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July 21, 2009

Wild atlantic salmon research to get a boost

ASF, working closely with industry and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, developed a miniature tagging and tracking technology system

Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) researchers will soon get a helping hand from a $35 million grant to DalhousieUniversity's Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) to help solve the mystery of the wild Atlantic salmon's ocean migration and find out what is contributing to its unusually high death rates.   A founding partner of OTN, ASF was actively involved in obtaining the program funding.

Lead ASF researcher Dr. Fred Whoriskey commented, "Dramatic declines in Atlantic salmon numbers and many theories as to the possible causes prompted ASF to begin studying the problem in the 1990s. A few potential explanations for the declines include temperature change, fewer forage fish, and predation by seals and birds."

ASF, working closely with industry and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, developed a miniature tagging and tracking technology system that allows researchers to follow small salmon for long distances from their natal rivers out to sea as they migrate to their ocean feeding grounds.

ASF began developing the technology of implanting juvenile salmon with sonic transmitters and tracking them in 1994, and first successfully tracked juvenile salmon in both freshwater and the ocean in 1999. This pioneering work will benefit the Ocean Tracking Project as it has benefited research on the west coast, such as the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project, part of the International Census of Marine Life.

ASF has now had multiple-year experience of tracking juvenile salmon down rivers, including the Miramichi and Restigouche in New Brunswick, the Cascapedia and St-Jean (St. Lawrence North Shore) in Quebec, and Newfoundland's Western Arm Brook.

A small batch of young salmon from the acid-impacted West River Sheet Harbour in Nova Scotia is also being tracked to see how they are responding to remedial liming that ASF and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA) have undertaken in that watershed to reduce its acidity. In 2009, Nova Scotia's MargareeRiver in CapeBreton was added to the list of rivers where ASF is tracking salmon.

Sophisticated receiver arrays have been set up in the rivers, and across the Baie des Chaleurs, and, most importantly, across the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador, the salmon's most northern migration exit from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Dalhousie University's OTN will set up receivers in the Cabot Strait, the southern exit from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and allow tracking of salmon all the way to Greenland, the salmon's feeding grounds.

One initial observation of the research is the old adage of "safety in numbers". Dr. Whoriskey concluded, "The more salmon that make it down the river, the better chance they have of exiting the river estuary. In other words, traveling together increases each individual salmon's odds of survival."

Dalhousie University expects to receive the already-approved funding in the next few months from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to carry out worldwide, ocean-based climate change studies, including the tracking of wild Atlantic salmon.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is an international, non-profit organization that promotes the conservation and wise management of wild Atlantic salmon and their environment. ASF has a network of seven regional councils (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, 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.