Atlantic salmon rivers are complex interacting living ecoystems. As spring is unfolding, Atlantic salmon smolt hormone changes are already altering both the look and the physiology of the fish, preparing them for life in a totally alien environment, the ocean. The rising water temperatures are also triggering changes in their behaviour, and soon they will be turning down-current to make that migration into their new world.
We all know how vulnerable they are as hungry predators aplenty are waiting in their path – striped bass, and cormorants among them. They need the cover provided by some of the other members of the ‘complex’. They need to have smelt and alewives moving in the rivers, providing cover and attracting their share of attention from predators. They need to have ice jams gone that might impede migration.
To have all the components in place we need to make sure we have those healthy rivers. We need to see that nature has the chance to maintain that balance among species, to give Atlantic salmon runs their opportunity to recover.
ASF’s research through the past decade has also shown that healthy kelts may be very important to the population as a whole. In the tracking at the Strait of Belle Isle, ASF’s sonic tracking has shown the kelts passing through in the same period as smolts from different rivers. Do they have some role in the overall successful migration? No one knows at this point.
This week several ASF staff have been on the rivers angling for kelts in order to insert acoustic transmitters. In addition, eleven will have satellite pop-off transmitters attached. Last year some of the satellite transmitters showed salmon from New Brunswick travelling in waters near Baffin Island, and Greenland. Nathan Wilbur had this to say about the Northwest Miramichi work this week:
Up on the Northwest and Little Southwest where we were set up for kelt tagging, the ice had only gone out on Friday (May 1) and so it was still very early. Geoff Giffin and I hooked 13 kelts on Monday but we heard from guides that fishing had been even better upriver, suggesting many of the fish were still upriver and hadn’t moved down to feed on smelt yet.
There was a heavy run of smelt in the lower river and gulls, eagles, osprey, loons, cormorants, and other predators were abundant and catching the tiny fish. The area was alive with wildlife, including all of the above and Canada geese, beaver, muskrat – all were enjoying the freshly opened river and spring time.
The large salmon kelts we caught were in particularly good shape, thick through the back and bright. Geoff and I thought this might suggest they came into the river fairly late last fall. Sometimes they brighten up from eating smelt, but since the ice had only gone out a few days earlier, we felt it was too early for them to have re-conditioned on smelt.
This is an interesting start to the Atlantic salmon’s 2015 year in the Miramichi River system.
Southwest Miramichi – Brock Curtis noted at midweek:
“A quick update of the river from my location in Blackville. We had a late start due to ice still in the river. Shortly after it flowed though the guys were hooking salmon. It was quite good for the first few days considering the rain and snow we got. Lots of rain and cold temperatures were the norm up to this past weekend. Slow this week. The wind is unreal the last two days. Snow is disappearing fast and the melting has brought the river up again. A few salmon being caught but scattered. River looked quite dirty last night and high. Smelts were in Quarryville last Sunday. Salmon are probably feeding on them up here now. We had word in the tackle shop yesterday that a salmon was caught in Doaktown area so more kelts to come down this way yet. Should get another weekend or two out of it.”
Derek Munn of The Ledges noted that the kelts or black salmon were in particularly good condition this year.
Little Southwest Miramichi – Debbie Norton of Upper Oxbow Adventures noted that the ice was out of the river now, but that the warm days mid-week caused the water to rise. But by Friday it was dropping again.
Prince Edward Island
The far northeast corner of the province is proving to be quite interesting for salmon. Genetic work is indicating that North Lake Creek and Cross River have genetically distinct populations of Atlantic salmon that may be original, not impacted by hatchery stock.
Fred Cheverie and others involved with the Souris and Area Branch of the PEI Wildlife Federation are asking everyone to be very careful to return all smolts to the river.
ASF’s Don Ivany notes that west of Deer Lake the heavy snowfalls this past winter have combined with a late spring to put things back a couple of weeks. Meanwhile east of Deer Lake the snow load was much less, so that late spring conditions may advance more quickly.
While fishway counting facilities are now in place, there has been no reported activity yet.