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Research - In the Field Search  

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Mid-Season Slump
by Graham on 

While it looks like the dog days of summer have arrived, there is a bit of a mid-season slump in field work, about a week's worth, and it just ended. After the gear went out and the fish were tagged, we were mostly back in the office dealing with deployment data, ongoing projects and getting ready for upcoming events.  Time for a quick breath before things start happening again.

This week, Heather and Mike headed up to the Miramichi to get some mid-season downloads. Our gear has been out for a while, and will remain in the water until August, but we like to check on things before then. Since receivers occasionally go missing, from flotsam pulling it loose to motor props cutting a line, sometimes we lose some gear. When gear is lost, so is the all-important data.


So, Mike and Heather went out to download the data from the receivers and will leave them in place. It is a bit of insurance against loss after this activity. When we do lose gear, it often turns up again later on. People find it on the shore and contact us. All of our gear (and other researchers too) has contact information on it so if you find any gear, please have close look at it, you maybe able to contact the owner. It is a big help considering the cost and effort of undertaking this type of research. So far, it sounds like it was successful, and Heather sent me a few photos from the river.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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John's Gone
by Graham on 

This week we are saying farewell to John Strøm.

John is a PhD student from Norway who

 came to New Brunswick several months ago to work with us on the satellite tag data that we've been collecting for a few years. The satellite tags archive an enormous amount of data on depth, light and temperature. Since the tags cannot simply communicate with a satellite and get positions like our smartphones or tags used on terrestrial or avian animals, a lot of knowledge and work goes in to the analysis and modelling of the raw data. This is one of John's strengths and the result is a better understanding of marine migration of post-spawn Atlantic salmon. Our work is leading to better knowledge of the variation in migration strategies, daily depth patterns and, in some cases, predation events, of these fish. We hope to build on this information and use it towards conservation and management of Atlantic salmon at sea.

The results coming from 4 years of satellite tagging kelts in the Northwest Miramichi River will be submitted for publication very soon and readers will be alerted once it is available. This year, we deployed ten satellite tags on Restigouche River kelts, it will be very interesting to compare patterns between the two groups.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Oceans Day, Oceans Away
by Graham on 

June 8th marks World Ocean Day in 2016. The theme this year is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”. That’s a theme that salmon conservationists can get behind. The importance of the world’s oceans is critical to the health of the planet, particularly for migratory species like Atlantic salmon.


Though freshwater habitats used by salmon aren’t always easy to manage and take care of, they are far more accessible to conservation efforts. The ocean, which predominates the planet by area (Earth should probably be called Sea), is more difficult to keep an eye on due to its immense size and the fact that no one country has jurisdiction over it. We at the ASF might think of it in terms of “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Salmon” but it is really all the same concept. Preserving species, like wild Atlantic salmon, and the environments they depend on is the raison d’etre for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. We and our members are doing our part and are pleased to be in the company of so many others who share our values.



In addition to being active members of international organizations that work to conserve wild Atlantic salmon at sea (such as the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and the International Council for Exploration of the Seas), the ASF has been conducting its own work in the ocean for over ten years. In an effort to discover reason behind low marine survival, we’ve been tracking salmon smolt and kelt on their migration to the sea. Both smolt and kelt are tagged with small transmitters and listening posts (called receivers) are strategically placed on their migration route from the rivers to the sea. We have placed receivers in several rivers, bays and estuaries over the years as well as across the Strait of Belle Isle. That gives us general divisions for survival into the freshwater portion, estuarine area, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the North Atlantic. The two latter are huge areas and we are seeking to increase our tracking resolution in the marine environment. Part of that effort includes using pop-up satellite tags on kelts, and it is producing some excellent data. Technology is always improving and we hope to have more tools at our disposal as the years go by.



If you are interested in more issues the ASF is working on visit http://www.asf.ca/issues.html and for more information on World Oceans Day go to http://www.worldoceansday.org/.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.


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Looking Forward to Herring About It.
by Graham on 

Colby Blair from RBC presents a funding cheque to Cindy Bartlett and Graham Chafe fromt he ASF.The Research Department is spread out this week. Jason and Jon are at Grand Cascapedia tagging smolt and enjoying the sunshine. These 40 will be the final fish tagged this year. It adds up to quite a lot over all, 500 for our Tag Retention study, 10 satellite and 15 acoustically-tagged kelts on the Restigouche, 26 on the Northwest Miramichi, 60 wild smolts on each of the two big Miramichi branches and 80 on the Restigouche and 120 smolt each from Northwest and Southwest Miramichi that were captured in the fall as pre-smolt. That is over 900 fish tagged in about a month and will result in a lot of data that should help us understand the situation facing Atlantic salmon smolt and kelts in the rivers and ocean.

Cindy Bartlett, from ASF Development, and I spent the day at a Royal Bank branch in St. Stephen, NB. As part of their 10 year long Bluewater Project, they are funding efforts to provide access and enhancement of safe water, for both people and the flora and fauna that live in our waterways. This year, the ASF was fortunate enough to receive some funding from them towards our smolt tracking project. Cindy and I spoke with several interested people over the course of the day. Thanks to RBC for their support of our research.

Asha Ajmani from the Passamaquoddy Tribe tags an alewife being held by Christine, an intern with ASF from McGill University.This summer, the Research Department has taken on a few interns from McGill University. It is a mutually beneficial situation, they gain work experience and we get some much needed help. To prove that we don't only give them the grunt work and dirty jobs (but thanks for that too!) Christine, Kristen and I went to the St. Croix River yesterday to do some alewife tagging. This project is being run by the Passamaquoddy Tribe from Point Pleasant in Maine. They are investigating how alewife are using the fish passage facilities on the St. Croix River by using listening arrays and PIT tags. PIT tags are much smaller than the acoustic tags we typically put in smolt, but have different uses and applications. We were there to lend some equipment and lend a hand moving fish as well as to observe and learn about the process. This project builds on acoustic tracking work that was done in 2014 and 2015 by the ASF and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. They'll be tagging more fish next week, we look forward to hearing about the results.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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The Smolt Bolt.
by Graham on 

After a few long days on the road and on the rivers, most of the 2016 smolt tags are out. Where we usually tag 80 smolt on each of the Northwest Miramichi, the Main Southwest Miramichi, the Restigouche, and 40 on the Grand Cascapedia, this year was a bit different. To further our knowledge of tagged smolt behaviour with the goal of increasing the accuracy of our survival estimates, we varied our tagging regime and added a few twists. Working in conjunction with the Miramichi Salmon Association, pre-smolt were caught in the fall and kept over-winter at the hatchery. Thirty for each river were tagged mid-winter and 30 were tagged this week just prior to release. We also tagged 60 wild smolt from the rotating screw traps on each branch. Half of the spring-caught smolts were released during the day and half after dark. Additionally, all groups of tagged smolts were tagged with two kinds of sutures for comparison. The smolt are held for a time to monitor recovery after tagging and then released to the river, where they continue on their journey to the sea.

Earlier in the week, ASF and MSA staff met at Rocky Brook Camp on the Main Southwest Miramichi. We spent an entire day tagging and releasing fish. As they are every year, Wayne, Jerry and Blake from Rocky Brook were more than accommodating with their time, help and food. They are involved in their own assessments of juveniles every year and the two projects are very complimentary.

After Rocky Brook, we headed up the the Northwest to begin tagging there. MSA and ASF staff, who work together often, got all of the tagging and releases done up at Miner's Bridge. The day was mostly sunny and warm and everything went (mostly) smoothly.

Soon the Restigouche River smolt will be tagged followed by those on the Grand Cascapedia. In mid-June the receiver line in the Strait of Belle Isle will be put out in time for both smolt and kelt to pass in early July. Interestingly, all of our tagged smolt and kelt, from the four rivers, all pass the Strait usually within a week of each other. Good timing.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.


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Retention Tension.
by Graham on 

 

After months of preparation, the Tag Retention work is finally complete. ASF's Jason Daniels headed up this project and has been checking in to every last detail in preparation for two big days of tagging fish. The project was a collaborative effort between ASF, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the Maine office. The purpose of the experiment is to build upon our knowledge from previous efforts to examine how well smolts of different sizes retain acoustic tags of the type we, and others, use in telemetry studies. This will allow us to compensate for any tag loss in our survival estimates of smolts moving seaward and as far afield as Newfoundland and Labrador.

 The entire tag retention crew. People from ASF, DFO, NOAA and McGill University all smiling at the end of day two.

It was a big effort, with 500 fish tagged with four different sizes of acoustic tags (all supplied by VEMCO out of Nova Scotia) and two different types of sutures used in the surgery. We had four tagging stations operating at once and fish moving every which way, all needing to be observed and cared for at every step. In addition to people from the organizations mentioned above, we also have two interns from McGill University working with us out for 5 weeks and they were a big help. The first morning was a bit slow, and we took our time getting our timing patterns down but by the first afternoon we were flying along at a good clip.

 

The fish will be checked twice a day for tag loss over the next four months, which is a bit longer than the tag batteries last. At the end of that period the analysis will begin. That information will help in our real-life tagging and tracking studies on smolts in the Miramichi, Restigouche and Cascapedia Rivers. It will also be beneficial information for anyone tagging and tracking Atlantic salmon anywhere else using these or similar tags.

 

Soon enough we'll be tagging wild smolts and will have traded a wet lab for the (hopefully) sunny riverbanks in northern New Brunswick and the Gaspe peninsula.

 

A big thanks to everyone involved in planning and executing this project, we couldn't have done it without you.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Low Water, Big Salmon and High Offices
by Graham on 

There has been a lot going on in the ASF Research Department recently. We've said goodbye to one staff (see previous entry) and hello to a new one, deployments and tagging have begun and another project is about to start.

 

ASF was happy to welcome Heather Dixon to our team two weeks ago. Hailing from England, she is coming to us from the University of Waterloo where she is just finishing a PhD investigating marine feeding in Atlantic salmon. She'll be an excellent addition to our team and her previous research fits in nicely with areas in which we have interest. Fitting that some of her first days of work were at Red Bank helping to tag kelts that will soon be feeding in the marine environment.

 

Thanks to volunteer anglers on both the Restigouche and Northwest Miramichi rivers, we tagged 51 kelts over three days on the rivers. We began at Red Bank where anglers braved cool temperatures and cold winds to bring us all the kelts we needed. All were multi-year salmon and a few more males than usual, they ranged from 74.8cm to 96.7cm. The heaviest, caught by our own Nathan Wilbur, weighed 6.4kg. On the second day of tagging, we had a visit from Senator Percy Mockler who showed a keen interest in the salmon, the anglers and our work. He even assisted in tagging a 82.9cm, 3.4kg male kelt. Thanks to the anglers and volunteers from community and local camps, the exercise was basically seamless.

 

The Restigouche River tagging happened a few days later and went just as well. Amazingly, we tagged all 25 kelts in just one day. The fish were even bigger there (sorry Nathan) and we had no problems getting our numbers thanks to the dozen or so anglers who fished from shore and boats. In a change from the last four years, we used Restigouche fish for our satellite tags this year. Ten big kelts were outfitted with these tags this year, it will be very interesting to see how their behaviours and migration patterns compare to those from the Miramichi.

 

Tagging on both rivers required a big effort but people, camps and communities came together to allow this important work to happen. The salmon are incredibly important to both rivers and the people who live and visit the areas so it is great to see how easily people jump to help out. We couldn't do it without them and appreciate the continuing effort of everyone involved.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

 

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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (surgery)
by Graham on 

Steve Tinker at his retirement lunch.This week we said goodbye and good luck to Steve Tinker. Steve has been a biologist with the Atlantic Salmon Federation for 17 years. Prior to helping the effort to restore wild salmon populations, he worked with wild birds of prey and several other interesting jobs right across the country.

 

Steve was involved in all kinds of different projects while working at ASF. He has been a part of the tracking projects since the beginning and has tagged countless numbers of smolts over the years. Much of our tracking data comes from fish he performed the surgery upon. He also worked on stream surveys and electrofishing crews, gear deployments, survey cruises in the Bay of Fundy and more local watershed surveys here in Charlotte County.

 

With his knowledge of all things in the natural world, Steve was always a good person to travel the back country with during fieldwork. No birds escaped his notice or identification, even from far across a field, and the variety of plants and animals in New Brunswick were all familiar territory for him. Staff working along side him never failed to learn something new on those trips. We sent him off to retirement with a beautiful fly rod so he has can enjoy fishing without having to worry about weighing, measuring, scale or tissue sampling and tagging every fish he sees.

 

All the best Steve, enjoy yourself and good luck with the fishing!

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Winter Warmer
by Graham on 
Watching fish at the Miramichi Salmon Association.

Monday of this week found us enjoying the hospitality of the Miramichi Salmon Association. We'd driven up through snow and sleet to tag some fish on a joint project that is looking at tag retention and behaviour of juveniles tagged at different times. Typically, we tag smolt caught in the rotating screw traps in the spring. We'll do that again this year, but in addition, some juveniles were caught in the fall and brought to the hatchery. They came from both main branches of the river. They've spent the winter in at the MSA and will be released when they smolt in the spring.  Everything went very smoothly and as much as I enjoy working outside, it sure was nice not to have to deal with the wind blowing everything away for a change. More reports on these fish will follow in the spring and as data comes in over the summer.

 

Last week I'd used a 3D printer at the Saint John Free Public Library at Market Square to make a harness for satellite tagged kelts. The first prototype came out pretty well, though it needs a few tweaks before I can call it the final design. The harness came out well enough, but the biggest issue was the typeface I'd attempted to raise from the surface. In the past, we've attached a small plastic tag lying flat on the harness to identify the fish once the satellite tag has come off. If someone caught or found the fish, they'd see the information and be able to contact us, thus giving one more solid data point as well as a possible fate of the fish. With the 3D printer, I thought I could have all the information in raised letters as part of the tag itself, but it is proving problematic. I'm not giving up yet, each harness costs only a couple of cents to produce in this manner so I think I can try a few more times to get it right.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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We CAD Do It.
by Graham on 

During the design process for the satellite tag harnesses.Suddenly it is March. It seems to have arrived especially early this year, although we often say that in the Research Department. While field season is still a ways away, things are heating up. Plans are being made and schedules drawn up. The plans will change and the rivers and fish never agree to the schedules, but we make them anyway.

 

Between reports and proposals, we're ordering and sorting gear. One item of interest this week is for the satellite tagged fish for 2016. Not the tags themselves, they are being built and will arrive in plenty of time. Rather, the harnesses we use to attach them to the fish. They consist of a plastic brace on either side of the fish, just below the dorsal fin, that sits on a soft bed of silicone.

 

 

Over the past four years, Audun Rikardsen of Norway has made them by hand for his own research and also supplied the ASF with harnesses. This year we're doing it in house. Using his build as a guide, I've designed something very similar using CAD software (as seen in the photos). ASF doesn't have a 3D printer, but fortunately the Saint John Free Public Library at Market Square does (http://saintjohnlibrary.com/main.html)! Once the prototype is done, I'll check it for design errors before printing enough for our 2016 needs. It is really neat technology and having it available locally is a big advantage when you need very specific items that are not otherwise available.

 

Besides the satellite tag harnesses, I'm gearing up for some tagging next week at the Miramichi Salmon Association. We'll be tagging some juveniles and then holding them in the hatchery until spring for release as smolts. They'll go out at the same time as wild smolts are travelling downstream, some of which will be tagged as part of our yearly smolt tagging program.

 

More on the 3D printing results and smolt tagging next week.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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