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Magaguadavic Wrap Up.
by Graham on 

The fish ladder at St. Geogre covered in ice from rain and spray.ASF staff have been monitoring the fishway on the Magaguadavic River at St. George since the spring. The river is unique in that every fish entering the river while the fishway is being monitored is counted as opposed to estimated. We monitor the fishway well before and well after the salmon season and so can say with confidence that we know exactly what has returned to the river during that time. Returns have fallen in the Magaguadavic since the ‘90s, when several hundred returned. The lowest years for wild salmon were 2004 and 2012 with only two and one returns respectively.


In 2014, 11 wild salmon returned to the Magaguadavic River, up from six last year. Three of those returns were multi-sea-winter salmon and eight were grilse. Also this year, we counted 27 aquaculture escapees in the fishway, which were removed from the river. That number is of concern of course, but lower than the 91 that showed up last year. We also counted nine landlocked salmon returning to the river, they were either washed down or intentionally went below the dam. Two enhancement fish returned to the river, these are fish that we had in our stocking program that are released the spring after the fall when they are spawned with a mark so we recognize them upon return. Some of the wild salmon that did return are also likely from our fry stocking program. Fish that are released as unfed fry are not marked and would be counted as wild. Even if they were spawned and hatched in a hatchery, they were released before first feeding and are “wild-reared”.


The fishway will be closed in the coming days, now that we are well past the salmon return season. The trap will be bypassed and water will continue to run through the pool and weir ladder so that fish do have a way to access the river. No migratory fish are passing at this time of year, not until the alewife run begins in May, but fish may still be washed down and need a way up. We’ll visit a few times over the winter to keep an eye on things and soon enough will be starting the process up again next spring.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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It Takes a Village.
by Graham on 

An overview of ASF's tracking program. The in-river and estuarine receiver lines are used for investigations into interactions between Atlantic salmon and Striped bass and are supported by the ASCF.December is the time of year when the ASF Research team is analysing data and writing reports from the season that has just ended. We’re also making plans for next year to continue many of our projects. Our work could not take place without help from individual donors and organizations that sponsor specific projects. One such organization, the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation (ASCF), has been a supporter of ours for many years.  Their mission is “To promote enhanced community partnerships in the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon and its habitat in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.”  They do this by financially supporting groups undertaking a variety of work. From a project engaging youth on Atlantic salmon by the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council in northern New Brunswick and Quebec to a project by the Cheticamp River Salmon Association to remove and replace old, passage-barring culverts from the Cheticamp River on Cape Breton, they support all kinds of initiatives for wild Atlantic salmon conservation.


The ASF Research team is also a beneficiary of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation’s support. The increase in the population of Striped Bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has led to concern over predator-prey dynamics between the Striped Bass and juvenile Atlantic salmon. The ASF has been investigating this relationship and is seeking to quantify the relationship between the two species. Between the tags for the fish, the receivers to listen for the tags, the boats to deploy the receivers and the staff to run the boats and analyse the data, it is a large venture and we would simply not be able to undertake this project without the generous support of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation.


Are you part of an organization seeking to help in the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon? The deadline for applying to the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation is December 19th. For more information on the Foundation or to learn how to apply, go to www.salmonconservation.ca.  People who are not undertaking a project can also visit the website and see the host of projects the ASCF is supporting and might find one in their own area of interest.


This week finds Jon Carr, ASF’s Director of Research, in London, England attending a North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization telemetry workshop. It is a gathering of Atlantic salmon scientists and conservationists who are involved in the discovery of marine migration routes and habitats. They are discussing the coordination of individual organization’s efforts to monitor the progress of salmon to and from rivers in North America and Europe to better understand and protect our shared natural resource.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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A Community Gathering.
by Graham on 

Tagging kelts on the Restigouche , spring 2014. From left: Carol-Anne Gillis, Jon Carr and Michelle Charest. Phot: Kirk Smith. This week, ASF Director of Research Jonathon Carr found himself by the Restigouche River. He wasn’t tagging fish as he did in the spring, but was attending a conference. The event was the Salmon Summit, hosted by the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council (GMRC) in Listiguj Quebec. It was a conference designed to update various stakeholders and interest groups on the status of studies and information on the salmon population of the Restigouche River.  Two days of workshops and presentations allowed participants to network and identify gaps in knowledge and where work efforts need to be focused.


Jon presented on ASF activities on the Restigouche. These include the annual acoustic tagging of smolt coming out of the Kedgwick and kelts near the Rafting Grounds. The ASF, with help from GMRC and the Listiguj Rangers and the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council have placed acoustic receivers in the river and in various spots in the estuary. These include lines of receivers near Dalhousie Junction, Dalhousie and much further out across the Baie des Chaleurs itself about two thirds of the way down the bay. These lines allow us to track salmon and assess survival and timing of smolts and kelts as they make their way out to sea as far as the Strait of Belle Isle. In the case of the kelts, the tags are large enough to hold battery power that actually lets us record consecutive and alternate spawners returning to the river. We’ll be back working on the Restigouche next year along with other members of the Restigouche salmon community.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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St. Croix Alewife Project Update.
by Graham on 

Tagged alewife being observed before release into the St. Croix River.Yesterday, ASF Biologist Michelle Charest presented some initial findings from the Alewife tagging project we undertook on the St. Croix River this summer. Here is a brief summary of that presentation:

 

In 2013, the 1995 law blocking upstream passage of river herring was overturned and fish passage was restored.  Restoration of the fishways at Woodland and Grand Falls dam has made 98% of river herring’s historical spawning habitat available to the species once again. When and where river herring re-colonize the St Croix River are important data for future research and management planning.

 

To answer these questions, thirty river herring were implanted with acoustic tags at the Milltown dam in June 2014 and their movements were tracked throughout the St Croix River. Preliminary data suggests alewives have had some success recolonizing historic spawning habitat with over 10% reaching the historic spawning habitat recently made available to them. The other 90% of the tagged alewives spawned within the 2% of spawning habitat that is below the first dam (Woodland Dam) they encounter after the make it through the fishway at Milltown. Survival out of the St. Croix river system was higher than expected with 80% successfully migrating back out to sea and will hopefully return next year to spawn again. Preliminary data from this study was presented on Thursday at the St. Croix Watershed: Research, Partnership and Action conference organized by the St. Coix International Waterway Commission and the St. Croix Watershed Board of the International Joint Commission.

 

Michelle Charest and Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Second Spawning
by Graham on 

Michelle and Steve checking salmon for maturity.The Magaguadavic spawning continued this week, albeit at a smaller scale. Only 20 more of the females were ripe and ready to go, with many left for the coming weeks. Not all the fish have the same timing, it might seem convenient if they did, but then we’d be rushing to get them all spawned on time. The water temperature dropped by three degrees overnight before we got there and that will likely spur on those that are further back in their maturity.


 

The Multi-River Program fish were also not quite ready to spawn. We’ll be back either late next week or early the week after to spawn those fish. The hatchery staff will keep a close eye on them and we’ll adjust our plans as necessary. Just like in the spring when we’re tagging migrating fish, the fish determine the schedule and people have to adapt to them.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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First Magaguadavic Spawning of the Season
by Graham on 

Graham Chafe and Steve Tinker collecting eggs from a female Atlantic salmon.Today was the first day of spawning for the Magaguadavic Program. Every year, we spawn up to 200 pairs of Magaguadavic-origin salmon in an effort to boost populations in the river. The wild salmon returns in the Magaguadavic River are at extremely low levels, less than 20 for the past several years. The program yields thousands of fry, which are generally released into the river in the spring before their first feeding, when they still have some yolk sac left. Releasing them into the river while they still carry a store of energy allows them to become wild-reared. Their entire life from first feeding onwards is in the river and ocean. That way, they do not become dependent on someone feeding them a few times a day and are more likely to succeed in the wild.


 

This year, we have approximately 250 females that are maturing. Spawning will take place over a few weeks as they don’t all become ready to express their eggs at the same time. Lucky for us, otherwise we’d be overwhelmed getting it all done. Today we found just about one third ready to spawn. There are typically three groups of spawners, a smaller early group, a large main group and a small later group that is behind the others. This was a good first showing, through observations of the remaining females suggests there may be three more groups to go. We’ll be back about once a week until they are all spawned. After spawning, they are reconditioned over the winter and released in the spring.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Sample Day.
by Graham on 

Michelle Charest scans a salmon for a tag that will identify the individual fish.Once again the ASF Research Team is having a hectic week. We’re gathering preliminary results from this year’s activities for some presentations that are coming up next week. Diving into the data and pulling out some relevant information, such as smolt or kelt survival past receiver lines is interesting work and shows us hints of what is to come over the winter when we have time to examine it all in depth. Our Strait of Belle Isle line was late coming out this year, the tides and sea conditions seemed determined to keep us from getting at our equipment. It is finally out though, and despite a few receiver losses, we’ll have stacks of data to go through once it is finished downloading later today.


The field work goes on elsewhere, this was a sampling week for our Tag Retention study. This project is an effort to further understand how smolts heal in salt water after being tagged with acoustic transmitters. We’ll keep sampling, checking growth rates and observing until next June, but by now the vast majority show no signs of being tagged at all, though the tags are still with the fish. The study will allow us to factor in another variable into models for smolt survival and continue our efforts to try to pinpoint any problem areas on their migration routes.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research

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Reader Question
by Graham on 

ASF Researchers Jon Carr and Graham Chafeattaching a satellite tag to a Northwest Miramichi kelt.Late last week, I received a question from a blog reader all the way from Minnesota. He asked how we find the satellite tags that have surfaced, especially those that are remote, such as the one that popped off the coast of Greenland. He also asked whether we had to retrieve the tag or if the data was all transmitted. The answer is both, in some cases we retrieve the tags, in some we don’t.


The satellite tags record information for the length of their deployment. While they are on the fish and under water, they are not transmitting. Once the programmed pop-off date has been reached, or if the tag determines the fish has died, the tag pops to the surface and only then begins to transmit. The transmissions serve two functions; firstly, they send the recorded data to a passing ARGOS satellite that then makes it accessible to researchers through the internet. Secondly, it transmits information that allows us to know where the tag is every one to three hours. If the tag is remote, such as those in the middle of the Labrador Sea, we simply download the archived data over a period of a few weeks, it takes a while to transmit large data sets in short intervals when a satellite is overhead.


If the tag isn’t too remote, such as a tag last year that washed up on PEI, we make efforts to collect it. Since transmission capability and memory is limited, tags transmit certain portions of its data. We might end up with readings from every 15 or 30 minutes if the tag has been out for several months. If we recover the tag however, anything that hasn’t been written over due to a long deployment is accessible. In addition, we can refurbish the tag and use it again the following year.


It truly is fascinating and amazing technology that is beginning to yield exciting information on the migratory routes and habits of Atlantic salmon kelts from the Miramichi River.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Game Plans
by Graham on 
Michelle, Shawna and Steve working too hard to smile for the cameraJust when we’re holding on to the end of the field season as tightly as we can, the weather and work get in the way of outdoor fun. This week, we were planning on releasing some fall parr from our Magaguadavic Program. The broodstock was spawned last autumn and this cohort rode the winter out in their eggs. They hatched in the spring, but with the temperature profile over the cold season, the timing wasn’t right for a spring release as unfed fry. Instead, they were kept at the hatchery over the summer and are ready any time to be put in tributaries of the Magaguadavic. First, we were held back by uncharacteristically low water in the streams, and now the rains are heavy enough to make some of the back roads we need to access a bit tricky. The tricky part is due to the large tank of water, and fry, we’ll have on the back of the truck, we want to give the parr as smooth a ride as possible.

 

Of course there is other work to do, and this week the ASF Research Team has been holed up in the board room pouring over each of our projects. We’ve been going over our work from this year and planning ahead for future studies, next season and beyond. As far away as it seems right now, the time to begin planning next season begins very soon, though we have a season’s worth of data to analyse in the meantime. It will be a busy winter and we’re eager to get to work.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Holding Pattern
by Graham on 

The head-of-tide dam on the Magaguadavic River.Like the late summer weather, the ASF Research Team is in a holding pattern this week. We have several thousand fall parr from our Magaguadavic Program to release, but the water in the river is so low that we are being forced to wait. We will wait until the water rises with the rains, usually so dependable in September, so that these juvenile Atlantic salmon have lots of water. They need to be able to move freely after we release them to several sites in order to move off and find small territories to call their own. Normal water levels will also protect them from predatory birds that have an easier time picking them out of shallow pools and riffles.


 

We’re also waiting for temperatures to begin to drop again before we start to sort our Magaguadavic broodstock for this year’s spawning. Some fish are sexually differentiated now, but most have a little ways to go. Our fish typically spawned in past years in November, but since 2011, it has extended into early December. It is too early to tell for this year, but there are a lot of fish in this cohort and it promises to be a busy time. Until then, we’ll enjoy the warm weather of southern New Brunswick like everyone else.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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