To Reduce Risk of Extinction, We Must Understand How Fish Think

Review Panel Report Recap on Implementation of OCAP Biological Opinion Actions

In order to reduce the risk of extinction (jeopardy), an independent review panel has recommended that, among other things, future studies and management need to move towards understanding how fish respond to environmental factors when moving through the Delta. In other words, it is important to understand how fish think (respond to their environment).

This was among several recommendations of the panel. To comply with Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements, the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project developed an Operations Criteria and Plan (OCAP). This plan was subject to ESA requirements by federal fisheries agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the form of Biological Opinions (BO). The two OCAP BOs contain Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) actions for the protection of covered species, primarily steelhead and salmon for the NMFS BO, and delta smelt for the FWS BO.

The Delta Science Program convened a workshop featuring an independent review panel to review the results of the first year of implementation of the RPA actions on November 8-9, 2010.

The panel found that the agency teams implementing the RPA actions did a good job of compiling data and reporting this information following their first year of implementation. The panelists suggest that future efforts should shift from physical targets, such as flow and temperature, to how the actions are affecting the biology and ecology of covered species. In general, they found that the RPA actions have been largely successful in achieving the physical targets in the 2010 water year, a nearly average year in terms of precipitation and runoff, but were concerned about the ability to do so under less favorable conditions.

One of the panel’s charges in reviewing the results of RPA implementation was to make recommendations for adjustments to the actions based on the information provided by action work teams. The panel reviewed reports from eight work teams reporting on actions ranging from changes to pumping rates in the Delta to flows in Clear Creek near Redding. The panel made several specific proposals for adjustments to the implementation on RPA actions including changing where turbidity is measured to protect spawning smelt and where a non-physical barrier might be most effective in the Delta to steer salmon away from the central Delta. The panel also responded to specific agency proposals for adjustments to the RPA actions. Delta Science Program Lead Scientist Cliff Dahm transmitted the panel’s report to NMFS and FWS on December 14, 2010 and the agencies have indicated that they will be providing a formal response. The panel’s final report and associated documents can be found on the web here.