As the season draws to a close many of you are probably wondering about the research we have been involved in this season. Though the final results are not in I thought I would give you a short synopsis of where we are with the kelt tracking program.
In early May, ASF and MSA tagged 11 kelt in the Northwest Miramichi at Red Bank with satellite pop-up tags. These tags detach from the fish when they die (no movement for a certain amount of time) or at a programmed date – come to the surface and send a signal to a satellite which then provides data on where the fish travelled, depth, etc. The fish were also tagged with acoustic transmitters which allowed us to track them through the river system.
In early June the receivers in Miramichi Bay told us that 8 of the 11 tagged kelt moved into the sea, one was still in the bay, and two appeared to have remained in the river. A few days later one of the tags began transmitting in Miramichi Bay and the tag was retrieved by ASF Biologist Graham Chafe and our summer student Kelsey McGee. Using a hand held locator they found the tag buried in seaweed at the high water mark. The kelt, a 73cm female, had been tagged on May 6th and quickly moved into the bay three days later. It appears from early observations that this fish may have been preyed upon by a harbour seal. The tag will have its data extracted and then will be refurbished for use again next year.
In mid -June another one of our satellite tags has begun to transmit. This one was from a 78cm, 4.65kg female kelt that was tagged on May 6th and entered the ocean on May 13th. The tag was about 20km offshore from Cabot Beach Provincial Park, PEI. Later that same week another tag popped off in the Miramichi River. The kelt it was attached to spent a few weeks after the tagging in the same area and then met its demise. The tag was located about ten metres inland from the river’s edge, below a very tall pine tree. While searching for the tag, Graham and ASF Research Assistant Mike Best had noticed an eagle in the area and sitting atop that very tree. It seems possible that the eagle may have been the one that dropped the tag in the woods, whether or not it caught the salmon.
By the first week of July, four of the 11 tags had popped off – the fourth near the Millstream area on the North West Miramichi. We know from acoustic tracking equipment that this kelt never left the river. The seven remaining fish with tags had all left the river with some of the tags programmed to come to the surface the end of August and some the end of September. The hope was that these fish would avoid all predators and dangers until then and yield accurate data about their movements in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Unfortunately two more popped off in July. The first was about 30km east of the tip of Gaspe and the other was about 30 km northwest of Les Îsle-de-la-Madelaine.
Two of the remaining five tags were due to pop off on August 31st. One of them popped successfully and transmitted from about 50km off the southeast end of Baffin Island. ASF staff was eager to download its data and to put together a picture of this kelt’s track and depth behaviour. Of particular interest will be the portion north of the Strait of Belle Isle.
On September 30th, the three remaining pop-up satellite tags were due to detach from their kelts and start transmitting. Only one began transmitting the next day. The tag that popped is on the coast of Labrador, north of Nain. It will be very interesting to see this fish’s track once all the data has been downloaded. Did it share the same route as the last popped tag that came off near Baffin Island? Has it stayed in Canadian waters? Graham thinks the other two tags that we should have heard from on September 30th will not likely transmit to us. Hard to say why they didn’t, could have been eaten or otherwise destroyed or the antennae broken. They transmit for about 3 weeks before the battery runs out, so there is always a chance, but it doesn’t look good. He also adds that he rate of data recovery we are getting is quite good compared to other studies, despite some tags not transmitting.
ASF will be analyzing all of the data over the next short while and I will let you know…
Thanks to ASF Biologist Graham Chafe for his updates on the kelt program, to the NB Wildlife Trust Fund and the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation – Endowment Fund for helping to fund this project, and to our members who generously donated to this project.