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Research - In the Field Search  

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Here and There
by Graham on 

Salmon mind find a home where you least expect it.As we head towards the end of summer, the work continues. The crew has been out electrofishing the last two days, and if the weather holds, we'll continue until the long weekend. Some of our sites are off in the woods, it takes time to get there and they are truly off the beaten path. Our survey on the Pocologan River takes place in such an area. It is a beautiful little river with small falls and riffles where we find salmon, dace, sucker and eel. Others, such as the site we electrofish on the New River, pictured at right, are more accessible and are in close proximity to signs of civilization. This site is just below the recently completed Highway 1 from Saint John to St. Stephen. Despite the construction it took, and the sound of rigs rumbling by, there are still fish to be found. While there surely was an impact of all that construction, the fish continue to return and survive in this little river.

 

A view of the three satellite tags that have popped off so far this year.In other news, one more of our 2014 satellite pop-up tags came to the surface and began transmitting on Saturday morning. This tag was on a 79cm, 3.97kg female kelt tagged at Red Bank on the Northwest Miramichi. The photo on the left shows the tracks of the three tags that have transmitted so far in 2014 (one was also recovered after returning to the river, it is not shown). The one in the top right, on the edge of the Labrador Shelf, is the one that is currently transmitting. The paths are those of the transmitter after popping off and while it is drifting, not the path of the fish itself. That will come later once all the transmissions are received and have gone through processing.

 

At the end of August, there are two tags due to pop off automatically and begin transmitting. Five more are due to pop off at the end of September. If they all transmit, it will mark our most successful year with the satellite tags yet. It's a big ocean out there and all kinds of things can go wrong, so our fingers are crossed.

 

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

 

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Level the Playing Field
by Graham on 

Leah Strople with an eel during an electrofishing survey.All good things must come to an end. This is the last week that Leah Strople, our summer student from Dalhousie University, is working with us. Leah has been a big help for a few months now, taking on lots of tasks that no one else has gotten around to. More importantly, she has been compiling and analysing some smolt data looking for timing trends. We'll miss her enthusiasm, which she demonstrates clearly in this week's photo. It was taken on an electrofishing survey just after the the eel had been measured and is on its way to the recovery tank.

Lunchtime between survey sites.

 

The work goes on of course, I was out and about this morning checking on water levels at other electrofishing sites. They are all a touch higher than we'd like at the moment, but we may get some in tomorrow and certainly next week. This good weather won't last forever and the rains of September have a habit of raising the levels and interfering with our plans.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

 

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Electrofishing Surveys.
by Graham on 

Michelle, Steve and Leah beside the Dennis Stream.It is the time of year we start looking at juvenile salmon populations in southwest New Brunswick. The ASF Research Department keeps an eye on the Magaguadavic River and several of its tributaries as well as the New, Pocologan, Digdeguash Rivers and the Dennis Stream. The method we use is called electrofishing.

 

 

Electrofishing is a process whereby an electrical field is created in the water using an anode and cathode and the fish in the area are lightly stunned, allowing researchers to catch them. Due to the gradient of the field, it also causes galvanotaxis, which causes the fish to swim towards the anode. The current is carefully selected for the water conditions and the type of fish in the area so that they aren't harmed in the process. Once caught in a net, they are placed in a bucket and are typically back to normal within a minute.

 

This week, Michelle, Steve, Leah and I have been out electrofishing the Dennis Stream. It is a great little watercourse that runs right through part of St. Stephen, NB. On one of the sites we fished, we found much higher numbers of salmon parr than expected, a very nice surprise. That is good news for the future of this stream.  We have many more sites to survey, and need sunny weather and lower water levels to do it so it may take several weeks before we can get to them all. Hopefully, we find good numbers of parr in all of them.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Found: One Needle
by Graham on 

Graham driving the ASF Research boat on the Miramichi River.This week has brought some good news and some bad weather. The good news is that the missing  female salmon tagged as a kelt in the spring has been found. Some folks in the Red Bank area returned the tag to the Miramichi Salmon Association this morning. The bad news is that she died and will not spawn again. This fish did spawn last year, and was fitted with a pop-up satellite tag on May 9th as she progressed downstream. She went to sea June 7th and returned to the river around the 17th of July, which makes her a consecutive spawner. What is amazing is that all that reconditioning to be ready to spawn again, after months of not eating, can happen in just over a month. The tag is on its way here, and we'll extract the data over the next few weeks and then be able to put a picture together of her behaviour during those five weeks. This is only the second consecutive spawner that we have fitted with a satellite tag so the information will be invaluable.

 

 

Holly Labadieof the Miramichi Salmon Association live-tracking salmon.Mike and Michelle are on Miramichi Bay today retrieving the receivers there. All the returning fish will have passed them by now so it is time to get the gear back. They'll also be mobile tracking another satellite tagged kelt that we know is in the river. That one was last recorded acoustically in the Chatham and French Fort Cove areas. They'll cover the area with a fine-toothed comb in hopes of finding this salmon.

 

Elsewhere, as soon as the rain stops, Steve, Leah and I will be heading out on the first of our electrofishing days. We were planning on going today, but the downpours kept us inside. We use electrofishing techniques to survey various rivers in southwestern New Brunswick to assess salmon populations. The days can be tough, hauling gear all over the place and tromping up and down paths to remote sites, but it is the perfect way to see some of Charlotte County's beautiful countryside.

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Needle in a Haystack
by Graham on 

Leah and Tyler heading down the Northwest Miramichi.An update on the go today from the Northwest Miramichi. This week we are searching for some tags.  A few smolt were not recorded on the most upstream receivers on the Northwest Miramichi. The release site is about 35km above Red Bank, so once again, our summer student Leah is in a canoe live tracking for tags with a mobile receiver. This time, she is joined by Tyler Storey from the Miramichi Salmon Association. I dropped them off this morning at Miner's Bridge, they'll canoe and track all the way down to Big Hole Pool. We're hoping they find the tags from the smolt on the way. It will give us an idea of the fate of those fish.

 

I'm on my way out to download all the river receivers with Holly Labadie, a biologist from the MSA. We'll also do a bit of live tracking and we'll be searching specifically for a 71cm female kelt that was satellite tagged this spring. That fish went to sea in May, and returned earlier this month. She managed to slip by some receiver positions so we're live tracking and deploying a few extra in hopes of finding her. The satellite tag has been collecting valuable information since release, but we need it to transmit or get it back to access the data.

 

It's going to be a long and busy day, but the weather is perfect and I can't think of a better place to spend it than on the river.

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Tipping the Scales
by Graham on 

Michelle and Mike reading a salmon scale.The Magaguadavic River provides a unique opportunity amongst New Brunswick rivers. While the head of tide dam in St. George completely blocks the river, there is both up and downstream fish passage built in. For fish moving downstream, there are three routes past the dam, over the spillway, through the downstream passage facility and through the turbines. The construction and operation of the dam is meant to influence fish, particularly salmon smolts in the spring, to go through the much safer passage facility.

 

Upstream passage, however, has only one route. There is a pool and weir fish ladder around the retainer dam in St. George. Fish can swim up the ladder and rest in pools along the way. Near the top, there is a trap that, when in operation, prevents them from continuing until ASF staff move them to the upstream side. This allows us, when it is in operation, to count and identify every fish that enters the river. We operate the trap from early June until December, with it bypassed for free passage during the rest of the year and when the alewife run is heavy. The trap is checked daily, and every fish is identified for species, length and condition.

 

Returning salmon are scale sampled and measured. Reading the patterns on the scale, along with physical indicators, allows us to identify the salmon as wild, from our enhancement program or as an escapee from a sea cage. Wild and enhancement fish are put upstream of the dam and continue on their way. Escapee salmon are prevented from entering the river where they may interbreed with wild salmon and reduce the population's chances for survival. So far this year, one enhancement and three wild salmon have returned to the river. We'll keep monitoring the facility and hope that this year's returns are higher than in the past few years, when numbers were low.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Paddling and Tracking
by Graham on 

Michelle Charest and her dog Mara searching for smolt on the Main SW Miramichi.Things were a little quieter over the past week and we've had some time to start organizing some of the data that has been coming in from the field. It hasn't been office work for all of us however. ASF Biologist Michelle Charest and Leah Strople, a Dalhousie student working with us for the summer, spent a few days on the Main Southwest Miramichi searching for smolt. At this point, the smolt should be out of the river, but we know from our receivers that some did not make it.

 

The smolt were tagged at Rocky Brook, and our most upstream receiver is at Quarryville (well...was at Quarryville, high water from the post-tropical storm threw it up on someone's property). While it would be expected that not all smolt will survive the trip down river, we decided to have a look to investigate where they were being lost, if possible. So Michelle and Leah, and two very helpful dogs, canoed from Doaktown to Blackville while using the portable receiver. Over that distance, they only heard the signal from one tag. The islands in the river could have blocked some signals, or the tags could be between Blackville and Quarryville. Another possibility is that they were predated and the tags are in trout that have moved upstream. Similar efforts will be made on the Northwest Miramichi as well, and the results will influence if and where we add receivers to our arrays in future years.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Arthur
by Graham on 

The St. George Fishway just before Arthur arrived.It was a busy weekend in southern New Brunswick, just like everyone else in the Maritimes we were getting ready to meet Arthur. As the storm moved closer, we made sure all of our gear was inside and battened down the hatches. While it brought the most rain to the St. Stephen area, 143mm, the entire province, and all of its rivers, was affected. Water levels have gone up, dramatically in some cases.

The bottom of the fishway in St. George below the surface.

 

While this will perhaps give better conditions for returning salmon to move up some rivers, researchers, fishers and anyone else on the river must be careful for debris that is coming down. One thing of particular note are trees in the river, uprooted by water or wind, they can get caught and create a barrier to passage, more for people than fish. These are called strainers, and need to be avoided. Currents can push swimmers and boaters into the trees and make it very difficult to get out. Anything going down the river can get caught in the branches and pushed below the surface and stay there until the tree itself finally gets pushed away.

 

ASF staff, who monitor the upstream fish passage on the Magaguadavic River in St. George, had to prepare the facility for the coming storm. The trap was checked, only a few last alewife were passing, and then bypassed for the duration of the coming high water. The dam, in preparation for very large amounts of rain, lowered the river and headpond by opening the gates. This step was taken so that when the rain and run-off filled the river, it would not result in widespread flooding. The result was that, for a short time, the river was actually too low to feed into the ladder from above, and too high for fish to find the ladder from below. With all the extra water moving down, fish would not have been able to move upstream against the enormous current anyway. It is amazing how quickly the river fills up again, once the gates are closed, despite the rain only lasting 24 hours or so. The fishway will be back in operation very soon, and we look forward to seeing the first wild Magaguadavic salmon returning.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Work and Play
by Graham on 

Shawna Wallace at the Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures lodge.With Canada Day happening on Tuesday, there has been a good mix of work and play this week. Wednesday was hot and muggy, but we spent it in the cool wet lab at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' St. Andrews Biological Station. The first sampling period was due for the Tag Retention study. Now on full-strength sea water, the smolts are doing well. We weighed and measured each one and took a photograph of the tagging point to observe healing. The fish are growing noticeably, and will eventually be moved to bigger tanks. Until then, we'll keep measuring them every two weeks, not a bad way to get out of the heat and humidity.

 

The satellite tag that had popped off a kelt and was floating near Prince Edward Island has now stopped transmitting. It came ashore on a barrier island on the north side, but strong winds prevented anyone from getting out to recover it before it stopped transmitting. Without that signal, the chances of finding it are next to nil. Fortunately, all of the data was transmitted before it went off line so after processing, we'll have an idea of the kelt's story.

 

Shawna Wallace from the Research Department and a few others from ASF's head office spent a couple of days of fishing on the Northwest Miramichi. Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures is very involved in the salmon community and provided a wonderful time for the group. Shawna hooked, but didn't land a salmon on her first-ever fly cast. She was delighted to catch a brook trout and the whole group had a great time. Sounds like it might be a yearly trip.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Live Tracking
by Graham on 

Leah Strople using a portable tracking device on the NW Miramichi River. Once again this week, Leah and Mike are on the Miramichi River searching for fish. Last week, they downloaded the receivers from the head of tides on both branches down to the mouth of the bay. After going through the data, they discovered a few fish that hadn't made it to the sea. Those are the fish they are looking for now.

 

While it is possible that a tagged smolt or kelt can swim by a receiver without it being recorded, it is unlikely that it can get by all the receivers un-recorded. Down the length of the river, we use one receiver per location, since the river is not very wide relative to the transmission distance of the tags. At the mouth of the bay, we use several receivers to cover the area. Not only is it wider, but boat traffic can cause noise that results in false detections or just drowns out the noise of the tag at times. With several receivers in place, we greatly reduce the chances of missing a fish entirely.

 

Leah and Mike are using a portable receiver to listen for a few particular fish that weren't recorded past certain points. They'll go to the last known location and begin searching from there, stopping every 500m and going side to side or so to listen for a few minutes. That means long days spent on the river, but they aren't complaining.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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