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Tipping the Scales
by Graham on 

Michelle and Mike reading a salmon scale.The Magaguadavic River provides a unique opportunity amongst New Brunswick rivers. While the head of tide dam in St. George completely blocks the river, there is both up and downstream fish passage built in. For fish moving downstream, there are three routes past the dam, over the spillway, through the downstream passage facility and through the turbines. The construction and operation of the dam is meant to influence fish, particularly salmon smolts in the spring, to go through the much safer passage facility.

 

Upstream passage, however, has only one route. There is a pool and weir fish ladder around the retainer dam in St. George. Fish can swim up the ladder and rest in pools along the way. Near the top, there is a trap that, when in operation, prevents them from continuing until ASF staff move them to the upstream side. This allows us, when it is in operation, to count and identify every fish that enters the river. We operate the trap from early June until December, with it bypassed for free passage during the rest of the year and when the alewife run is heavy. The trap is checked daily, and every fish is identified for species, length and condition.

 

Returning salmon are scale sampled and measured. Reading the patterns on the scale, along with physical indicators, allows us to identify the salmon as wild, from our enhancement program or as an escapee from a sea cage. Wild and enhancement fish are put upstream of the dam and continue on their way. Escapee salmon are prevented from entering the river where they may interbreed with wild salmon and reduce the population's chances for survival. So far this year, one enhancement and three wild salmon have returned to the river. We'll keep monitoring the facility and hope that this year's returns are higher than in the past few years, when numbers were low.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Paddling and Tracking
by Graham on 

Michelle Charest and her dog Mara searching for smolt on the Main SW Miramichi.Things were a little quieter over the past week and we've had some time to start organizing some of the data that has been coming in from the field. It hasn't been office work for all of us however. ASF Biologist Michelle Charest and Leah Strople, a Dalhousie student working with us for the summer, spent a few days on the Main Southwest Miramichi searching for smolt. At this point, the smolt should be out of the river, but we know from our receivers that some did not make it.

 

The smolt were tagged at Rocky Brook, and our most upstream receiver is at Quarryville (well...was at Quarryville, high water from the post-tropical storm threw it up on someone's property). While it would be expected that not all smolt will survive the trip down river, we decided to have a look to investigate where they were being lost, if possible. So Michelle and Leah, and two very helpful dogs, canoed from Doaktown to Blackville while using the portable receiver. Over that distance, they only heard the signal from one tag. The islands in the river could have blocked some signals, or the tags could be between Blackville and Quarryville. Another possibility is that they were predated and the tags are in trout that have moved upstream. Similar efforts will be made on the Northwest Miramichi as well, and the results will influence if and where we add receivers to our arrays in future years.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Arthur
by Graham on 

The St. George Fishway just before Arthur arrived.It was a busy weekend in southern New Brunswick, just like everyone else in the Maritimes we were getting ready to meet Arthur. As the storm moved closer, we made sure all of our gear was inside and battened down the hatches. While it brought the most rain to the St. Stephen area, 143mm, the entire province, and all of its rivers, was affected. Water levels have gone up, dramatically in some cases.

The bottom of the fishway in St. George below the surface.

 

While this will perhaps give better conditions for returning salmon to move up some rivers, researchers, fishers and anyone else on the river must be careful for debris that is coming down. One thing of particular note are trees in the river, uprooted by water or wind, they can get caught and create a barrier to passage, more for people than fish. These are called strainers, and need to be avoided. Currents can push swimmers and boaters into the trees and make it very difficult to get out. Anything going down the river can get caught in the branches and pushed below the surface and stay there until the tree itself finally gets pushed away.

 

ASF staff, who monitor the upstream fish passage on the Magaguadavic River in St. George, had to prepare the facility for the coming storm. The trap was checked, only a few last alewife were passing, and then bypassed for the duration of the coming high water. The dam, in preparation for very large amounts of rain, lowered the river and headpond by opening the gates. This step was taken so that when the rain and run-off filled the river, it would not result in widespread flooding. The result was that, for a short time, the river was actually too low to feed into the ladder from above, and too high for fish to find the ladder from below. With all the extra water moving down, fish would not have been able to move upstream against the enormous current anyway. It is amazing how quickly the river fills up again, once the gates are closed, despite the rain only lasting 24 hours or so. The fishway will be back in operation very soon, and we look forward to seeing the first wild Magaguadavic salmon returning.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Work and Play
by Graham on 

Shawna Wallace at the Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures lodge.With Canada Day happening on Tuesday, there has been a good mix of work and play this week. Wednesday was hot and muggy, but we spent it in the cool wet lab at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' St. Andrews Biological Station. The first sampling period was due for the Tag Retention study. Now on full-strength sea water, the smolts are doing well. We weighed and measured each one and took a photograph of the tagging point to observe healing. The fish are growing noticeably, and will eventually be moved to bigger tanks. Until then, we'll keep measuring them every two weeks, not a bad way to get out of the heat and humidity.

 

The satellite tag that had popped off a kelt and was floating near Prince Edward Island has now stopped transmitting. It came ashore on a barrier island on the north side, but strong winds prevented anyone from getting out to recover it before it stopped transmitting. Without that signal, the chances of finding it are next to nil. Fortunately, all of the data was transmitted before it went off line so after processing, we'll have an idea of the kelt's story.

 

Shawna Wallace from the Research Department and a few others from ASF's head office spent a couple of days of fishing on the Northwest Miramichi. Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures is very involved in the salmon community and provided a wonderful time for the group. Shawna hooked, but didn't land a salmon on her first-ever fly cast. She was delighted to catch a brook trout and the whole group had a great time. Sounds like it might be a yearly trip.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Live Tracking
by Graham on 

Leah Strople using a portable tracking device on the NW Miramichi River. Once again this week, Leah and Mike are on the Miramichi River searching for fish. Last week, they downloaded the receivers from the head of tides on both branches down to the mouth of the bay. After going through the data, they discovered a few fish that hadn't made it to the sea. Those are the fish they are looking for now.

 

While it is possible that a tagged smolt or kelt can swim by a receiver without it being recorded, it is unlikely that it can get by all the receivers un-recorded. Down the length of the river, we use one receiver per location, since the river is not very wide relative to the transmission distance of the tags. At the mouth of the bay, we use several receivers to cover the area. Not only is it wider, but boat traffic can cause noise that results in false detections or just drowns out the noise of the tag at times. With several receivers in place, we greatly reduce the chances of missing a fish entirely.

 

Leah and Mike are using a portable receiver to listen for a few particular fish that weren't recorded past certain points. They'll go to the last known location and begin searching from there, stopping every 500m and going side to side or so to listen for a few minutes. That means long days spent on the river, but they aren't complaining.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Upstream and Downstream
by Graham on 

Tagged Alewife prior to release ont he St. Croix River.The last of the St. Croix River alewife have been tagged and released. The fish were selected randomly from those passing through the fish ladder at the Milltown dam. Once tagged, they were placed in a floating pen for an hour of observation. Near the end of the hour, another 100 alewife were added to the group. This allowed them to begin schooling, and once released, they could travel upstream in a group as they normally do. We will download the receivers over the summer months and get a clear idea of their movement patterns through the system.

 

A PIT tag and the needle used to inject it.

Our tag retention study is going well. Each fish was tagged with an acoustic tag as well as a PIT tag for identification purposes should the acoustic tag come out. PIT tags, short for passive integrated transponder, are tiny, about the size and shape of a grain of rice. Injected just under the skin, the point of insertion heals quickly and they don't negatively impact the animal. They don't contain a battery, but rather, when a scanner is used, they reflect back the energy at a certain frequency and transmit a unique code. They are not only used in fish, but also in livestock, other wildlife studies and are very similar to tags used by veterinarians to identify pet dogs and cats.

 

Mike Best and Leah Strople are on the Miramichi this week. They are undertaking some early downloads of our receivers there and are also live-tracking for any smolts remaining in the system. While the smolts are likely moved downstream to the estuary or beyond by now, they are using a portable device to listen for tags between the receivers. Should any smolt have died and settled to the bottom, they should be able to discover the location. If they discover that lots of tags are in a particular location or area, further investigation will take place to determine the reasons why.

 

Lastly, the satellite tag that popped off between Miramichi Bay and PEI two weeks ago is still floating about. Winds and currents have carried it to within a couple kilometers of shore, but it was moving too quickly for us to go after just yet. It has rounded the northern tip of the island and, if we are lucky, will wash up on shore somewhere on the coast before the battery drains and it stops transmitting.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Location, Location, Location
by Graham on 

Jon Carr checking the acoustic tags in St. Croix River alewife before release.This week there is news from all over the province. Jon Carr and I, along with the help of Lee Sochasky, have tagged 30 St. Croix River alewife. Receivers have been deployed as far upstream as Vanceboro and we will be monitoring their movement through the system. Thanks to the re-opening of the fish passage facilities at Woodland and Grand Falls dams, the entire native range of the alewife in the St. Croix is now accessible again. Our project will observe how they spread through the system with their newfound access.

 

Michelle Charest, ASF's newest biologist, has returned from tagging salmon smolts on the Restigouche and Cascapedia rivers. It was a week-long, trial-by-fire trip for her and as soon as she returned, she was back at it. In conjunction with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ASF is undertaking a tag retention study at the St. Andrews Biological Station. Jon, Steve Tinker and I had already tagged 80 smolts each, and Michelle completed her 80 today. We will transition these fish to salt water over the next few days and will be observing them for the next year.

 

The track of the first of the pop-up satellite tags to transmit in 2014. Miramichi Bay is on the left side of the image.

We had two reports of our tagged fish this week. The first was from an angler who caught a trout near Burnt Hill Brook on the Main Southwest Miramichi. The trout had predated a Rocky Brook smolt and had proceeded upstream. Fortunately, the angler noticed the small tag when he was cleaning the fish. The tags all have a phone number printed on them, so he was able to tell us the fate of that particular smolt. Although we prefer that the tagged smolts make it to sea, it is helpful to get any information from anglers who come across them.

 

The second was a satellite tag, which popped off and began transitting this morning. The tag is floating in the Northumberland Strait in a generally southern direction. If it washes ashore, or comes close, we will make efforts to recover it. I can't say at this point why the tag popped off, only that the fish made it to the ocean but not much further. It will transmit for about three weeks before its battery runs out. That is more than enough time for me to download all the data. After transmitting and processing, the reason for the tag popping should become apparent. Hopefully, we don't hear from the rest of the satellite tags until their designated pop-off times in August and September.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Tag, You're It.
by Graham on 

A tagged smolt just after release at Rocky Brook. Photograph: Leah Strople.We're into the last week of heavy lifting and crazy schedules for this spring. Steve Tinker and Leah Strople have returned from both branches of the Miramichi. They tagged 80 smolts on the Main Southwest and 50 on the Northwest. Our receivers are all in and we'll be downloading them and live tracking over the next few weeks to see how they're faring in the river and estuary.

 

This week we began a Tag Retention Study at the St. Andrews Biological Station. The study is arranged such that each of four taggers will implant tags into 80 smolts each. The smolts are being held in tanks and will soon be transitioned to salt water, as they would in nature. The purpose is to further our understanding of how well the tags are held by the fish. We know that they can and do hold the tags for many months and long distances, as demonstrated by the smolts being recorded on the Strait of Belle Isle, but this study will indicate if our estimates need to be adjusted for tag rejection or loss. It is a longer term study and we will be taking key measurements every two weeks over the next year. As of today, 180 smolts have been tagged, with 140 to go. With every aspect of the process being measured and documented, it is a very long process.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Watching and Waiting
by Graham on 

Carole-Ann and Joanie piloting the boat on the Dalhousie deployment trip.After a few days of hurriedly getting everything ready for the Baie des Chaleurs deployment, we are now stuck waiting for the weather. The bay has had a long period of high winds and rough water. The bay, from Anse-Bleu, New Brunswick across to the Quebec side is over 20km, and requires 28 receivers to cover it.

 

Due to large vessels crossing in the middle of the bay, we use ten acoustic releases in that section. These keep the receivers floating only about ten meters above the bottom, well below the potentially damaging props of the ships on the surface. The release and receiver need a buoy, still under water, that provides 25kg of flotation to keep the equipment upright in the currents. The flip-side is that, to keep the whole rig from hopping along the bottom in strong currents, the anchors have to be around 80kg. An anchor that heavy is quite a thing to rig and wrestle over the side, especially in heaving seas, so on these deployments we have to wait for more reasonably sized, waves and swells. Fortunately, the kelts are unlikely to pass by for another week or so, and the smolts are much further behind, so we will still get our gear out on time.

 

Leah, a Dalhousie University student working with the ASF for the summer, cleans out a tank in preparation for a tag retention study.Steve Tinker and Leah Strople started tagging smolts on the Northwest Miramichi today. Along with staff from the Miramichi Salmon Association, they will be implanting small acoustic transmitters into 80 smolts several kilometers above Red Bank. The smolts were captured in a rotating smolt trap and will be released in the same general area. From there, Leah and Steve will head to Rocky Brook on the Main Southwest to tag another 80 smolts there.

 

Closer to home, we are preparing to begin a tag retention study at the St. Andrews Biological Station. The purpose is to provide further observations regarding the post-surgery healing and tag retention of smolts. The smolts arrived on site last week, and all the gear and equipment was cleaned, sterilized and prepared this week. We plan on beginning the tagging early next week, depending on Baie des Chaleurs conditions of course.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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More Tagging, More Deployments.
by Graham on 

Jon Carr taking a sedated Restigcouhe salmon to the tagging table. It's been another week of tagging and deployments. The Miramichi kelt tagging is complete but Jon Carr and Michelle Charest were on the Restigouche earlier in the week tagging kelts there. The volunteers angled 17 kelts for our researchers. These fish will move downstream and reach the Campbellton area in about a week or ten days, if they follow the normal pattern. The receivers there were put out mid-week with help from the Gespe'gewaq Mi'gmaq Resource Council. Slightly further downstream, I was out yesterday with Carole-Ann Gillis and Joanie Carrier deploying receivers at Dalhousie and Dalhousie Junction. Joanie is conducting a study for ASF regarding cormorant colonies in the area and potential impacts on salmon smolts.

 

Elsewhere, the downstream facility on the Magaguadavic has smolts arriving daily and alewife have started moving upstream through the ladder. We will be tagging alewife in the St. Croix river this year, to observe their expanded movements in newly opened areas. They had started ascending there last week, but high water and rains have kept the numbers low so far. That tagging project should begin next week.

 

Also next week, we should begin tagging smolts on both the Main Southwest Miramichi and the Restigouche Rivers. The smolt wheels, used to enumerate smolts migrating downstream, are in, but high water levels have caused some problems. Our crews are on stand-by to head up when word of smolt numbers and sizes reaches us.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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