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Research - In the Field Search  

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Home Again Home Again.
by Graham on 

Vice-President of Research, Jon Carr, returned from Greenland in the middle of the night Sunday. A little foggy after his travels, he made it in to work soon after and had good news to report. While there, he explored several areas and tried different methods to capture salmon to tag with pop-up satellite tags (PSATs). Soon narrowing in to trolling, which allows great mobility, he tagged about a dozen fish with PSATs. One of our partners in this project, Tim Sheehan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, arrived later than Jon and is staying a bit later and we hope he tags a few more before he too has to head for home.



We'll be keeping an eye on the sky, so to speak, for any transmission from these tags. They'll pop off intentionally in May 2019 if all goes well. However, if any of the salmon are consumed by a predator, the tag will be detached in the process. After being passed from the predator's digestive system, it will float to the surface, triggering its transmission and we'll hear from it then. The light, depth and temperature data will be examined and in cases where the fish and tag were consumed, we'll be able to tell. In some cases it might even be possible to identify the type of predator. Hopefully that doesn't happen and all these fish make it to their rivers to spawn. The tags are scheduled to come around the time the fish are somewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and before they enter freshwater. The tags cannot release successfully in fresh water as the mechanism needs the conductivity of sea water to do so.



If you ever come across one of these, or other tags, on the fish you catch, it's a great help to researchers if you can read the serial number off the tag. Recording when and where you found the tagged fish, as well as any observations about its condition, can really help by adding another solid data point to the history of that fish. A photo is very helpful too. The fish's well-being takes precedence of course. Most of the time, reading the serial number can be done with the fish in the water and very quickly before release. If not, don't risk the fish and let it go safely. Many of the tags and other equipment researchers use have serial numbers and contact information printed on them.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.


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Off and Away
by Graham on 

ASF Research Director, Jon Carr, is still in Greenland this week and his efforts are paying off. He's in the Qaqortoq area working with a researcher from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tim Sheehan, to find, catch and tag maiden salmon to track their routes and habitat use over the coming winter.



To catch the salmon, they've been using fyke nets, trap nets and trolled. With the mobility it provides, trolling is proving to be the way to go. Careful not to play the fish and to bring it to the boat quickly and without harm, they are anesthetizing them before the tagging procedure. The tagging procedure takes only a few minutes and the fish are recovered and observed in a tank on board for an hour or more before being released. If the fish aren't predated over the winter, we should see some transmissions beginning in March 2019.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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At the Other End of the Migration
by Graham on 

 While it is well-known that Atlantic salmon from North America spend time off the coast of western Greenland, their precise behaviour and routes the following winter are not. In order to continue to fill in the knowledge gaps in the life history of the salmon, ASF's Jon Carr is in Greenland this week with the goal of tagging salmon there. Typically, we tag smolts and post-spawn kelts in their river's of origin in Atlantic Canada. But the smolt tags are small and only last a few months. The kelt tags can last a few years, but those are necessarily fish that have already succeeded in returning to spawn. What about those that haven't spawned yet, those maiden fish off Greenland. Where do they spend the winter? What conditions do they encounter? What types of behaviour do they exhibit? These are the types of questions we are seeking to answer by tagging fish in Greenland.


In conjunction with researchers from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jon is attempting to trap salmon off the coast and tag them with pop-up satellite archival tags. These are the same tags that we have used on kelts from the Restigouche and Miramichi rivers. In this case, they will remain attached to the fish for 5 months before popping off and transmitting to satellites from the surface.



If all goes well, we'll have a great view into the lives of maiden fish, those that have not yet spawned, during their second winter at sea. These fish are destined to be salmon, not grilse, and would, if successful, contribute significantly to egg deposits in the rivers. It should be fascinating, and though we don't want to hear from any of the tags for 5 months, we can't wait to see the what stories they hold.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Survey Says...
by Graham on 

Activities for the Research Department are wide-ranging this week. In New Brunswick, we are finishing our juvenile surveys in the southwest while up north the last few receivers are being collected at Dalhousie. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the receivers, save for a few elusive stragglers, have come in, but have to make their way down to Corner Brook for downloading. ASF's head of Research, Jon Carr, left yesterday for Greenland where he will be tagging maiden salmon with pop-up satellite tags to gain knowledge on their activities during the upcoming winter at sea.


The juvenile surveys in southwest New Brunswick are important in that it is the only source of information on the presence of salmon in several of these Outer Bay of Fundy rivers. And there hasn't been much to report. Just like the last two years, the water levels have been low. More so this year and we didn't see too many juveniles anywhere. Even in the spots we are used to seeing several, they were in low numbers or absent all together. That doesn't mean they are completely gone however, with the low water, the fish may have moved to other spots that are now more suitable. We often pull parr from under small pour-overs where the tumbling water itself provides cover. Undercuts are another key spot for juvenile salmon. Those spots don't always remain in low water. Eels and black-nosed dace don't seem to mind these conditions, we saw as many of them as we usually do.

The juvenile survey project is supported by the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund as they have for many years. There is a huge range of projects that happen thanks to this fund, you can read about them on their website at https://www.nbwtf.ca/en/., If your group has a project that might benefit from some additional funding, I encourage you to check their website to see if they might be of assistance.

Jon is still in transit to Greenland, but hopefully will make contact soon enough with some pictures and stories that I can relay on to you. It's an exciting trip and the potential data gained will be fascinating.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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The Cure for Leaky Waders
by Graham on 

The end of summer and the official start of desk season is on the horizon. The truth though, is that field work only comprises about 15% of our time, much of the rest is in front of a screen and working with the data we collect. Some of us are out more, Eric spent three weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador this summer, and some of us less, we probably don't let Jason out enough. Field work is definitely an enjoyable part of the job though, even standing in the Restigouche in the pouring rain, cold water and leaky waders.


This week, I've been checking in on some temperature loggers we have around southwest New Brunswick. For many years, we've been placing them in the spring and removing them in the fall. Last year we started using permanent installations in a few spots. These allow the loggers to remain in place year-round and give more information on the spring thaw and fall cool down periods. Since we want them to be submerged the entire year, they are placed in very low spots and are only accessible at this point in the season when the water is way down.


So I've been trooping about from spot to spot and wading into the rivers to retrieve, download and re-deploy these units. It's an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and I often bump into friendly people along the way. We'll use the data immediately to assess the best time to begin our juvenile surveys, we don't want to risk the stress of surveying when temperatures are too high for the little fish.

Oh, and the cure for leaky waders? It's quite simple really, only wear them when the water is warm, the sun is out and you don't really need them and they'll never leak a single drop.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Back to School
by Graham on 

September is fast approaching and this week we're saying goodbye to our summer students from Dalhousie University. Heather and Michael have been with us for a few months now and made great contributions to our work. Both spent some long hours in front of computers as well as getting out in the field and getting their feet wet. Heather spent three weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador looking for post-smolts and working on our tracking and fish health projects. She proved to be as adept with big heavy fyke nets as working with tracking data.

Michael spent at least a day a week in the field locally as well as heading up to Miramichi for mid-season downloads and equipment retrievals. Most of the rest of the time he was looking at data from our kelt tracking. For example, he produced the plot shown below that shows how long tagged kelts spent in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, categorized by river and whether they displayed alternate or consecutive spawning patterns. There is a lot more work from both students that we'll be working in to our various analyses as the work continues.


We all enjoyed working with Heather and Michael this summer and wish them the best for the upcoming semesters.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Your ASF Team
by Graham on 

Every year in August, the ASF team gathers at our offices in Saint Andrews, NB for a few day. Staff come from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and the US. We spend some time planning ahead, sharing news and program updates. It's all centered around our fight to protect wild Atlantic salmon and their habitat. It was good timing this year with the recent news of the new Greenland deal which will immediately protect thousands of adult wild Atlantic salmon. With staff normally spread over different provinces, states and countries, we are always in touch digitally, but it really pays to get everyone together in the same room, even if only for a few days. Like our members, we are focused on the future and undertaking programs and projects that will benefit the salmon we all care about.


Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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It's Not All Glitz and Glamour
by Graham on 

Some days it seems like working in salmon conservation is all sunshine and boat trips. Nice days, beautiful views of flora and fauna, nice folks to bump into on the water and the sun in your face. Then there are days when you're up to your armpits in rotting marine bio-fouling and wondering if you'll ever get the smell out. Today was one of the latter.


Eric and Heather safely returned from Newfoundland and Labrador with only a few hiccups on the way. We were happy to have them back in the office until we had to unload the truck and clean the gear. Boy did the fyke net stink. But gear doesn't last well unless maintained so we set to work spreading stuff out to scrub, spray and clean it. A few batches of disinfectant to keep any unwanted hitchhikers at bay and things are looking up. Everything that goes in the water for a length of time acquires a layer of growth on it and if we didn't clean it, it would gain weight and size with each deployment. Not the fanciest part of the job, but cleaning and maintenance goes a long way to get the most out of equipment.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Orcas? That Was Last Week.
by Graham on 

ASF Biologist Eric and Dalhousie summer student Heather have been in Newfoundland and Labrador for nearly three weeks now and their work there is coming to an end. They have spent hours on the strait, going back and forth visiting our receiver array and downloading data about smolt and kelt passage. They've also been fishing a fyke net in L'Anse-Amour on the Labrador side looking for smolt and taking small samples for a fish health project. More recently, they've hired a commercial fishing boat to tow our live trawl in the strait. They've been looking to capture post-smolts from Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers.

If we are able to capture post-smolts at the strait, we'd potentially be able to tag them with larger tags than we can currently use for smolts in rivers. That would mean longer battery life and the potential to further investigate the migration beyond the Strait of Belle Isle, an area that is very difficult to examine now. Their reconnaissance trip has proven very useful in terms of methods, equipment and results. When the tag tech improves to a suitable point, we'll be more prepared to pursue this avenue of investigation.



Last week, they were visited by a killer whale several times, but this week it was a beluga that came to say hello. The curious cetacean showed up at the wharf and rolled on its side to gain a better view of our researchers. Eric and Heather are now driving back through beautiful scenery towards the ferry that will carry them home. Next week, once they've returned with the boat, we'll head up to the Miramichi to collect receivers that remain in the river.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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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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