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Research - In the Field Search  

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Across the Pond and Far Afield
by Graham on 

Despite the snow and cold winds these days, the 2017 field season has officially begun. The crew was recently up at the Miramichi Salmon Association to start the season's tagging. In the fall, the MSA caught some pre-smolts on both main branches of the river and has been holding them over winter in the hatchery. We tagged some of these fish last week and will continue to hold them until spring. While the smolt run is going strong in May, we'll tag some more that were held over winter and also our regular batch of smolts that are descending the river at that time. The idea is to tease out tag effects from the performance of the fish in the spring. The comparison of the different tagging treatments will help increase the understanding and accuracy of smolt survival, something that garners quite a lot of interest.


ASF Biologist Jason Daniels was in England this week at Berwick-Upon-Tweed attending and presenting at the From Headwater to Headland: Improving Smolt Survival in Rivers and Estuaries conference. It was hosted by the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Tweed Foundation. Held to address key issues of improving salmon and sea trout smolt survival during the all-important early stages of their migration in rivers and estuaries. It is a subject and an issue that resonates on both sides of the Atlantic. Jason presented on ASF work entitled "Estimating Consumption of Acoustically Tagged Atlantic Salmon Smolt in the MIramichi River". It was a good chance to see what was working and to share ideas with researchers from other area sharing the same problems.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research

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Flying Fast at the Fredericton Fly Fishing Film Festival
by Graham on 

Last week's Fredericton Fly Fishing Film night was another success. It was well attended and everyone enjoyed the films that ranged from tarpon fishing to exploratory angling in Russia.



The ASF Research Department showed a short video of activities from last season, including some drone footage. More appropriately called a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the department purchased it last year with funds raised and donated by the 2016 film night. There was a learning curve for flight as well as the legal requirements as it is being used for research purposes rather than recreational. We'll be good to go this year right from the start and expect some great footage as well as some convenient uses of the UAV.

To see the ASF Research video, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TekUPi5JShM

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Dig Out and Get Out
by Graham on 

After the ice storm a couple of weeks ago, the blizzard on Monday and the storm coming tonight and tomorrow, some folks will be longing for the spring and salmon season. What better way to pass a wintry Thursday evening than watching some great fly-fishing films in the company of your fellow anglers? On Thursday the 23rd of February, the Fredericton Fly Fishing Film night goes to the Hugh John Fleming Centre's K.C. Irving Theater to present a couple of hours of great fly fishing movies.

Last year's event was a great success. For more details go to: https://www.facebook.com/events/752949358193856/?active_tab=about . We hope to see you there.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Read All About It
by Graham on 

Back in 2012, the ASF began a new tracking project on Miramichi salmon kelts and this month, the research was published in the peer-reviewed ICES (International Council for Exploration of the Seas) Journal of Marine Science. This project involved the use of pop-up archival satellite tags that record temperature, depth and light levels and store them on-board until it can be transmitted. At a predetermined date, or if the fish died, as determined by conditions the tag measured, the tags detached from the fish, floated to the surface and transmitted the recorded data to passing satellites. That data was used to reconstruct depth and temperature profiles as well as the probable track the fish took while tagged. It was the first study of its kind to show detailed analysis of movement of multiple Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Labrador Sea.

Over four years, we deployed 43 satellite tags on Miramichi kelts and 16 were used for this publication having traveled a suitable distance and time in the marine environment. We learned that fish from the same river exhibit a variety of migration paths, use a variety of habitats and display individual diving behaviours. The salmon used a wide area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Labrador Sea. Some followed the coast line after passing the Strait of Belle Isle while others made their way off the continental shelf entirely. One of those salmon far from the continent recorded dives to over 900m.

The field work was undertaken by staff from the ASF and Miramichi Salmon Association, who also supported the project. All the fish were angled by volunteers without whom we could not have completed the research. The analysis was completed by the lead author, John Strom from the Arctic University of Norway, who stayed with us here in New Brunswick for several months while we completed the work and the publication. Further analysis and research while be conducted using data from some of these and other satellite tags deployed by the ASF.

Follow this link to read more about the paper as well as find links to the paper itself:  http://asf.ca/tracking-at-sea-reveals-behaviour-of-migrating-salmon.html


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Happy Holidays
by Graham on 



Happy Holidays from the ASF Research Team.


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Only 122 Shopping Days Until Field Season
by Graham on 

Many people are currently beginning to worry about how many shopping days are left until Christmas. Here at the ASF Research Department, we're beginning to worry about how many days are left until the next field season. Back in October, spring seemed so far away, now it seems like tomorrow. Regardless of the easy start to the winter, spring is coming fast.


We're currently planning our activities for the 2017 season, and while some are the same year to year, some are new. We're always keeping an eye out for new technologies and new hints in the data that might lead us to different areas of inquest. New gear and consumables has to be ordered well ahead of time. Next season, we're hoping to use predator tags in the Miramichi. Similar to the acoustic tags we've been using all along, if ingested, they will change their signal so the predation is apparent in the data. We're on board with the satellite tags again after fascinating results in the Miramichi and a first year's effort in the Restigouche. Results and analysis from the Miramichi study have been accepted for publication and we're waiting for its release. Elsewhere, we'll be back on the Magaguadavic and other southwest New Brunswick Rivers, a few changes are likely pending to the enhancement efforts there.

So what's on our Christmas wish list? Higher returns, a few bits of new equipment and a slow winter.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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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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