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Research - In the Field Search  

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Promising Progeny
by Graham on 

This week is all about offspring. The Magaguadavic Enhancement Program is in to its last spawning events this week. The ASF staff has been up a few times to work with the crew at Thomaston Corners Hatchery when the fish have been ripe. We've spawned both the 'regular' Magaguadavic broodstock as well as the Multi-River Program fish. This is the last year for the regular program, the adults are re-conditioned and released in the spring after spawning. Since we are into our last group of fish, that won't happen any more. The Multi-River program is an attempt to introduce some much needed genetic diversity into the Magaguadavic salmon population by bringing in fish from three rivers. The Canaan, Hammond and Nashwaak Rivers all gave up a few parr a few years ago to help the Magaguadavic. Considering that wild and enhancement returns to the Magaguadavic this year totaled a measly pair, we have to keep trying our best. No one involved is even close to giving up the efforts any time soon.






In not entirely dissimilar news, a huge congratulations to ASF staff Jason and Denieve on the arrival of their own next generation. We expect some well-modeled baby growth and development charts to be mixed in with smolt survival curves over the next year or so.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Which Way? Fishway.
by Graham on 

The fishway at St. George, on the Magaguadavic River, provides a unique opportunity to monitor fish movements in and out of the river. Most rivers are open to the ocean and require more intensive efforts to estimate what salmon, and other species, are returning or entering freshwater. Due to the dam at St. George, a fishway was built in the first half of the 20th century to allow migration into the river. Since the dam is at the head of tide, it is ideally placed for this activity. Comprising over 40 pools, it ends in a research trap. Fish ascend the ladder and are prevented from further progress at the research trap. ASF staff have been monitoring the trap for over 20 years.


The trap is generally run from early in the summer until just before Christmas. At other times of the year, and during the alewife run in late May and June, the trap is bypassed so that any fish can make their way up freely. Water is provided to the fishway at all times of the year. Some years, like 2016, make that difficult with very low water levels. We'd prefer to have more flow int he fishway, bt there just isn't the water. It isn't that it is too low to ascend, more that the lack of flow can make it difficult to provide water to get to the entrance of the fishway and attract fish to that point. The dam has not been able to generate nearly as much this year for the same reason. They maintain a minimum level above the dam and don't draw it down if it is too low for the fishway.

Over the past years, more and more often there have been higher number of aquaculture escapees trying to ascend the fishway than wild or enhancement returns. Despite the best efforts of ASF and their partners in the Magaguadavic program, the run is minimal. New ideas and techniques are being investigated and will be applied next year. Hopefully  in future years I can report higher numbers of wild and enhancement salmon passing through the fishway on their way up this beautiful river.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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You Redd It Here
by Graham on 

The time of year has come when the salmon are spawning in our rivers and streams. After journeying back from the sea and ascending past obstructions, falls and hopeful anglers, they are now ready to spawn. They haven’t eaten during their freshwater migration, instead have put all their energy into egg, milt and the energy to get there. After finding a suitable location with just the right substrate, they set about selecting partners to spawn with. But before spawning occurs, the female must create a redd for the offspring.  She does this by beating her tail to move rocks and gravel and leaving a depression on the bottom. Location is everything of course, and not only is the right size and mix of substrate required, but water flow through the gravel is also key to giving the eggs the best conditions for growth and hatching.

A redd on Nile Brook, a tributary of the Margare. Photo: Greg Lovely.

Once the redd is ready, the female will spawn with one or more males by expressing their gametes into the depression. Many males may be in the area attempting to spawn with the female, jockeying for position, putting the run to each other or surreptitiously getting in under the nose of a bigger competitor or while it is distracted by another fish. Occasionally, there is a third type of partner in on the action. Some parr, instead of smolting and heading to sea, achieve sexual maturity and remain in freshwater.  They hang about the spawning grounds and hide out of the view of the adults. But when the full-size males and female go to do their business, the parr darts in and does the same. Sometimes called “sneaks”, these precocious parr may play a significant role in creating the next generation. Once spawning is complete, the female covers over the redd with gravel from upstream and heads off to do it all over again or, once spawned out, to find a pool to recover in for the winter.

Not only are salmon looking for the spawning grounds in the fall , but scientists, conservationists, volunteers and others are too. They are undertaking redd counts, the practice of monitoring a section of river and counting the redds. The number of redds, and especially the trends in their numbers year to year, is a good indication of returns to that part of the river. If you’re interested in a day outdoors and participating in some citizen science, look up your local conservation or angling club, they may undertake red counts that you can participate in.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Where R the Salmon?
by Graham on 

This blog usually deals with field work and how it helps our efforts to understand the challenges faced by salmon populations in trouble. Field work is mostly fun and rewarding. The jobs get done and we've been outside for a few days. It is only the beginning of the work though. In fact, it doesn't constitute the biggest portion of our time. Much of the rest of the time is spent in a different environment, one full of numbers, charts, statistics and trends.

So how is all the reams of data we collect in the field analyzed? One common tool is called "R". It is a statistical computing and graphics software package used by researchers and students the world over. It has the advantage of being open-source, so free to use. Jason and Heather have practically lived in R for the past few months. They are hard at work looking at interactions between smolt and striped bass movements as well as other data sets that need to be analyzed.

I encourage any student of biology, or other science, who is or will soon be looking for employment in their field to use this, or similar software. With the massive amounts of data being generated these days, people need to be able to code in order to find a job and complete the work. It has become essential for pretty much any scientist.

So while some days we are out, stuck in the rain and cold, many more find us bathed in the blue, not quite warm, glow of our computer screens. This is where the real work is done.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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That's One Way to Take a Temperature
by Graham on 

Later last week, ASF staff were out in the woods of Charlotte County, New Brunswick recovering some equipment from rivers and streams. These data loggers had been recording temperature since they were deployed in the spring.


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Welcome Eric
by Graham on 

The ASF Research Department is pleased to welcome Eric Brundson to the team. Eric has a Master's of Science from Concordia University in Montreal where he studied Atlantic salmon habitat use and stocking strategies. He's from New Brunswick originally, growing up in the Hampton area. Most recently he was working on noise pollution in the Bay of Fundy with Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc. He has a lot of field experience as well as analysis capabilities and will fit right in to our group. We're happy to have him aboard. Congratulations to Heather, who is no longer the "new person" who gets all the less-fun jobs.

The Magaguadavic River is still receiving aquaculture escapees in dribs and drabs, 35 have arrived to date. In related news, the research area at the fish ladder suffered a break in over the weekend. One balance was taken but everything else seemed okay. The thieves broke through a very tough lock to gain access, so they must have been quite determined. The joke is on them, the scale they took is very old and only works intermittently.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Shock and Awe
by Graham on 

Like uninvited guests at a party, aquaculture escapees keep showing up at the research trap on the Magaguadavic River. As of this morning, 27 have attempted to ascend the river. Hopefully that is the end of them, but it begs the question, are they entering un-monitored rivers too? We'll keep watch as always, and keep hoping to find more wild fish waiting for us.

Our juvenile surveys are complete for the year, with two weeks to spare. Numbers were not especially good, though with the extreme low water, the fish likely have moved to better habitat up or downstream. We may return to a few sites if we can once the water comes up again. It was a fun year, with new crew, new skills and a new electrofisher. We replaced our 20-year old unit with a new one that is lighter, more comfortable and more advanced. Heather, our newest biologist, and Alaia, our student from France, were both new to electrofishing this year and enjoyed using their new skills and visiting some of the beautiful spots in southwest New Brunswick.

Most electrofishing crews have a set of rules, mostly to do with procedure and safety. We do too, but have a few extras as well. Some of the sites can be tricky to walk through, slippery rocks that move underfoot are a challenge. If a crew member falls into the water properly, getting wet above or inside their waders, they buy the rest of us lunch. It should be noted that there are several safety features built into the equipment and crew procedure to prevent someone who falls from being shocked. Having said that, if the fallen member does get shocked, then the electrofisher operator, usually me, buys them lunch, it only seems fair. In my six seasons electrofishing with the ASF, only one crew member has ever fallen in the water, and no one has ever been shocked.

While the surveys are indeed enjoyable days, they are important too.  The Outer Bay of Fundy salmon population is being considered for listing under the Species at Risk Act and these surveys are the only source of yearly data on some of the rivers in the area. For our part, the project is made possible again this year with help from the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund (http://www.nbwtf.ca/) and we really appreciate the support for continuing this important project.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Activities Near and Far
by Graham on 

Activities of interest are happening all over the Maritimes this week. From St. George, NB to Green Island Cove, NL the efforts continue as the weather begins to cool. Locally, we've made great progress with juvenile surveys this week. Heather Dixon, myself and Alaia Morell spent a few days on the New, Pocologan and Digdeguash Rivers and keeping an eye out for returns to the Magaguadavic. Alaia is a student, our third,  from Agrocampus Ouest in France and is joining us until the end of January. She'll be helping with field work, lending a hand on many projects in and out of the office to get some good exposure as well as a main project dealing with the receiver line in the Strait of Belle Isle.

There have been 23 escapee salmon in the fishway in the Magaguadavic so far this year and the last four have been carrying between 15 and 50 sea lice each. With only two wild fish so far, it is looking like another very poor year for the river. The season isn't done yet so our fingers are crossed.

In northern New Brunswick, staff has been busy recovering receivers at Campbellton, Dalhousie and across Chaleur Bay. The same goes over in Newfoundland and Labrador where 46 out of 51 receivers have been pulled in so far. The other 7 aren't considered missing yet however, the tides and currents are very strong there, not to mention frequent rough weather. So it typically takes several attempts to find all the gear. More often than not, it is right where it is supposed to be and is easy to find once the weather and seas cooperate.

A few more juvenile survey sites to go tomorrow and next week and then we'll wrap that up for the year. Things will slow down in the field and speed up on the desks for a while before we'll be out spawning fish for the Magaguadavic Program. Today will seem like yesterday in December and we'll wonder where the autumn went.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Out of Hermine
by Graham on 

September is a time of local field work for the ASF Research team. We're still electrofishing in Charlotte and York counties and the monitoring of the fishway at St. George is on-going. So far, the results from our juvenile surveys are not promising, with few salmon counted in any of the sites we've visited. Worth noting however, is that the river and stream levels are very low, lower than I've seen them in the past 6 years. Low levels, little rain, a tropical storm that passed us by, and warm nights have led to still high water temperatures. We don't conduct surveys when the waters are too warm to avoid stress on the fish. But it also means that perhaps the fish have moved out of our sites to find cooler more abundant water. We have many sites left to see, and the weather outlook is generally favourable, so we should complete the project in a timely manner. This project is kindly supported by the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund, they fund and support many great conservation projects throughout the province. If you'd like to learn more, visit them at http://www.nbwtf.ca/about-us/introduction/.

The other story of note from our team this week is the continued arrival of escapee fish at the St. George fishway. We are up to 19 for the year so far. We'll continue to monitor the fishway until December, so we'll be sure to see every escapee that comes in until then.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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The (hopefully not) Great Escape
by Graham on 

This week the ASF Research Department is focused closer to home. We're conducting juvenile surveys of several southwest New Brunswick rivers and keeping an eye on the Magaguadavic River. Some electrofishing surveys are complete and we're on our way to the Dennis Stream today. The Dennis flows into the St. Croix estuary in St. Stephen, NB and is a nice little river that meanders through woods and some farm areas. Of all the rivers we survey in the area, the Dennis typically has the best numbers of juvenile salmon. Nowhere near enough to support recreational fishing, but they are there. Hopefully we find the same or better results today.

The Magaguadavic, on the other hand, is not doing so well. Wild returns have been in the single digits for the last few years and so far in 2016 we have only two wild salmon ascend the fish ladder at the head-of-tide dam in St. George. That isn't to say that we have only seen two salmon come up though There have been, in the last week and a half, 15 salmon originating from the aquaculture industry. They are identified by an on-site examination of the growth pattern on a scale sample. There are other indications that don't need special equipment however. The photo included shows the dorsal fin of an escapee salmon, as is often the case, it is stumpy and fleshier than a wild salmon's dorsal fin. You can often tell just by looking, but we always check the scale details to be sure. We had five in one day earlier in the week, which had us worried that the numbers would keep increasing, but since then we've had only one or none each day. There have been no reported escapes from the net pens in the area as of yesterday so hopefully it wasn't a large event and we've gotten all we will.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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