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1300 Fish Scientists Walk Into a Bar...
by Graham on 

Television has its Emmy's, movies have their Oscars and fisheries science has the annual American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting. Every year, researchers from across North America and beyond gather for a few days to keep in touch with each other's research, form collaborations, check out the new equipment from manufacturers and present their findings. This year, it is in Kansas City, Missouri. To those of us from the Maritimes, it may have seemed an odd choice, but everywhere there is water, there are fish. The Kansas and mighty Missouri Rivers join forces right here in the city and being central, has resulted in about 1300 attendees to the conference. I'm here representing ASF and am touching base with several other scientists who also work on salmon, fish passage problems and other issues of interest to ASF and our members.

Yesterday there was a symposium, one of many running concurrently, on pop-up satellite tagging. It allowed us to compare notes and methods and see each other's work, very important when dealing with technology such as these tags. From the practical perspective of attachment and recovery methods to the brainy solutions of modelling light or magnetic-based geolocation, it was a very productive session.

ASF's satellite tagging project on the Northwest Miramichi was presented by John Strom, our Norwegian collaborator on the project. His presentation dealt with the intricacies of light-based geolocation, not a simple thing, and the results of our work. From our satellite-tag tracking efforts, we have learned that Miramichi post-spawn salmon reside in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence for a period of up to approximately 40 days before either returning to the river as consecutive spawners or out to the North Atlantic as alternates. While in the gulf, they make frequent dives to 30-50m, but this behaviour changes in the Atlantic. Once past the straight of Belle Isle, we've discovered that there is no one route, or behaviour along that route, that all salmon follow. Some stay over the continental shelf, just off the Labrador coast and move north towards Baffin Island while making shallower dives, though deeper than in the gulf. Others go over truly deep water off the shelf and move north towards western Greenland while making dives over hundreds of meters, one of our fish dove to 900m.

The main lesson learned from this work so far, is that while our salmon exhibit similar behaviour in freshwater, they use a diversity of habitats and migration routes in their oceanic stages as adults. That means that the area of concern for at-sea mortality is large. Very, very large. Further research and more tracking is needed, but we're up to the task.

As for the title of this blog, even with the beer, wine and Kansas City's famous bbq, we still talk about fish. Asian carp hotdog anyone?

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Little Needle, Big Haystack.
by Graham on 

Once again we have gotten lucky with our satellite tags. As readers will know, these tags are supposed to 'let go' of the post-spawn salmon they are attached to after several months at sea, between the end of August and the end of October depending on the year. Then, they transmit their data to passing ARGOS system satellites and I download the information from their servers. Sometimes, however, we don't hear a thing from them. Unfortunately it is usually impossible to know just why, after all it is a tiny object floating about in a very large ocean. Other times we luck out, as we did last year when two tags were found by people walking the beaches of the North Atlantic. One turned up on the west coast of Greenland and the other on the shores of Ireland. In both cases the finders saw the contact information printed on the tags, got in touch with us and sent the tags back. In both those cases the tags had transmitted, so we had a lot of information from them, but were able to extract even more once we had them in hand. What about the ones we never heard from? The ones that didn't transmit at all? What happened to them and where did they end up?

We will soon have some answers for at least one of those tags. We received a message the other day from Calum MacLeod, a young angler who lives on the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. He was wandering the beach and came across one of our tags. This tag didn't transmit at all so we have no information as yet on the path or behaviour of that fish, the whole point of the project. Soon, we will. He is sending the tag back to us and in a few months we'll know a lot more about that fish and tag's journey. Along with telling us how and where he found it, he passed along the three photos posted here. One of him finding the tag. The next of him and a 7 pound lythe (we call them pollock) that he caught when he was 7, very impressive. The other is a drawing he made of a 100cm salmon that he also angled, even more impressive.

From the photo of him and the tag, we can see that the tag's antennae is broken, explaining why it wasn't able to transmit.  In any study like this, one expects to lose a certain proportion of tags, you never get them all back. So every single one counts, and thanks to Calum, and others like him, we get a few more back than we would otherwise.

So next time you're wandering the seashore, keep an eye out for what you may be stepping over. It might have made an incredible journey and have  story to tell.





Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Is It That Time Already?!
by Graham on 

It seems like we just put the receiver equipment out and tagged the smolts and kelt not long ago but it is already time to begin the wind up process for the season. The receivers, that listen for the tagged fish, were put out in late-April and early May and somehow it is already mid-August. The fish themselves were tagged over the course of May. Those on their way to sea have of course long passed all the receivers int he Miramichi and Restigouche Rivers. They've even passed the Strait of Belle Isle lines, some 700km away. The kelts pass first, around the first week of July, and the smolts tend to be up to a week later. Both life-stage groups pass with more or less the same timing every year, regardless of river of origin or date of tagging. The reason that we leave the gear out until now is for fish on their way back to the river. Even those have passed into the systems some time ago, for the most part. There can be stragglers, and we want to be sure to record as much information about repeat spawners as possible.

So on that note, Jason and Mike are headed up to Miramichi today. They didn't choose to do this over a weekend, the weather did. It is a long way to drive from St. Andrews only to find it is too rough for the work, so we tend to go when we're confident about getting on the water. The Miramichi isn't the only group of receivers coming out int he near future, the Restigouche is up for grabs as well. Carole-Anne Gillis will be collecting the Chaleur Bay receiver line next week and will be out today going after our Dalhousie and Dalhousie Junction receivers. That will leave three in the river at Campbellton, some researchers in that area are have tagged eels so our receives are being left in place for a bit longer to help them increase the scope of their study. Tracking fish is a big effort and collaborations are frequent and very helpful for all involved.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Wishin' for a Transmission
by Graham on 

Four hundred kilometers west of the southern tip of Greenland a little device is floating in the water. Every so often an ARGOS satellite passes overhead, and when one does, the device emits a one second burst of data every minute. Over the course of two to three weeks, until the battery finally runs down, all those short transmissions will add up to incredible information about the path and behaviour of a Restigouche salmon.

The device, of course, is one of our satellite tags that we have been using since 2012. Until 2016, we'd been putting them on Northwest Miramichi kelts, but this year moved the program to the Restigouche river. The tag that is transmitting right now was put on an 88.5cm, 5kg male just above the confluence with the Matapedia on May 2nd. It was the second smallest of the 10 fish we tagged, they do grow big fish in the Restigouche.

Two tags have popped off and transmitted now, and two are known to be or have been back in the river. That leaves 6 salmon out there collecting information. The information from the Miramichi tags, and eventually the Restigouche tags is proving to be very interesting, results of four years of Miramichi satellite tagging will be presented at the American Fisheries Society annual conference in Kansas City in August. A paper on the same has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal. As things get finalized, I will share more information here in this blog.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Samosas
by Graham on 

Striped Bass are a hot topic of conversation these days, especially on the Northwest Miramichi River where they are a native species. While the striper spawning escapement was very low in the late 90s, it has climbed dramatically over the past few years and this has raised concerns over their possible impact on salmon smolt as they migrate to sea. While just being on the river and seeing the large numbers of stripers active near the surface would raise the concern of any salmon conservationist, it is important to quantify what is happening in order to be well-informed and allow managers and decision-makers to have good quality information from which to operate.

As a part of that effort, the ASF has been looking in to the question of striper predation on smolts. What we are doing has to do with patterns. We have been tracking smolt for many years and have a lot of data around their movement out of the river. Other organizations, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Quebec Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, have been tagging striped bass for several years. In conjunction and cooperation with them, ASF's Jason Daniels is doing an investigation comparing the movements of both smolt (Salmo salar) and stripers (Morone saxatillis) and creating a model that determines, based on hard data, whether or not a smolt has been consumed by a striper. Since we abbreviate all kinds of words around here, it was only natural to do the same in this case. Taking the first two letters of the species names of the salmon smolts and the stripers who possibly ate them gives us "samosa".

 Smolts tend to have few changes in direction in river and proceed mostly downstream at all times (the first chart shows a smolt that descends the Northwest Miramichi and proceeds to the Strait of Belle Isle). Stripers spend time in the spawning areas and go both up and down stream, changing directions more frequently (the second photo shows the movement of a tagged striped bass). A smolt tag that shows the movement pattern of  striper may in fact have been predated by a striped bass. It is more complicated than it sounds and results are pending, though Jason and others are hard at work on the analysis.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research


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Ebb and Flow
by Graham on 

While tracking wild juvenile and post-spawn adult salmon is our flagship project, the ASF Research Team is involved in many other activities. We monitor the Magaguadavic River for returns of wild and escapee salmon (and other species), conduct juvenile surveys of southwest New Brunswick rivers, in recent years we've tracked river herring moving within the St. Croix River, and put out equipment for temperature surveys in southwest New Brunswick watersheds. Another project that we are involved with this season is a survey of flows in  the Chamcook watershed.

The Chamcook watershed is relatively small with a few lakes and several streams. It empties into Passamaquoddy Bay after flowing right between the ASF Headquarters and the ASF's Wild Salmon Nature Centre. Several different user groups use the watershed as a water source and for recreation and are therefore affected by the levels and water availability.  As we did in 2012 and 2013, we are making weekly trips into the watershed to measure flows in the streams as water flows from one lake to another on its way to the ocean. We use flowmeters to measure the velocity of the water across a transect of a stream, and calculate the area of that cross-section. Combining the data together gives us a discharge for that point at that moment in time. The data shows where and when water is flowing as well as temperatures and dissolved oxygen contents. Aside form being very useful information for landowners, stakeholders and managers, it is a great way to explore the area and spend a day, at least when it isn't pouring rain. This project will go on until October, when we'll wrap it up and complete a report of our activities and findings.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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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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