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Catch of the Day
by Graham on 

This week Mike Best and I found ourselves downloading and retrieving the last of the receivers on the St. Croix.  The final receiver retrieval was bound to be the trickiest of them all.  In an admittance of my failure, I had accidentally sunk the buoy of this one particular receiver back in early June when deploying with Mike.  Luckily Mike had marked the rough location of this sunken receiver on his GPS.


On this past sunny Tuesday I loaded my snorkel gear in the boat and set off with Mike, determined to find my sunken blunder.  Once on top of the rough location of my Titanic failure (pun intended), I realized finding this receiver by snorkeling was going to be near impossible in the  25 feet of coffee colored water.  Mike decided to drag a grapple over the location before I would attempt to snorkel and within five minutes had hooked and retrieved the lost receiver.  I learned two things as a result of this: 1) Always be mindful of twisted lines, and 2) Years of river guiding gives you the ability to land everything from salmon to inanimate objects, such as receivers.  


Now that all data has been offloaded we can begin the process of determining which of the tagged alewife successfully made the migration to the now accessible upper reaches of the St. Croix.  With the gained knowledge of migration timing and habitat selection of alewife throughout the watershed, we can help ensure the continued recovery of this keystone species and the habitat they utilize.


For more information on St. Croix alewife restoration efforts, check out this link: http://www.ijc.org/en_/blog/2015/08/27/alewives_swimming_restoration_winning_st_croix_river/

Jason Daniels, ASF Research

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Clearing the Way for Fish Passage
by Graham on 

Last week Stephen Sutton (newest member of ASF Family: ‘Coordinator of Community Outreach and Engagement’) and I visited the Howland Dam where a ‘state of the art’ fish bypass is being constructed.  This dam is located on the Piscataquis River just a stone’s throw away (about 100m) from where it empties into the Penobscot River. ASF and the Penobscot Trust purchased this dam along with the Veazie and Great Works dams, which have already been decommissioned and removed to restore river habitat and allow unobstructed passage for several fish species. The hydroelectric part of the Howland Dam has now been decommissioned so there will no longer be turbines at this site to cause fish passage delays or mortalities. However, as part of the negotiations and community involvement, the dam itself will not be removed and now the Penobscot Trust must demonstrate safe, timely and effective fish passage for targeted diadromous fish species.


 

On 12 August Andy Goode (ASF`s Vice President of US Programs), Stephen Sutton and I met on site with other agencies to discuss the implementation of an effectiveness monitoring study plan for Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring and alewives. What is impressive about this project is the ingenuity that is going into the development of the naturalized stream bypass channel that is intended to pass both upstream and downstream fish migrants.  Besides the bypass channel, fish will have two additional options for downstream fish passage: a bypass chute and spillway.  The Howland bypass channel is scheduled to be completed by the end of September and I look forward to visiting the site again. Fish passage studies will begin in spring 2016. Stay tuned.

 

Jonathan Carr, Executive Director of Research and Environment.

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Cross-Border Tracking
by Graham on 

The long process of retrieving telemetry equipment began last week on the Miramichi. Next week will find ASF staff on Chaleur Bay collecting two equipment arrays, one near Grande-Anse and one near Dalhousie. This was the week of the St. Croix. For the second year in a row, the ASF is investigating how a run of native fish, alewife in this case, is re-colonizing reaches of this international river that they were barred from for many years. Over the past few decades, parts of the St. Croix watershed have been blocked to migrating fish at the dams. Barriers preventing upstream migration of fish at the Woodland and Grand Falls dams were removed in 2008 and 2013 respectively. Now, alewife have the run of the river and can use spawning grounds not accessible while the barriers were in place.


Last season, the ASF acoustically tagged 30 alewife as they passed the Milltown Dam. We strategically placed receivers in the river to record if any of the tagged fish accessed formerly inaccessible habitat. Some did, and one was recorded far into the Grand Falls Flowage. In 2015, a banner year for alewife returns on the ST. Croix, we tagged another 29 fish at the same place. This week, Mike Best has been out and about around the river collecting the receivers. Once they are all in, we will extract the data and gain further insight into the movements and habitat usage of this important species.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Postcards from the Ledge
by Graham on 

Graham downloading receiver data after a long day in the field.Mike Best and I found ourselves with a short window of opportunity this morning. That window had to do with the weather forecast for Miramichi Bay. We've been eager to get the gear out now that the fish that are passing in either direction have done so. There is always potential that gear is lost or damaged when in the field, and despite the many bits of gear that have returned to us in the past two months, we didn't want to take any chances.

 

This morning we piled in the truck and headed north on a beautiful day. We had a few stops to make, including the collection of receivers in the Main Southwest Miramichi. These receiver locations are new this year and will help us further narrow down areas of danger for smolts on their downstream migration.

 

The afternoon found us heading for Escuminac just outside of Miramichi Bay. We launched into calm seas and warm sunshine. For a change, the weather did last for us. Often we find ourselves trying to retrieve and download gear  in heaving waves and the pouring rain, but today everything worked out perfectly.

 

We'll be on the river tomorrow to check on what fish have returned and to collect a bit of equipment. It looks like the weather will hold for the long weekend so we should be in for a fine day on the Miramichi.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research

 

 

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Tag Retention and Tags Returning.
by Graham on 

A view of Miramichi Bay showing the locations of our acoustic receivers.A few things have been going on with the Research Department this week.  The fishway on the Magaguadavic is set up for salmon now and running for its second week. We completed the last sampling of the fish in our Tag Retention study and Jason will be hard at work analysing that data. It will be used to factor into our models for smolt survival using the data we get from the acoustic receivers.

 

On the topic of receivers, it is the time of year when we begin to think about collecting some of them. Mike Best and I will be retrieving the receivers from Miramichi Bay next week. We will also download the river receivers, though they will be left in for a while longer. Holly Labadie from the Miramichi Salmon Association has been downloading the Cassillis receiver every couple of days to keep an eye out for returning fish . So far, four fish tagged in May of this year have returned up river. All four had acoustic tags, not the satellite tags. Nice to see some consecutive spawners in the river.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Building Bridges and Fences
by Graham on 

Jon Carr making a presentation on Miramichi smolt trackingThe 3rd International Conference on Fish Telemetry is being held this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Director of Research Jon Carr and I are attending. There is a fascinating group of biologists from around the globe here to discuss issues, methods and share results. We've seen many presentations on current research topics that all have some component of telemetry, using acoustic or radio signals to track fish. We've learned how acoustic telemetry is helping to keep Australian beach-goers aware of sharks  in swimming areas as well as how conger eels are using the habitat left in the wake of the Fukushima earthquake and resulting tsunami. Jonathan Carr, Executive Director of Research at ASF, made an excellent presentation on the Miramichi smolt tracking projects. With about 250 scientists and students in attendance, we've met many interesting people with whom we can now share tricks of the trade.

 

Graham Chafe, Lewis Hinks and Jon Carr, all of the ASF, at the resistance counting fence on the West River near Sheet Harbour.While we were here, we took the opportunity to meet up with ASF Director for Nova Scotia and PEI Lewis Hinks and take a trip out to the West River - Sheet Harbour to view a counting fence. The fence is a model we have not seen in this area and is different from the usual rigid metal conduit counting fences in the Maritimes. The staff operating the fence for the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, Ryan and Shona, showed us how the fence was constructed with PVC piping instead of metal. It is also assembled and attached to the bottom in a way that allows it to move up and down with the water level. When objects come downstream in higher water, they can usually move right over, or are much easier to push over. This means that the fence does not need to be removed in flood conditions like standard fences do. It allows simultaneous up and downstream counting of fish as well, further increasing its usefulness. The project was supported by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and will provide a glimpse into the status of stocks of salmon on this river.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Another Needle, Another Haystack.
by Graham on 

In a month of lucky finds, a second of our satellite pop-off tags has been found far away from where we released the fish carrying it. On May 10th, 2014, we tagged a 93cm, 6.1kg kelt in the Red Bank area on the Northwest Miramichi. This fish descended the river and spent the next month in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence before heading to the North Atlantic via the Strait of Belle Isle. It wandered out to the edge of the continental shelf briefly before heading back somewhat closer to the coast of Labrador. At the northern tip of the province, it headed in a generally eastern direction to Greenland's western coast where is spent the month of September. On the 30th, the tag popped off the fish as it was programmed to do. It then transmitted its recorded data to the ASF via ARGOS satellites. The fish was alive and well at the time of pop-off.

 

For the next three weeks, we were able to watch as the tag drifted out on the open sea between Greenland and Baffin Island, then the battery died and transmissions ceased. A couple of weeks ago, it was found on the shores of Greenland in Disko Bay (Diskobugten in Danish). The folks who spotted it also noticed our contact information and kindly got in touch with us. While this tag did transmit most of its data, there is more to be downloaded from a retrieved tag than can possibly be accessed through transmissions from a small unit floating on the ocean. So we'll gain even more information on the habits and habitats of this particular fish thanks to the people who found it and are sending it back to New Brunswick. We appreciate the help.

 

Another one of our tags, also from 2014, was found on the shores of Ireland a month ago by a family on vacation. We're hoping to get that one back too once they return home and can send it back to us.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Pop Goes the Satellite Tag
by Graham on 

Map showing the current locations of four of ASF's satellite tags in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.So far in June, four of the eleven pop-up satellite tags we attached to Northwest Miramichi salmon kelts have begun transmitting. These tags measure light, depth and temperature while they are on the fish and use some of that data to calculate a position for each day that they are deployed. Unlike similar, but much smaller, tags on terrestrial or avian animals, they cannot communicate with satellites on a day to day basis. In order to do so they must be released from the fish and float to the surface. So they store the data until a pre-determined date when they pop off and begin transmissions.

Our tags for 2015 are programmed to pop off at the end of August, September or October. The other reason a tag will pop is if the fish's depth does not change for four days. We know from previous data that this is not at all typical behaviour of salmon kelts, so when a tag pops early, like these four have, it suggests that they have died for some reason. Once the reams of data have been initially analyzed, we can sometimes tell if that mortality occurred from a predator or not.

Two fo the four tags popped in the general vicinity of the Iles de la Madeleine. They were possibly headed toward the NW Atlantic. The other two were off the northern tip of PEI, directly east of Miramichi Bay. This would suggest, though it is an educated guess at this point, that they were attempting to return to spawn again this year. While it is unfortunate that these fish have likely died, they carried the tags long enough for us to further investigate their movements in the early part of their ocean migration, before they either go to the NW Atlantic or return to spawn. This will be invaluable in understanding what habitats are critical for Atlantic salmon off our shores.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Short Fish, Long Migration
by Graham on 

Graham Chafe and Jason Daniels tagging alewife on the St Croix River.This week has been mostly about the St. Croix River. This river runs in the southwest part of New Brunswick and forms the border with the United States for some distance. Jon Carr and I tagged 29 alewife in the past week, with the help of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the St. Croix International Waterway Commission. The fish were sampled at the counting trap on top of the fish ladder at the Milltown Dam. Once acoustically tagged, they were released about 800m upstream with a larger school of fish. Tracking in 2014 and now this year will help us understand how these anadromous fish are re-colonizing the upper reaches of the river that were previously blocked to fish passage.

In addition to the tagging, I took part in the St. Croix International Waterway Commission's annual public meeting in St. Stephen. I presented on the counts at the fish ladder as well as summarizing our tracking results from last year and updating the activities for 2015. Members of the public proved to be interested and well-informed about their river. As of Wednesday morning, just over 58,000 alewife had been counted at Milltown. That is a significant  increase over recent years by this date. It is an encouraging of the recovery of this population.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Help from Anglers and Beach-Goers
by Graham on 

A Satellite tag and two sizes of acoustic tags.In the past week we've received unexpected and welcome news. Three people have contacted us regarding equipment they have chanced upon. One receiver and two tags were found. Though we haven't examined the receiver yet, we believe it is from our Chaleur line and was found near Miscou. Sometimes props or commercial fishing equipment can become entangled and cut a receiver loose. Sometimes luck is on our side and they are found again. Then the data can be extracted and they do not need to be replaced.

Yesterday, an angler contacted me about a tag  discovered on a kelt he had caught and released on the Northwest Miramichi. When he noticed the tag, he recorded the number and alerted the ASF. It turns out it was a Department of Fisheries and Oceans tag, but we passed along the information.

The third tag is perhaps the most interesting, it was discovered on a beach far, far away by someone one vacation. Until they return from vacation, I won't receive all the information, but I will update the blog with the details when possible.

Everyone can help us out by alerting us when they chance upon a piece of equipment that has washed ashore or angle a fish with a tag. The information gained from someone who angles a tagged fish, whether or not they release it, is very valuable. It can help place the fish in time and space relative to our monitoring equipment. All of our tags and monitoring equipment have phone numbers or email addresses on them. If you find yourself with a tag or equipment, please record the date, time and location found as well as the serial and/or ID number. Any further information regarding the condition of the fish or circumstances of the discovery can help as well. We will happily come and pick it up or arrange for postage.

Thanks for your help.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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