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Research - In the Field Search  

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Watershed Moments.
by Graham on 

The Saint John RIver Watershed.Winter is a great time of year for conferences and workshops. While there is plenty to do outside at this time of year, it is a little easier to get people together when they are not all off in different directions. This week, I attended a conference called “Running with the Current”, put on by the New Brunswick Environmental Network. Representatives from watershed and conservation groups from across the province got together to make connections, learn about what other groups were doing and hear from a few expert speakers.


In addition to seeing examples of restoration work being carried out on various rivers, there was a lot of great discussion on the management of watersheds. What direction New Brunswick should take in that governance and how all of these stakeholders would like to fit into that plan. It is a large and complicated topic, but there is a large and capable group of people looking to protect New Brunswick waters. And after all, what is good for the water, is good for the salmon.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Winter Works
by Graham on 

Winter on Passamoquoddy Bay.As the winter keeps rolling along, and the deep freezes come and go, the ASF Research Team is working away preparing for next year. We’re still analysing data from 2014 and fitting it in to our time-series of projects, but the focus this week happens to be the 2015 season. It will likely see most of the same projects continue, with a few modifications here and there.


Our flagship tracking project will continue of course, and we may expand or alter some of our receiver strategies to reflect changing conditions and accuracy. Next season will likely see an increase in receivers in the Miramichi in a further search for problem areas for the migrating smolt as we did last year in the Restigouche.  Our temperature monitoring of southwest New Brunswick rivers may turn into a year-round effort instead of a three-season venture with the addition of small, winter-friendly installations. Having so many years of data from the same locations is an interesting look at possible effects of climate change in addition to keeping an eye on salmon habitat.


This is an on-going process for the rest of the winter, and will alternate with analysis of last year’s data and other tasks. We’re also hiring a new biologist in the coming month. Lots of great people applied and it will take a bit of time to get through the process and find the newest member of our little team. Whoever it is, they’ll be busy from the start, I’ve got a list of things they’re behind on already!

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Stand Up and Be Heard
by Graham on 

The survey can be filled out on any computer with internet access. Where that computer is, is up to you.

As 2015 gets under way, and many people are staying in to avoid the cold, you might think that the salmon have been forgotten until the spring. For many people, salmon and fishing are never far from their minds.  As we think over last year and look ahead to the next, we may find we have something to say about our experiences and the experiences we would like in the future. To that end, there are two online surveys that are still open that should be of interest to salmon fans, whether or not they are anglers.


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has put together two surveys, one specific to Atlantic salmon and one to striped bass. The online consultations are being used to collect information on angling habits and preferences as well as opinions on management strategies and tag and possession numbers available to anglers. They only take a few minutes to complete and offer a good chance to add your voice to the conservation. The following link will take you to the right place to begin: http://www.glf.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Gulf/FAM/Recreational-Fisheries. Several hundred people have already completed them and they are open until January 15th, so there is time left.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Magaguadavic Wrap Up.
by Graham on 

The fish ladder at St. Geogre covered in ice from rain and spray.ASF staff have been monitoring the fishway on the Magaguadavic River at St. George since the spring. The river is unique in that every fish entering the river while the fishway is being monitored is counted as opposed to estimated. We monitor the fishway well before and well after the salmon season and so can say with confidence that we know exactly what has returned to the river during that time. Returns have fallen in the Magaguadavic since the ‘90s, when several hundred returned. The lowest years for wild salmon were 2004 and 2012 with only two and one returns respectively.


In 2014, 11 wild salmon returned to the Magaguadavic River, up from six last year. Three of those returns were multi-sea-winter salmon and eight were grilse. Also this year, we counted 27 aquaculture escapees in the fishway, which were removed from the river. That number is of concern of course, but lower than the 91 that showed up last year. We also counted nine landlocked salmon returning to the river, they were either washed down or intentionally went below the dam. Two enhancement fish returned to the river, these are fish that we had in our stocking program that are released the spring after the fall when they are spawned with a mark so we recognize them upon return. Some of the wild salmon that did return are also likely from our fry stocking program. Fish that are released as unfed fry are not marked and would be counted as wild. Even if they were spawned and hatched in a hatchery, they were released before first feeding and are “wild-reared”.


The fishway will be closed in the coming days, now that we are well past the salmon return season. The trap will be bypassed and water will continue to run through the pool and weir ladder so that fish do have a way to access the river. No migratory fish are passing at this time of year, not until the alewife run begins in May, but fish may still be washed down and need a way up. We’ll visit a few times over the winter to keep an eye on things and soon enough will be starting the process up again next spring.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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It Takes a Village.
by Graham on 

An overview of ASF's tracking program. The in-river and estuarine receiver lines are used for investigations into interactions between Atlantic salmon and Striped bass and are supported by the ASCF.December is the time of year when the ASF Research team is analysing data and writing reports from the season that has just ended. We’re also making plans for next year to continue many of our projects. Our work could not take place without help from individual donors and organizations that sponsor specific projects. One such organization, the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation (ASCF), has been a supporter of ours for many years.  Their mission is “To promote enhanced community partnerships in the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon and its habitat in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.”  They do this by financially supporting groups undertaking a variety of work. From a project engaging youth on Atlantic salmon by the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council in northern New Brunswick and Quebec to a project by the Cheticamp River Salmon Association to remove and replace old, passage-barring culverts from the Cheticamp River on Cape Breton, they support all kinds of initiatives for wild Atlantic salmon conservation.


The ASF Research team is also a beneficiary of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation’s support. The increase in the population of Striped Bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has led to concern over predator-prey dynamics between the Striped Bass and juvenile Atlantic salmon. The ASF has been investigating this relationship and is seeking to quantify the relationship between the two species. Between the tags for the fish, the receivers to listen for the tags, the boats to deploy the receivers and the staff to run the boats and analyse the data, it is a large venture and we would simply not be able to undertake this project without the generous support of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation.


Are you part of an organization seeking to help in the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon? The deadline for applying to the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation is December 19th. For more information on the Foundation or to learn how to apply, go to www.salmonconservation.ca.  People who are not undertaking a project can also visit the website and see the host of projects the ASCF is supporting and might find one in their own area of interest.


This week finds Jon Carr, ASF’s Director of Research, in London, England attending a North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization telemetry workshop. It is a gathering of Atlantic salmon scientists and conservationists who are involved in the discovery of marine migration routes and habitats. They are discussing the coordination of individual organization’s efforts to monitor the progress of salmon to and from rivers in North America and Europe to better understand and protect our shared natural resource.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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A Community Gathering.
by Graham on 

Tagging kelts on the Restigouche , spring 2014. From left: Carol-Anne Gillis, Jon Carr and Michelle Charest. Phot: Kirk Smith. This week, ASF Director of Research Jonathon Carr found himself by the Restigouche River. He wasn’t tagging fish as he did in the spring, but was attending a conference. The event was the Salmon Summit, hosted by the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council (GMRC) in Listiguj Quebec. It was a conference designed to update various stakeholders and interest groups on the status of studies and information on the salmon population of the Restigouche River.  Two days of workshops and presentations allowed participants to network and identify gaps in knowledge and where work efforts need to be focused.


Jon presented on ASF activities on the Restigouche. These include the annual acoustic tagging of smolt coming out of the Kedgwick and kelts near the Rafting Grounds. The ASF, with help from GMRC and the Listiguj Rangers and the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council have placed acoustic receivers in the river and in various spots in the estuary. These include lines of receivers near Dalhousie Junction, Dalhousie and much further out across the Baie des Chaleurs itself about two thirds of the way down the bay. These lines allow us to track salmon and assess survival and timing of smolts and kelts as they make their way out to sea as far as the Strait of Belle Isle. In the case of the kelts, the tags are large enough to hold battery power that actually lets us record consecutive and alternate spawners returning to the river. We’ll be back working on the Restigouche next year along with other members of the Restigouche salmon community.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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St. Croix Alewife Project Update.
by Graham on 

Tagged alewife being observed before release into the St. Croix River.Yesterday, ASF Biologist Michelle Charest presented some initial findings from the Alewife tagging project we undertook on the St. Croix River this summer. Here is a brief summary of that presentation:

 

In 2013, the 1995 law blocking upstream passage of river herring was overturned and fish passage was restored.  Restoration of the fishways at Woodland and Grand Falls dam has made 98% of river herring’s historical spawning habitat available to the species once again. When and where river herring re-colonize the St Croix River are important data for future research and management planning.

 

To answer these questions, thirty river herring were implanted with acoustic tags at the Milltown dam in June 2014 and their movements were tracked throughout the St Croix River. Preliminary data suggests alewives have had some success recolonizing historic spawning habitat with over 10% reaching the historic spawning habitat recently made available to them. The other 90% of the tagged alewives spawned within the 2% of spawning habitat that is below the first dam (Woodland Dam) they encounter after the make it through the fishway at Milltown. Survival out of the St. Croix river system was higher than expected with 80% successfully migrating back out to sea and will hopefully return next year to spawn again. Preliminary data from this study was presented on Thursday at the St. Croix Watershed: Research, Partnership and Action conference organized by the St. Coix International Waterway Commission and the St. Croix Watershed Board of the International Joint Commission.

 

Michelle Charest and Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Second Spawning
by Graham on 

Michelle and Steve checking salmon for maturity.The Magaguadavic spawning continued this week, albeit at a smaller scale. Only 20 more of the females were ripe and ready to go, with many left for the coming weeks. Not all the fish have the same timing, it might seem convenient if they did, but then we’d be rushing to get them all spawned on time. The water temperature dropped by three degrees overnight before we got there and that will likely spur on those that are further back in their maturity.


 

The Multi-River Program fish were also not quite ready to spawn. We’ll be back either late next week or early the week after to spawn those fish. The hatchery staff will keep a close eye on them and we’ll adjust our plans as necessary. Just like in the spring when we’re tagging migrating fish, the fish determine the schedule and people have to adapt to them.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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First Magaguadavic Spawning of the Season
by Graham on 

Graham Chafe and Steve Tinker collecting eggs from a female Atlantic salmon.Today was the first day of spawning for the Magaguadavic Program. Every year, we spawn up to 200 pairs of Magaguadavic-origin salmon in an effort to boost populations in the river. The wild salmon returns in the Magaguadavic River are at extremely low levels, less than 20 for the past several years. The program yields thousands of fry, which are generally released into the river in the spring before their first feeding, when they still have some yolk sac left. Releasing them into the river while they still carry a store of energy allows them to become wild-reared. Their entire life from first feeding onwards is in the river and ocean. That way, they do not become dependent on someone feeding them a few times a day and are more likely to succeed in the wild.


 

This year, we have approximately 250 females that are maturing. Spawning will take place over a few weeks as they don’t all become ready to express their eggs at the same time. Lucky for us, otherwise we’d be overwhelmed getting it all done. Today we found just about one third ready to spawn. There are typically three groups of spawners, a smaller early group, a large main group and a small later group that is behind the others. This was a good first showing, through observations of the remaining females suggests there may be three more groups to go. We’ll be back about once a week until they are all spawned. After spawning, they are reconditioned over the winter and released in the spring.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Sample Day.
by Graham on 

Michelle Charest scans a salmon for a tag that will identify the individual fish.Once again the ASF Research Team is having a hectic week. We’re gathering preliminary results from this year’s activities for some presentations that are coming up next week. Diving into the data and pulling out some relevant information, such as smolt or kelt survival past receiver lines is interesting work and shows us hints of what is to come over the winter when we have time to examine it all in depth. Our Strait of Belle Isle line was late coming out this year, the tides and sea conditions seemed determined to keep us from getting at our equipment. It is finally out though, and despite a few receiver losses, we’ll have stacks of data to go through once it is finished downloading later today.


The field work goes on elsewhere, this was a sampling week for our Tag Retention study. This project is an effort to further understand how smolts heal in salt water after being tagged with acoustic transmitters. We’ll keep sampling, checking growth rates and observing until next June, but by now the vast majority show no signs of being tagged at all, though the tags are still with the fish. The study will allow us to factor in another variable into models for smolt survival and continue our efforts to try to pinpoint any problem areas on their migration routes.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research

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