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Research - In the Field Search  

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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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Unexpected News
by Graham on 
A satellite shot showing the locations of the three satellite currently transmitting.

On September 30th, we were expecting and hoping to hear transmissions from up to four of the satellite tags that were programmed to pop off on that date. Only two of them did transmit on that date, as reported last week. If a tag does not report, there is no way to know where it is or why it hasn’t reported. There are many reasons a tag might not transmit such as coming up under ice or other debris or being damaged by a predator. A few days into October and we thought we had heard from all the tags that we were going to.

 

So it was a pleasant surprise this week when one more tag’s transmissions were received. This tag is floating off the coast of northern Labrador near Torngat Mountains National Park.  It marks the third tagged kelt this year to have successfully made it past the Strait of Belle Isle and into the Northern Atlantic or Labrador Sea. It will take some time for all the tag’s transmission to come through and then for it to be processed into raw data. At that point, we’ll have an idea why there was a delay in transmissions as well as the track this kelt took to get to that point. The three fish these tags popped off live fish that will continue with their migrations as alternate spawners.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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From the Banks of the Magaguadavic to the Coast of Greenland
by Graham on 
A temperature logger in a tributary of the Magaguadavic River.

With field work dying down for the season, we are bringing in our gear and monitoring equipment from all corners. The receivers that track the salmon are already cleaned, downloaded and safely stored until next year but there are a few things left to do. I spent a day earlier this week cruising around southwest New Brunswick collecting our temperature loggers. On any given year, we have up to a dozen of these small units deployed in various streams and tributaries of the area. They record the temperature of the stream every two minutes for the time they are deployed. We use this information to get daily maximums, minimums and averages. Since we’ve been putting them out at the same spots for years and years, we can watch if the stream temperatures are changing over time. We also deploy the same type of equipment on the lines in the Miramichi and Restigouche rivers for the same purpose.


 

A map showing the two satellite tags that are currently transmitting.Further afield, September 30th marked the programmed pop-off date for the remainder of our 2014 satellite tags. These tags have been on the kelts since early May, recording temperature, depth, and light and using that information to calculate location. Yesterday, I received transmission from two tags that first contacted the satellites early in the morning. One is about halfway between Canada and Greenland, and the other is just off the coast of Greenland, about 200km north of Nuuk.  That they popped off on the pre-programmed date means that the fish are still alive and well and we’re looking forward to the exciting stories they will tell.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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Class is in Session.
by Graham on 

Students from UNBSJ on a field course at the ASF.It’s been a busy and fun-filled week for ASF Researchers and students of a University of New Brunswick field course. These students have been in southwest New Brunswick soaking up knowledge and experience through many of the facilities and people working in the area. For a few days, the ASF Research team was part of the program. On the first day, we toured the students around the fishway and bypass facilities at the St. George Power dam on the Magaguadavic River, and showed them how we go about monitoring the migrant fish coming in to the river. 

A juvenile snapping turtle removed from the downstream bypass facility in St. George.We followed that with a small-scale tracking exercise in Chamcook Stream where the students learned the ins and outs of the processes and potential from various tracking technologies. Today we had a great time, again in Chamcook Stream, with an introduction to electrofishing. They caught lots of salmon parr, eel and smallmouth bass and then tried their hand at the sampling and measuring techniques we use during site surveys. 
The students have another month to go in their intensive course and may well come away with some new ideas of the direction they could take their careers. We were happy to see that the students in this course, future conservationists and biologists, were enthusiastic, smart and capable. We look forward to helping with another group next year.

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Loose Ends
by Graham on 

Rod MacLean from Vemco, retreiving a receiver/acoustic release combined unit near Dalhousie, N.B.This week has been about tying up some loose ends. Shawna, Michelle and Steve completed the last of the electrofishing surveys for the season. The weather cooperated for the most part this year, without the rains and high water levels that characterized our sites in 2012 and 2013. That means that we were able to survey more sites than we have in the past few years and can continue our time series of these areas building on the historical data that the ASF has collected over the past couple of decades.


 

Further north, I have been in Dalhousie and Campbellton retrieving the last of our receivers. As in the past two seasons, we used acoustic releases on our gear at Dalhousie, to minimize the potential for equipment to get cut loose or caught up in passing boats or fishing gear. This year, we were fortunate to help a Canadian company test a new model of acoustic release. Vemco, out of Dartmouth, N.S., makes all of the receivers and tags that we use. Now, they are producing receivers that incorporate acoustic release capabilities. This could be a great help in many locations, as they are smaller and lighter weight than many other models. They performed perfectly at Dalhousie, recording passing salmon and coming to the surface when we “called” for them. I was impressed and look forward to using the units in the future. Thanks to Vemco staff Courtney and Rod for coming along in the field and introducing me to the ins and outs of the new equipment.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.

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The Last Long Days of Summer
by Graham on 

A large salmon parr in Kedron Stream, New Brunswick.We are in our last big push of the season right now. There will still be work to do, but the pace will slow some over the next couple of months. Our electrofishing surveys have been going well; we’ve covered more sites than in the past two years. This is not from lack of effort, but rather that the weather has been cooperating and the water levels have generally been excellent for our purposes. We found good numbers of salmon at some sites, and parr in places we weren’t really expecting them on the Magaguadavic River, a great sign that our restoration efforts are having some effect. We added two new sites this year: an additional one on Linton Stream near Bonny River and another on the Northeast Branch of the Magaguadavic River. In both cases, the property owners were gracious enough to allow us access and provide local knowledge of what they’ve seen in the rivers, a great resource.

A view from the deck of the Alex G. coming up on an ASF receiver in the Baie des Chaleurs.


Elsewhere, I spent a couple of long days on the water on the northern border of the province. With help from Carole-Ann Gillis, who does some work for ASF in the area, I removed the receivers in the Restigouche River at Campbelton. The next day, I was on the Alex G., a lobster boat out of Anse-Bleu for what was a very long day of searching for receivers. Several were pulled under in the strong tides and took time to find and recover. Of the 28 receivers on the line, 9 of them were on acoustic releases, units that keep the receiver near the bottom until a message is sent down for them to “let go” and rise to the surface. The weather and seas treated us well, and after eight hours on the water I was sun burnt and satisfied. Another six hours behind the wheel and I was home in St. Andrews and getting ready for the following day’s electrofishing. Never a moment to lose for the research team, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Graham Chafe, ASF Reserach.

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Going Up?
by Graham on 

Graham Chafe and Mike Duffy sampling parasites from aquaculture escapees at the St. George fishway.

This week the repairs on the dam at the head-of-tide on the Magaguadavic River in St. George are being completed. That is good news because the water level was too low in the fishway for any upstream fish passage for about two weeks. Over the weekend, the level increased just enough for salmon to get through. Unfortunately, the six salmon I discovered in the trap this morning were of aquaculture origin. They may have been waiting below the fish ladder for enough water for some time. Judging by the wounds on its back, one of them had obviously been lucky to escape a bird of prey. Besides the escapees, there was a smallmouth bass and the staff at the dam reported seeing young American eels working their way up the wet faces of the dam itself. Elvers can travel places that other fish simply can’t go.


Almost all the escapees had parasites, but very light loads. We remove these fish from the river for disease testing and so that they don’t interbreed with wild-origin stock in the river. The repairs at the dam will be completed this week and the fishway flow will be at better levels for the upstream migration of salmon. There have been six wild salmon so far this season, hopefully we’ll see many more.

Graham Chafe, ASF Research.


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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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