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In The Field

Field Season Underway

GRAHAM CHAFE Apr 11, 2023

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ASF biologist Heather Perry releasing a kelt on the Hammond River after tagging. PC: Sarah Blenis

On Sunday, April 2nd, our field season began on the Hammond River, a tributary of the St. John in Southwest New Brunswick.

The Hammond is a tagging site in Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s multi-year project studying how Atlantic salmon use habitat in the Labrador Sea. This early season work is about tagging kelt, post spawn salmon that have overwintered in freshwater before returning to sea. Fish will be fitted with a satellite tag, an acoustic tag, or both.

ASF’s role is to help with tagging and fish handling. The Hammond River Angling Association organizes the whole effort. HRAA staff and volunteers recruit the anglers, they know the best spots to try, and provide relief from the cold inside their facility.

On day one, the wind proved to be our downfall. It was whipping up white caps in the lower section of the river. The water was also down. A mellow winter and a slow, steady melt means levels are lower than expected for this time of year.

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Heather Perry inserting an acoustic tag in a kelt on the Hammond River. This is part of a partnership with ESRF using both acoustic and satellite tags. PC: Sarah Blenis

We didn’t catch any kelt on April 3rd either, but people’s spirits were high, just having the chance to fish for salmon in the Hammond. Atlantic salmon angling has been closed there since 1990, but DFO issued a scientific license for this project.

With no fish landed the first weekend, Hammond River Angling Association project manager Sarah Blenis put the call for angling crews to return on Easter weekend and that’s when a single angler landed seven kelt, including three large salmon and four grilse.

The large fish were equipped with satellite and acoustic tags before release, while the small salmon, known as grilse, received only acoustics tags.

The technology carried by these fish is truly impressive. The satellite tags will hang on until next April. They will plot daily movement for a year before they pop-off, float to the surface, connect with a passing satellite and transmit stored data back to ASF headquarters.

The acoustic tags will last ten years. The signals they emit will be detected as they pass by receivers positioned along their entire migration route. The date and time of detection are recorded and stored onboard the receiver for later download and analysis.

Other rivers where kelt will be tagged as part of this DFO led project include the Restigouche, the Cascapedia and Moisie in Quebec, the Margaree and St. Mary’s in Nova Scotia, the Exploits and Salmonier rivers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and several others.