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The field season approaches
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

The preparation for the 2015 field season has begun.

Part of the preparation includes dusting off the acoustic tagging equipment and dusting off our tagging crew. This week the ASF research team, including our newest biologist Jason Daniels, spent a day practicing our tagging techniques.

We were joined by Carol-Anne Gillis, biologist with the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council, and Holly Labadie, biologist with the Miramichi Salmon Association. Steve Tinker, ASF biologist, provided an overview of the tagging techniques and shared some tagging tricks and wisdom he has gained over the 15 years he has been tagging.



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Location, Location, Location.
by Graham on 

An image from marinetraffic.com of shipping int he Bay of Fundy on February 12, 2015. On the website, the ship icons can be clicked for more information.One of the amazing things about the internet age is the tools that are available to the researchers and the public. We’ve all used the various map sites and Google Earth is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of areas we work and play in. Another tool that is interesting for the public and useful for the researcher is the Automated Identification System (AIS) on ships. It is a tracking system used on commercial cargo and fishing vessels, it is also now beginning to be used by smaller pleasure craft. Using internet access, anyone can access all kinds of ships near to home or on the other side of the world.


Originally designed as a safety system, AIS equipment broadcasts information about the ship including identification, position, speed and course to others in the area. It was meant to supplement radar for collision avoidance.  Added to the internet of things and now a person can watch from their desktop as tankers go in and out of the terminal at Saint John. With smartphones, when you’re one the water and want to know about a fishing boat you see, you can pull up the app and, if they have AIS equipment aboard, find out the size, country of registration, type and sometimes other information.


Where this tool becomes useful for fisheries researchers is the ability to monitor vessels for illegal fishing activity, pollution from bilge dumping or presence in protected waters. For our purposes, as the tools develop, we’ll be able to look through historical data to watch for the presence of vessels in areas of concern in the salmon’s migration on the high seas. Along with tracking data and information from our satellite tags we may identify some issues with more precision than was previously possible. Other groups have already identified illegal fishing and dumping of bilge water and identified the boats involved in far-flung areas. This tactic may prove to be useful. It won’t likely be the silver bullet to the dangers the salmon face, but it is another tool in the box.


If you’re interested in this technology and want to observe shipping traffic in your area, there are many apps available for your phone. There are also websites that broadcast the information in as close to real-time as they can. In both cases, simply search for Automated Identification System and shipping traffic and you’ll see the options.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Evaluation and Evolution
by Graham on 

Icebergs can be in the Strait of Belle Isle as ASF equipment and may cause damage.Mid-winter is a period when it seems at a glance like the research team has all the time in the world. Fall is well behind us and spring is nowhere in sight. And though we share the feeling with those waiting to cast a line, that spring may never arrive, we know it will sneak up on us and we had better be prepared. We have projects in various states right now. Many, such as monitoring the Magaguadavic fishway and local stream temperatures, are seasonal and repeat more or less the same every year. Others recur every year but with constant changes and tweaking of strategies, equipment and timing. Our smolt and kelt tracking project is one such effort.


While the ASF has been tracking salmon for a long time now, ever changing technology and conditions as well as new information demands that after every season, we re-assess our efforts with an eye for improvement.  Considering that a major goal of the tracking program is to discover salmon survival through various habitats, we must ensure that our project design and implementation is functional and efficient. To that end, we are planning a few changes to our program for the 2015 season. If all goes well, we will deploy a second line of receivers in the Strait of Belle Isle that will increase efficiency in a very challenging environment. Closer to home, we are hoping to use new technology to further our knowledge and understanding of predation events that impact smolt populations during downstream migration. Evolving technology and increasing our efforts will help to bring further understanding to the plight of the Atlantic salmon.


 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Watershed Moments.
by Graham on 

The Saint John RIver Watershed.Winter is a great time of year for conferences and workshops. While there is plenty to do outside at this time of year, it is a little easier to get people together when they are not all off in different directions. This week, I attended a conference called “Running with the Current”, put on by the New Brunswick Environmental Network. Representatives from watershed and conservation groups from across the province got together to make connections, learn about what other groups were doing and hear from a few expert speakers.


In addition to seeing examples of restoration work being carried out on various rivers, there was a lot of great discussion on the management of watersheds. What direction New Brunswick should take in that governance and how all of these stakeholders would like to fit into that plan. It is a large and complicated topic, but there is a large and capable group of people looking to protect New Brunswick waters. And after all, what is good for the water, is good for the salmon.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Winter Works
by Graham on 

Winter on Passamoquoddy Bay.As the winter keeps rolling along, and the deep freezes come and go, the ASF Research Team is working away preparing for next year. We’re still analysing data from 2014 and fitting it in to our time-series of projects, but the focus this week happens to be the 2015 season. It will likely see most of the same projects continue, with a few modifications here and there.


Our flagship tracking project will continue of course, and we may expand or alter some of our receiver strategies to reflect changing conditions and accuracy. Next season will likely see an increase in receivers in the Miramichi in a further search for problem areas for the migrating smolt as we did last year in the Restigouche.  Our temperature monitoring of southwest New Brunswick rivers may turn into a year-round effort instead of a three-season venture with the addition of small, winter-friendly installations. Having so many years of data from the same locations is an interesting look at possible effects of climate change in addition to keeping an eye on salmon habitat.


This is an on-going process for the rest of the winter, and will alternate with analysis of last year’s data and other tasks. We’re also hiring a new biologist in the coming month. Lots of great people applied and it will take a bit of time to get through the process and find the newest member of our little team. Whoever it is, they’ll be busy from the start, I’ve got a list of things they’re behind on already!

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Stand Up and Be Heard
by Graham on 

The survey can be filled out on any computer with internet access. Where that computer is, is up to you.

As 2015 gets under way, and many people are staying in to avoid the cold, you might think that the salmon have been forgotten until the spring. For many people, salmon and fishing are never far from their minds.  As we think over last year and look ahead to the next, we may find we have something to say about our experiences and the experiences we would like in the future. To that end, there are two online surveys that are still open that should be of interest to salmon fans, whether or not they are anglers.


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has put together two surveys, one specific to Atlantic salmon and one to striped bass. The online consultations are being used to collect information on angling habits and preferences as well as opinions on management strategies and tag and possession numbers available to anglers. They only take a few minutes to complete and offer a good chance to add your voice to the conservation. The following link will take you to the right place to begin: http://www.glf.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Gulf/FAM/Recreational-Fisheries. Several hundred people have already completed them and they are open until January 15th, so there is time left.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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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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