is at issue; there is only a small directed take (harvest) of sea lions (ADF&G 2004); and the spatial distribution of sea lions, at least of adults, is much more restricted than that of the five salmon species of importance in the AYK region. Other comments on the draft plan include the overemphasis on detail at the expense of a broader picture, the mistitling of the glossary (called “Terms of Reference”), and considerable redundancy. More-specific comments are provided in the following chapters. In conclusion, we recommend that the SSI write its plan so that the underlying conceptual model is understandable in the context of past and continuing research, even when that research is being done outside the context of SSI funding. Doing so would clarify the reasons for addressing the current “holes” in the model and also would serve as a measuring stick for progress.

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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon Because the SSI will have to make difficult decisions about how to allocate of funds for the various issues and elements, it would be helpful for the RFPs to provide information on items such as the expected size of awards; the duration of the award; and key criteria for ranking proposals, such as cost, partnerships in the region, capacity building, and of course, the likelihood that the research will produce meaningful results.