Scientists Demonstrate Salmon Tracking Technology

Times and Transcript
1 Apr 2014
Scientists demonstrate salmon-tracking technology

Guests get to see how acoustic telemetry tracking of ‍salmon works

James Foster, Times & Transcript

Science and technology are playing a big role in finding out why a significant proportion of ‍Atlantic ‍salmon are leaving their natal rivers for the open sea, never to be heard from again.

The ‍Atlantic ‍Salmon ‍Federation welcomed several biologists from Maine, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island recently to a demonstration and training workshop regarding the use of acoustic telemetry for tracking fish.

Representatives from Vemco, a Canadian company which manufactures tags and receivers used in fish tracking, presented their latest technology at the two-day workshop.

Acoustic tags transmit a sound signal or “ping” that sends location information about the tagged fish to a receiverwhere biologists can gather information about migrating fish.

“Some of the most exciting news in the world of acoustic telemetry is the advancements in tag and tracking equipment discussed at this workshop,” said Jon Carr, ASF’s executive director of research and environment.

“Vemco recently doubled the battery life in the tags we use for smolt tracking which allows us to follow fish further out in the ocean. I’m hoping to see continued improvements in tag and receiver technologies so that we can ultimately track ‍salmon migrating as a smolt into the ocean and back again to its natal river one or two years later as an adult. This would certainly help us unravel the mystery of where fish are dying in the ocean.”

Advances in receiver technology have also greatly improved. Some units now offer “real time” tracking of fish. Typically, tag data is retrieved from receivers by using a boat and a laptop which can take a great deal of time.

“This technology really is fascinating,” said Dale Webber, a biologist and company representative with Vemco.

“For example, the real-time tracking is currently being used with sharks to notify people when they are near the beaches in Perth, Australia. The receivers can send data directly to your desk top computer.”

ASF researchers will be tagging more than 300 ‍salmon smolt and kelt this upcoming season.

Attendees at the workshop included several ASF biologists, Graham Goulette, a fisheries biologist based in Orono, Maine with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alex Parker of the Miramichi ‍Salmon Association in New Brunswick, and Scott Roloson, a PhD student from the University of Prince Edward Island.

Also in attendance were Dale Webber and Stephanie Smedbol, representing Vemco, which makes the monitoring equipment enabling researchers to study the behaviour and migrating patterns of fish, including wild ‍Atlantic ‍salmon.

The ‍Atlantic ‍Salmon ‍Federation is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of wild ‍Atlantic ‍salmon and the ecosystems on which their well-being and survival depend. The ASF has a network of seven regional councils, in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Maine and western New England. The regional councils cover the freshwater range of the ‍Atlantic ‍salmon in Canada and the United States.

ASF is a leader in tracking wild ‍At‍‍lantic ‍salmon in a bid to unravel the mystery of increased mortality at sea. Now, with two decades of expertise in tracking, they are discovering particular stages of the migration cycle when mortalities occur.

ASF uses arrays of sonic receivers as far north as Labrador. As well, kelts (spring ‍salmon) are equipped with satellite “pop-off” tags to find more about their movements and the conditions they are experiencing. There have been encouraging signs over the past few years that the large ‍salmon travelling to and from ocean feeding grounds near Greenland are doing better, overall. In part this is due to the Greenland Conservation Agreement originally negotiated by ASF and its partners to preserve more ‍salmon that migrate from ‍Atlan‍‍tic Canada to off the coast of Greenland.

For reasons not understood, mortality rates for ‍Atlantic ‍salmon at sea are double those of the 1970s.

Nevertheless, through the tracking research conducted by ASF, some answers have been found. ASF has been an important leader in developing the technology, in concert with Vemco, the engineering company involved, with government and more recently with the Ocean Tracking Network that has been created with headquarters at Dalhousie University.

ASF’s research is providing a window showing where high predation occurs differences from one year to the next and ways to advance the technology.