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Capelin, Killers and Salmon
by Graham on 

The mid-summer finally finds out crew in Newfoundland and Labrador with some good weather. Eric and Heather have been downloading the receiver array in the Strait of Belle Isle and the salmon have begun to pass through.  They have also been fishing the fyke net, though have not caught any post-smolts yet. Lots of capelin and a lone adult salmon have been caught and released on their way however. They are now out on the big boats with the live-trawl in the strait itself, and we eagerly wait to hear details of what they find.

They did have a few visitors in the form of killer whales over the past few days. While the Orcas frequent inshore waters on the Pacific Coast, out here they tend to stay offshore, except for some areas of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle.



Back in New Brunswick, ASF staff were at the Department of Fisheries and Ocean's Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility taking some samples from migrating salmon for the fish health project. These fish were caught by DFO as they reach the Mactaquac Dam, are sorted and measured and then trucked beyond the dam to continue on their way. We're taking a few small tissue samples to compare disease agent presence between stocks that have to pass through aquaculture areas and those that don't. The sampled fish are anesthetized before hand and are released with the rest of the fish afterwards. The day went well and we'll be back late this week to finish the sampling. Unfortunately, the numbers returning to the Saint John River so far this year are not too high.



Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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What the Fyke?
by Graham on 
It's the beginning of July and ASF biologist Eric Brunsdon and Dalhousie University summer student Heather Perry are searching for post smolt at the Strait of Belle Isle. Post smolt are juvenile salmon on their first ocean migration and ASF's research has shown that almost all of them coming from Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers pass through the Strait of Belle Isle.

Capturing post smolt will give valuable information about their size and condition, and by eventually tagging these growing young salmon, ASF will be able to expand the reach of our tracking program further into the Labrador Sea.

Eric and Heather began the week by setting up a fyke net off L'Anse-Amour on the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle. A fyke net is a fixed trap with hoops and long wings that gently captures fish moving along the coast. It's shaped so fish that have entered the fyke net are discouraged from leaving. The net will be checked at least once a day for post-smolts and to release any by-catch. The fish are not harmed by becoming trapped in the net. It took a long day to site and set it up, but it is now fishing well.


They are also checking on and downloading the receiver array recently deployed across the strait. The fyke net and data downloads will serve to alert them that post-smolts are passing through the strait. They will then begin live-trawling using local fishers to capture the fish as they pass the strait. Meanwhile, back at the office, ASF Biologist Jason Daniels is using the early data from the receivers in the Miramichi River and sea-surface temperature data to predict when the post-smolts will arrive where Eric and Heather are. So far, it looks like they are ahead of the game and are well-prepared for the arrival of post-smolts from southern Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers. We'll keep in contact with the crew in Labrador for any updates, no salmon so far, but they have seen some whales and a few icebergs!
Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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SoBI It.
by Graham on 

As the end of June nears, salmon smolts from Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers are getting closer to the Strait of Belle Isle (SoBI). For many years, ASF has deployed lines of receivers across the strait to detect tagged smolt as they pass. Last week, ASF's Vice President of Research Jon Carr and Newfoundland and Labrador program director Don Ivany laid out the receivers with the help of lobster fishermen Loomis Way. There are two lines to increase the chances of detection and each line consists of receivers placed about 600m apart. The southern line also has sentinel tags, the same as those placed inside out migrating smolt, fixed in place between some receivers. These sentinel tags allow us to gauge the detection probability, or effectiveness of the line. While tags can be heard by receivers several hundred meters away in optimal conditions, conditions in the ocean are usually less than ideal. This allows us to calculate how many fish we may have missed and adjust our estimates accordingly.



Once Jon Carr finished deploying gear, he went over to the Labrador side to meet up with ASF Biologist Eric Brunsdon and Dalhousie student Heather Perry to help with preparations for their activities. They'll be conducting some surveys of the passing smolts using live trawl and fyke nets. Their attempts will help guide our activities over the next few years and hopefully with emerging technologies to extend our tracking capabilities into the North Atlantic. We look forward to more updates and photos from our staff in the field in the coming weeks.

Happy Canada Day.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Downloads from Upstream
by Graham on 

This week is all about data capture. Mike and Eric are waiting on the weather to visit Miramichi receiver installations to download some and retrieve others. The smolts have passed by now and are on their way to the Strait of Belle Isle. At the strait, Don Ivany and a local fisher are gearing up to get the array into the water there to be ready for the smolts' passing. Some receivers will be left in Miramichi to monitor returning adults.



Michael, our summer student from Dalhousie University, and I spent a long day yesterday around both branches of the Miramichi. We were collecting receivers we had placed there a month ago to detect passing smolts. While some receivers further downstream are left in, these are removed much earlier. Since the smolts have passed and the adults are detected eslewhere, we remove these receivers to make sure we get the data and so that they are out of the way of any anglers in those sections.

Eric and Heather, our other Dalhousie University summer student, will be headed to Newfoundland on the weekend to begin our expanded activites there. They'll be looking to capture post-smolts to collect information from them before releasing them on their way. They'll also be sampling for a fish health program, looking at the presence of certain pathogens from Gulf of St. Lawrence salmon. They'll be gone for a few weeks and working hard with local fishers, I'm sure they'll take the some time here and there to enjoy the local scenery.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Live Trapping Smolt at Sea
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

by Graham Chafe, ASF Biologist

In about three weeks, ASF Biologist Eric Brunsdon and Dalhousie University student Heather Perry will be packing the truck and skiff and heading towards Newfoundland and Labrador. They'll be undertaking a reconnaissance mission in the Strait of Belle Isle for a few weeks. They'll be in the same area as our receiver array, and will check on it while they are there.
 
Tagging technology is incredible right now, but we can't tag a smolt leaving a river and track it for long enough to cover the portion of the migration from post-smolt to returning adult, either grilse or multi-winter. Technology is improving though, and we plan to be able to maximize the opportunity when it arises.
 
In order to tag fish up there, we'll have to catch fish up there. To that end, Eric and Heather, with the help of a crew of local fishers, will be using a trawl net specially designed to keep fish alive and safe in the cod end. We tested that out on Passamaquoddy Bay a few weeks ago, you can see a video on ASF's Facebook page.


Inspecting a trap net that will be used in Strait of Belle Isle. Photo Graham Chafe/ASF

On Monday of this week, we went out on a Huntsman Marine Science Centre boat to test out the deployment of a large fyke net.


Deploying a floating trap net experimentally in Passamaquoddy Bay. Photo: Graham Chafe/ASF

This type of net is fixed in place near shore. Fish that are moving parallel to the shore encounter a lead net that diverts them to the trap portion of the net. Widely used in both scientific and small scale food fishing, fyke nets are easy to deploy and tend when they are of smaller size. Ours is quite large, Heather and Eric have their work cut out for them. They'll be checking the net one or more times a day and taking measurements and biological information from any salmon that are caught before releasing them on their way.
 
Graham Chafe, ASF Research.
 

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Keep Calm and Tag On
by Graham on 

The bulk of the big rush of fieldwork is over, with some tasks remaining. All the fish have been tagged save for the smolts on the Cascapedia, which should happen next week. The receivers are out, except for the Strait of Belle Isle lines, due to hit the water in mid-June. Most of us will soon settle in to our summer schedule which consists of a healthy mix of office and field work.

The kelts were angled in order to insert the acoustic tags, and the smolts trapped with smoltwheels. Here are the numbers:



We're keeping an eye on the downstream passage at St. George on the Magaguadavic River, where we're seeing a few salmon daily that probably leaked out of hatcheries. We've also seen a few adult alewife, the ones that ascended early and are on their way out already. To date, we've also counted three small chain pickerel, an invasive species in the system that have taken hold.



The upstream passage on the same system is busy with alewife on their way to spawn in the river. While we don't count them, nor are there facilities to do so, the run last year seemed larger than usual. It definitely was a bigger year for the neighbouring St. Croix River and early indications for 2018 seem to suggest the same. The photo above shows a few alewife climbing from pool to pool on the fish ladder. The pools are full of them and they move mostly in sunny weather. There was at least one larger predator after them just below the ladder the other day. Although we didn't see it directly, it did create a very large wake as it scattered the alewife all over the place. Seals have occasionally been seen there before, but this was a fish, perhaps a striped bass.


 Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Canoes, Waders and Automobiles
by Graham on 

Tagging efforts continued over the long weekend on three Rivers. Eric and Michael were up on the Restigouche tagging kelts. Thanks to David Leblanc, the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council and all the volunteer anglers for making it a success. They didn't manage to tag all the fish we had planned, but considering the late season and tricky conditions, it went very well. Meanwhile, Jason and I were on the Northwest Miramichi after smolts. The run wasn't too strong while we were there so Eric and Michael stopped by on the way home and finished up for us so we could head to the Southwest Miramichi for another batch of tagging. The Miramichi Salmon Association and Kelsey McGee get a big thanks for setting up and operating the smolt wheel and fishing it every day for us.  Thanks also goes to Debbie Norton and the Upper Oxbow camp for supporting us while we were there. We enjoyed our stay and met several anglers, of both the salmon and bass groups who were all enjoying a great weekend.



Between the two branches of the Miramichi, Jason and I had some receivers to deploy further upstream than our main groups of equipment. Thanks to The Ledges, Vince Swayze, Salmon Brook Lodge and Black Brook Lodge for allowing us to use their camps and pools for this work. We'll be back in a few weeks, after the smolt run, to collect them and make sure they're out of the way of the anglers when the brights are in.

Jason and I also tagged 80 smolt at Rocky Brook camp, who support us every year with this work. It's a great place to go for this as the smolt wheel is right there and they give us a spot to tag indoors when it is raining. This little Pine Siskin came for to watch the proceedings and eventually had to be escorted outside. After tagging the fish in two days, we found a little time on the way home to make a couple of quick hikes through the beautiful country in that area.

Only the Restigouche and Grand Cascapedia River smolts left to tag this season. That should happen over the next couple of weeks and then we're working more locally for a while before mid-season download of the receivers begin.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Seven Staff, Four Rivers, Three Trucks, One day
by Graham on 

The work continues this week with just about everything happening at once. Typically, we deploy receivers and tag kelts early on and then work with the smolts a week or two later. Not in 2018 however. The second half of this week will see all three activities on the same day.



Eric and Michael, a summer student from Dalhousie, are tagging kelts on the Restigouche today and tomorrow. Conditions have been far from perfect and it has been delayed much later than usual but looks to be improving now. Mike was deploying the receiver array in the outer bay of Miramichi yesterday and will be heading up to the Baie des Chaleurs as soon as sea conditions permit. Meanwhile Ellen and Heather, another summer student from Dalhousie, were taking care of monitoring the downtream passage on the Magaguadavic River at the St. George Dam and beginning the weekly surveys of the Chamcook watershed.


Jason and I have been up and down both branches of the Miramichi, placing a few last receivers in upstream spots. We'll be tagging smolt on the Northwest for the next two days and expect to be doing the same on the Main Southwest for the rest of the long weekend. A big thanks to Upper Oxbow Adventures and Rocky Brook camp for all the help and accomodation. Both are great spots from which to start any day on the river.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Tagging Trials and Deployments
by Graham on 

Water conditions continue to hamper our kelt tagging efforts, but some progress is being made. We had to postpone the Restigouche kelt tagging until further notice. The river had dropped some, but not enough and then it climbed again before holding steady. The water is turbid and cold, making for terrible angling from all the reports we've received. We'll plan again, but will wait for conditions to improve significantly.



Meanwhile, the Miramichi is full of activity today. ASF biologist Eric and summer student Heather, from Dalhousie, are at Red Bank tagging kelts, earlier today they had three done. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow they will have another 22. Miramichi Salmon Association staff are a big part of the project, helping with tagging and organizing anglers as well as running the boat to collect fish from anglers. Fingers crossed it goes well despite less than optimal conditions.

ASF staff Jason and Mike were also on the Miramichi today. They deployed the receivers from Loggieville up to the forks and up each main branch of the river. This is the equipment that will 'listen' for and record the passing tags in kelts and smolts. Conditions on Miramichi Bay and Chaleur Bay are not suitable yet for deployments there, but the trucks are loaded and the gear ready for the minute we can get out on those waters. It's been a slow start to field season this year, but with everything going on with rivers in New Brunswick, it is no wonder.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Kelt Tagging Continues, But When?
by Graham on 

After the successful kelt tagging on the Cascapedia River last week, we'd hoped to continue the trend on the Northwest Miramichi and Restigouche Rivers this week. Conditions and the weather have other plans however. We will still go, but the difficult part is deciding when to hit the rivers. Most of the ice has moved out, but water is still high and dirty, making for poor fishing in several areas and possibly unsafe conditions.


As of today, we are planning to go Sunday and Monday to tag 25 kelts at Red Bank on the Northwest Miramichi. Rains tonight and tomorrow may change that, but fingers are crossed. The plans for the Restigouche are on hold until further notice. We may know more on Monday.

Anyone wishing to help us out with the angling for the kelts to be tagged can get in touch with me for the Restigouche at gchafe@asf.ca or Eric Brunsdon for the Miramichi at ebrunsdon@asf.ca.

Stay safe near the water, it isn't just the St. John river that is high and dangerous, at this time of year caution is needed around all waters.

 Graham Chafe, ASF Research.



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