Maine Telemetry Program
Tracking fish to understand migration routes, timing and survival.
What We Do
The Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Research Team’s telemetry team tracks fish using two methods:
- In watersheds of the Gulf of Maine, we place acoustic tags in fish and receivers in the environment.
- Off the coast of West Greenland, we use satellite tags.
Our Maine tracking focuses on understanding Atlantic salmon seaward movements. We want to identify where and when fish are located in rivers, estuaries, and coastal environments leading to the Gulf of Maine. This work helps us understand migration routes, timing, and survival through these environments.
We take a collaborative approach to our work and actively partner with the Ocean Tracking Network and U.S. Animal Telemetry Network. These partnerships extend our network south to Florida and north to Labrador, Canada. Similarly, our Center’s networks contribute most coastal water and Gulf of Maine ocean telemetry data to these partners.
Our networks use receiver deployments, sometimes referred to as gates or curtains. These deployments can be anything from a single receiver to many receivers spaced across a river, estuary, or bay. This “EZ Pass” study design allows us to monitor individual movements and behavior of salmon as they migrate through the Gulf of Maine to the coast of Nova Scotia. We then inform managers of migration ecology, mortality hot-spots, and strategies to optimize the number of smolts and post-smolts making it to the Labrador Sea.
For Atlantic salmon off the coast of West Greenland and in open ocean areas, we attach a pop-up satellite tag to salmon captured after a year at sea. These tags are designed to stay on the fish for 5-10 months, collecting data on environmental conditions and the animal’s behavior in the waters around Greenland and during their journey home. The tags are programmed to pop off and data are collected by overhead satellites.
Telemetry data is normally analyzed with a combination of graphs and statistics. Kaitlyn Lowder, a Northeast Fisheries Science Center Hollings Scholar, recently added a new method to better understand smolt emigration behavior and its effect on survival. She processed acoustic telemetry data using V-Track, a program designed by researchers at the University of Queensland to visualize the movements of tagged animals. Smolt tracking data are complicated, but visualizations provide a tool for researchers and the public to better understand complex movements. In particular, the animations of smolts produced using this program allow our researchers to study movements in the context of both time and estuary geography.
Partnering to Reach Seaward
Atlantic salmon are highly migratory and within a few weeks have moved beyond our coastal arrays. To continue to monitor our fish and other animals in the Gulf of Maine, we partner on opportunistic non-traditional platforms like Platforms of Opportunity. Starting in 2005, we extended our network beyond coastal environments. We collaborated with the Physical Oceanography Group School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine to deploy receivers on their oceanographic buoys. These partnerships extend our arrays and provide additional migration data that we would otherwise not obtain. In addition to partnering with oceanographers on other platforms (including drifters and gliders), we work with lobstermen that put receivers on their traps to help understand animal movements. These partnerships broaden our reach and encompass a variety of habitats.
Our network also provides data to researchers working with other species. To date, we have detected 23 species including white sharks, bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, striped bass, and river herring. These fish were released by 47 researchers from 34 institutions across the Northwest Atlantic. Our team recovers receivers from partners on a six to 18-month rotation. We then download the data and then audit and share the information to a project data portal for Oceanographic Buoy Data and Lobster Trap and Estuary Data. This allows researchers working on multiple species to share observations and efficiently retrieve their data. We enjoy this aspect of public service to provide reliable detection data throughout the Gulf of Maine. We hope this data-sharing model fosters more multispecies work on fish movements in the Gulf of Maine.
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Hawkes, J.P., T.F. Sheehan, D.S. Stich. 2017. Assessment of Early Migration Dynamics of River - Specific Hatchery Atlantic Salmon Smolts. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 146:6, 1279-1290.
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Goulette, G.S., Hawkes, J.P., Kocik, J.F., Manning, J.P., Music, P.A., Wallinga, J.P. and Zydlewski, G.B., 2014. Opportunistic acoustic telemetry platforms: benefits of collaboration in the Gulf of Maine. Fisheries, 39(10), pp.441-450.
Hawkes, J.P., R.Saunders, A.D. Saunders and M.S. Cooperman. 2013. Assessing Efficacy of Non-Lethal Harassment of Double -Crested Cormorants to Improve Atlantic Salmon Smolt Survival. Northeastern Naturalist, (20)1-18.
Renkawitz, M. D., Sheehan, T. F., and G.S. Goulette. 2012. Swimming depth, behavior, and survival of Atlantic salmon postsmolts in Penobscot Bay, Maine. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 141(5), 1219-1229.
Kocik, J. F., Hawkes, J. P., Sheehan, T. F., Music, P. A., and K.F. Beland. 2009. Assessing estuarine and coastal migration and survival of wild Atlantic salmon smolts from the Narraguagus River, Maine using ultrasonic telemetry. In American Fisheries Society Symposium, 69, pp. 293-310.
Beland, K.F., Kocik, J.F., VandeSande, J., and T. F. Sheehan. 2001. Striped bass predation upon Atlantic salmon smolts in Maine. Northeastern Naturalist, 8(3): 267-274.