While attending the Recreational Fisheries Advisory Council meeting November 12 in Baddeck, NS, we met Xavier Bordeleau a Dalhousie University student completing his PHD research. During the fall of 2014 Xavier had tagged spawned-out (kelt) salmon in the Middle and Baddeck Rivers and tracked them as they left the rivers, travelled in the Bras D’or Lakes and entered the Atlantic Ocean. The acoustic tags are quite robust and have a life expectancy of up to four years. The presentation was very interesting and generally showed that salmon with smaller body masses left the river to resume feeding in the early winter, while larger “fatter” fish over-wintered in the river and exited in the spring. It is still to be determined if some salmon remain in the Bras D’or for their entire adult life, which is another component of this study.
The tagged Middle River salmon included seven brood stock fish being returned by the Margaree hatchery and 6 fish caught by angling. There were also 8 hatchery spawned kelts tagged for Baddeck river last year. Some of these fish ( 6 of 21 ) appear to have died during the winter in the river, as there was no record of them passing the receivers placed at the river mouth. Another five fish went missing after entering Nyanza Bay, at the mouth of the river, during January/February 2015.
Xavier was determined to capture and tag more kelts this year by angling as his team only managed to captured 6 fish during the past fall season. He asked if we (Margaree Salmon Association attendees Leonard Forsyth, Greg Lovely and Bill Haley) as well as ASF Regional Director Lewis Hinks would participate. We agreed to help. Xavier had already organized a team of approximately eight persons including 4-5 first nations anglers. He also had two graduate students, Danny Farrar and Leah Strople on his team providing technical support. Danny graduated with a B.Sc. in Biology last April and Leah is a fourth year student in Marine Biology.
We began fishing November 25 and could fish until December 16. Xavier had 25 acoustic tags he wanted to surgically implant. On day one, Leonard and Xavier landed three salmon so things seemed to be going better than the previous year.
Each landed fish is sedated, the transmitter is surgically implanted and then the fish is revived.
Each fish is weighed, blood and scale samples taken and a DNA sample is taken from the tail.
Once revived the salmon is returned to the river and monitored both visually and electronically to insure it is in good physical condition.
The weather varied from snow flurries to bright sun, but most days were mild and made for comfortable fishing.
Some fish were quite dark, while others were bright and appeared to have recently entered the river.
By December 10, all 25 tags were implanted in 6 male and 19 female salmon. Forty salmon were landed; 34 females and 6 males. Extra effort was made to catch fair representation of male fish, as only 4 of the first 32 salmon landed were males. These are general numbers, as Xavier and his assistants recorded the official, detail records. Only one tagged salmon was re-caught and this fish fought and jumped with no indication it was previously caught.
With receivers installed in the rivers, the river mouths, the Bras D’or Lakes, the three exits to the ocean and off shore between Cape Breton, Newfoundland and Labrador, we look forward to following the results of Xavier’s research. From a scientific research and angling perspective, we enjoyed the daily adventure of participating in this project. We hope to have similar success with the spring 2016 kelt project on the Margaree when we will be angling for the 82 kelt salmon tagged in the fall of 2015.
Xavier sent email messages each evening to update participants. His final email is below.
This is a final update to an incredibly successful field season! We had another amazing day fishing yesterday and managed to catch 5 kelts. We have released the first female we caught and then tagged 3 females and one male. In the past two weeks or so, we have tagged a total of 25 salmon (19F:6M) and released an additional 15 females (in order to adjust the sex ratio in our tagged group). This adds on to the 15 hatchery spawned kelts (8 Middle, 7 Baddeck) that were tagged in November for a total of 40 tagged kelts (27F:13M).
Although this is just anecdotal, we have often see about a dozen fish in pools were we detected only 1 or 2 tagged fish which is a good sign. Also, from the 40 salmon that were landed none were pre-spawning fish. Although we do not want to recapture tagged fish, it happened once and was very informative to see that the fish would still take a fly and be jumping around only 6 days after surgery. The wound was healing well and the fish looked very healthy!
Thanks to everyone involved for this great field campaign! Also worth mentioning that it would have been very different without the involvement of Bill, Greg and Leonard (from the Margaree Salmon Association) that were fishing with us every day as well as Leah and Danny! Great people, beautiful fish and gorgeous river! Here’s a picture with the last fish of those 2 years of tagging (missing Leah and Leonard on the picture – thanks Ed for taking the photo!).