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Research - In the Field Search  

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Great Scott
by Graham on 

The ASF Research Department has been tagging salmon kelts with pop-up satellite tags since 2012. These tags are archival, meaning that they record information every so often and store it on-board. Some archival tags need to be retrieved in order to access that data, but in the case of pop-up archival satellite tags (PSATs), they can transmit the data. They 'pop-off' the fish at a pre-determined time, or when sensors suggest the fish has died, and float to the surface. From there, virtually anywhere on the planet, they can transmit to the ARGOS network of satelites. That network is used by scientists for all kinds of fascinating research.

In the spring of 2015, we tagged a kelt in the Northwest Miramichi River with a PSAT. Unfortunately we never received any transmissions from the tag. In the summer of 2016, we found out why. The tag had washed ashore on the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, where it happened to be found by young Calum McLeod. He noticed two things about the tag, that the antennae was broken and information on the tag asking finders to contact the ASF. He did just that and sent it back, along with some fishing stories and hand-drawn art of some of his catches.



The data took some time to extract and analyse the data (more data is available for recovered tags than can be transmitted), but that process is complete now. The kelt in question was tagged in early May, went to see soon after and meandered towards Gaspe and Anticosti Island. Throughout June it moved along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, out the Strait of Belle Isle and then offshore. By July it was way off West Greenland. Unfortunately at this point the data shows that it was predated. The temperature data after predation show much warmer temperatures than the surrounding water, warm enough to be consistent with a marine mammal.  The unfortunate truth for wild Atlantic salmon is that they are prey species for some other animals, however it is nice to know that this particular fish did reproduce at least once before meeting its fate.

Thanks to Calum for keeping his eyes open that day on the beach and reaching out to us. The data from this tag will add to a growing knowledge base of the marine migration routes and diving behaviour of Atlantic salmon kelts as well as predation events.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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ASF's Jonathan Carr in Greenland
by Graham on 

Jonathan Carr, Executive Director of Research at the ASF, has been off in Greenland for a week laying the groundwork for possible future projects there. Our current tracking program does a great job of calculating survival and timing of juvenile and adult Atlantic salmon through the rivers, estuaries and Gulf of St. Lawrence but beyond that, things become a little tricky.



The smaller tags needed for juveniles simply cannot last long enough to assess much in the North Atlantic. Their batteries fade a little ways after passing the Strait of Belle Isle. The larger tags used with post-spawn adult salmon last about three years, which is much better. However, with receivers (used to detect passing tags) only placed as far as the Strait of Belle Isle, observing movement in the northern North Atlantic is still lacking. We do see those fish return - if they return - as alternate spawners. But again, receiver placement limits our information. It would not be logistically and financially feasible to cover enough sections of the North Atlantic with receivers.

Qaqortoq in southwest Greenland. Photo Jonathan Carr/ASF

Satellite tags have proven their usefulness and we have tracks of our satellite-tagged kelts reaching Greenland waters. Jonathan is in southwest Greenland investigating the potential to catch and satellite tag large salmon so we can investigate their winter activities and return journey towards North American rivers.


The photos he sent show a beautiful land and it isn't hard to imagine the salmon swimming offshore. If feasible, tracking salmon from Greenland waters back to North America would cover an important part of their life history that is not currently well-known. As the gaps in understanding the Atlantic salmon's fascinating migration are filled in, the more knowledge we have to manage and fight for the species we care so much about.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Survey Says
by Graham on 

Juvenile surveys in southwest New Brunswick have continued in the last two weeks and we have just wrapped them up for the year. We've been electrofishing on five Outer Bay of Fundy rivers, the Dennis, Digdeguash, New, Pocologan and Magaguadavic. Last year we saw almost no salmon, but the water then was so low and warm that fish may have vacated our usual sites for better habitat. This year looked to be the same, the Digdeguash was even lower than last year, but we did find juvenile salmon in several locations. While it appears that populations are very low, they seem to be holding in some of the rivers. Other than the Magaguadavic, these are short, small rivers through mostly forested and rural some rural areas.


Along with the juvenile salmon, we found lots of brook trout, blacknose dace, smallmouth bass, white sucker, creek chub and a lone burbot.. And on the way in to one site, we happened upon a good-sized wood turtle climbing up a hill, always nice to see.

The juvenile surveys would not be possible without the support of the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund. They have supported this work for many years and the result is an on-going assessment of the otherwise un-monitored rivers for salmon in particular, but also whatever else we see. We appreciate their help, if you're interested in learning more about them, visit their website at http://www.nbwtf.ca

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Bienvenue Clement
by Graham on 

Over the past three years, students from Agrocampus Ouest, a university in Rennes, France have come to work with us for a term. This year is no different as we welcome Clement Taron to the Research Department. He arrived later on Monday and by Tuesday morning we had him electro-fishing on the Pocologan River.  With all of the rains that were expected, we'd gone out for long days of juvenile surveys before the water levels increased too much. Along with salmon parr, we found a lot of brook trout of all sizes, white sucker, creek chub, blacknose dace and even a wood turtle.



Clement will be working with us in several areas as well as undertaking one bigger project. He'll be here until January so he should get in a bit of proper winter as well.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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The ASF Team
by Graham on 

Last week ASF staff from around Atlantic Canada and New England got together for a few days at headquarters in Chamcook, NB. With ASF staff spread all over the place it can be hard to find a chance to speak with co-workers in person. Even at our offices in Chamcook, people are often traveling and we might not bump into each other for weeks despite our offices being meters apart.

So we held a few days of meetings to discuss current and recent projects as well as what is coming up in the future. As always, everyone is excited at what is to come with our work. OF course, it wasn't only work, many of us managed to get out for a few hours on a local whale watching boat. While we only saw one minke whale and lots of porpoises, we did manage to have a great time and everyone enjoyed the evening.



Now that we're back in the office and field, we're looking ahead to bringing in the rest of the acoustic gear for 2017. One of the Strait of Belle Isle lines should come out this week, weather permitting (never a sure bet up there). The Chaleur line will come in late this week or early next week. That leaves the second Strait of Belle Isle line and a few things here and there to collect. Now that the nights are cooling off, we're going to be starting electrofishing surveys in the coming weeks as well. Then the results, analysis and planning as the cycle starts again.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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ASF Biologists in a big ocean
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

by Eric Brunsdon

It was early July and as tagged Atlantic salmon left their natal rivers in May, they were just arriving at the Strait of Belle Isle near the northern tip of Newfoundland.

In the next few weeks the majority of postsmolts passed through the strait, and for ASF researchers this signals that it is time for receivers to be retrieved and data downloaded.


Finding the buoys is the first challenge in the rain, and sometimes waves.

Two of our receiver lines, known as Strait of Belle Isle South (24 receivers) and Strait of Bell Isle North (28 receivers) span the entire width of this channel between Newfoundland and Labrador, a distance of about 30 km. Over the next week anchors and receivers were hauled, data was downloaded, and receivers were redeployed to continue monitoring postsmolts as they migrate toward the Atlantic Ocean.

A line of receivers picks up the sonic signal of passing postsmolts and kelts.

In perfect weather, getting this done should take a couple of days. But as we’ve learned from our time working in the strait, there is nothing “usual” about the weather.


Icebergs were just one of the hazards of working in the Strait of Belle Isle.

Strong winds, big waves and rain made locating and downloading receivers difficult and completely halted work for days. We are used to dealing with the elements but this year was especially windy with extremely rough seas.

Once the weather finally improved, we were able to quickly finish the last of the mid season downloads, loving every moment of sunny skies and calm oceans. No matter what the weather though, you can’t help but appreciate the scenery, terrain and wildlife in Newfoundland.


Eric Brunsdon earlier this year, deploying receivers. Units consist of unit with connected anchor, and float.

The data is back at home base, and we can start analyzing it from the comfort of an office chair with a faint reminder that we are still just little fish in a big pond when it comes to the outdoor elements.

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Farewell Heather
by Graham on 

This is the last week of work for ASF Biologist Heather Dixon. Heather has been with us for just over a year and has contributed to all of our projects in that time. From electrofishing in  southwest New Brunswick to smolt tagging in the Miramichi, she has seen a bit of everything we do. That isn't to say she hasn't also spent a lot of time in front of a screen, analyzing data and preparing reports (it's not all field work around here).
Though from Britain originally, Heather came to us from southern Ontario where she set down some roots. After finishing her PhD, she moved to New Brunswick to work with us, but will now be heading back to Ontario to begin a position as a Research Associate in Arctic Biomonitoring at the University of Waterloo.

Best of luck Heather, keep your eyes out for any ASF pop-up tags when you're up north on field work.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Retreiving the Data With a Small Boat
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

Graham Chafe, ASF Biologist


Now that Atlantic salmon smolts and kelts have passed through to the open ocean from the Miramichi, it is time to bring up the units and download the data.




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North-Bound
by Graham on 

ASF's tracking program encompasses kelts and smolts. The kelt tags, due to their larger size, can last up to three years. The smolt tags are much, much smaller and last a little over 100 days. With kelts, we can track the fish out of the river and back in again the next year if they are consecutive spawners or the year after if they are alternate, or even a combination of the two. Smolts can only be tracked to the Strait of Belle Isle, the batteries don't last too far past that. After they pass the strait, the now post-smolts face their first winter at sea and that is what we, and others, are concerned about. Survival through their first winter is an important issue and is also one of the hardest to investigate due to the length of time, remoteness, limitations of technology and sheer size of the North Atlantic.



A new ASF project aims to investigate the potential of reducing the unknown time by catching and tagging post-smolts in the Strait of Belle Isle. The fish that were 13cm when they left the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers in May will be larger by the time they cross the strait in July. Tags that are even just a bit bigger can have a much longer battery life, so we are undertaking a reconnaissance mission to the strait in 2017, so if feasible, we can make plans for 2018.

Eric and James are driving up to Green Island Cove, where our receiver line is, with a ton of gear. They will be using a trawl net fitted with a custom box at the end that will keep any fish caught out of the current and safe from harm. It is a preliminary trip, but we have high hopes for proof of concept. Thanks to Justin, Tim and others from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maine for exploring this idea and particularly for sharing experiences with the trawl. The equipment was new to us and being able to go out on a trawl in Penobscot Bay was a great help in preparing for this trip. At-sea mortality is a big issue for salmon in their first winter and we aim to reduce the knowledge gap with this project.

 Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Waiting on the Weather
by Graham on 

It's a different world up in the Strait of Belle Isle. While those of us in southern New Brunswick are basking in the sun today, the folks in northern Newfoundland are a little bit cooler. The ASF's Director of Newfoundland and Labrador Programs has been waiting for the weather to clear to deploy our acoustic tracking equipment in the strait. He and Loomis Way, a local fisherman who has been taking us out to deploy and recover gear for years have everything ready by he wharf, but they can't leave the harbour.



If all things went according to plan, and they never quite do, this line of equipment would have been out by now. First, they had to wait for the ice to clear, since then it has been waves, wind or fog that has kept them high and dry. This morning, Don mentioned that they had to move their cars off the wharf as waves were crashing right over it. There is still time left before the kelts tend to arrive so all is far from lost. The smolts will pass through a little later than the kelts and by late August, the gear will have been removed for the season again. Looks like they might get on the water Friday, fingers crossed.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.


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