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NEFSC’s Maine Telemetry Program

acoustic transmitter being implanted into salmon smolt
An acoustic transmitter (“pinger”) is surgically implanted into an Atlantic salmon smolt as part of a telemetry study on the Penobscot River, Maine. ASERT annually tags between 50 - 200 smolts for acoustic telemetry studies.

NEFSC’s Maine Telemetry Team tracks fish using acoustic tags placed in fish and receivers placed in the environment. Our tracking focuses on understanding Atlantic salmon seaward movements to identify where and when fish are located in rivers, estuaries, and coastal environments prior to entry into the Gulf of Maine (GoM).  Since 1997, we have conducted telemetry work in the southern extent of the Atlantic salmon’s range to 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 US Animal Telemetry Network.  These partnerships extend our network to cover south to Florida and north to Labrador Canada. Similarly, NEFSC networks contribute most of the ocean telemetry data for coastal waters and the GoM to these partners. Our network use receiver deployments sometimes referred to as gates (or curtains) which can be 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 towards the GoM. We use this information to inform managers of mortality hot-spots and strategies to optimize the number of smolts and post-smolts making it to the sea.

contract vessel loaded with acoustic telemetry gear
Acoustic telemetry gear loaded aboard a contract vessel and awaiting deployment in Penobscot Bay on a foggy morning. To ensure coverage in wide areas of the estuary and bay, receivers are deployed ~ 400 meters apart forming a linear “curtain.”

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 GoM, we partner on opportunistic non-traditional platforms (PlatOpus - Platforms of Opportunity). Starting in 2005, we extended our network beyond coastal environments by collaborating 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.

acoustic transmitter and penny
An acoustic transmitter next to a penny, for size comparison.

The NEFSC 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 under the Ocean Tracking Network Website (Oceanographic Buoy Data - GMG, Lobster Trap and Estuary Data - GMEN). 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 GoM. We hope this data sharing model fosters more multispecies work on fish movements in the GoM.

recovered acoustic telemetry reciver
A recovered acoustic telemetry receiver attached to a concrete mooring.The receiver and mooring rest on the estuary or bay substrate with the hydrophone of the receiver pointing upwards towards the surface.

Goulette, G.S., J.P. Hawkes. 2017. Altering Vertical Placement of Hydroacoustic Receivers for Improved Efficiency in Coldwater Estuary Zones. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 37:981–988.

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.

Hussey, N. E., S. T. Kessel, K. Aarestrup, S. J. Cooke, P. D. Cowley, A. T. Fisk, R. G. Harcourt, K. N. Holland, S. J. Iverson, J. F. Kocik, J. E. Mills Flemming, and F. G. Whoriskey. 2015. Aquatic animal telemetry: a window into the underwater world. Science 348 (6240).

Stich, D.S., M. T. Kinnison, J. F. Kocik, and J. D. Zydlewski. 2015. Initiation of migration and movement rates of Atlantic salmon smolts in fresh water. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 72:1339-1351.

Stich, D. S., G. B. Zydlewski, J. F. Kocik, and J. D. Zydlewski. 2015. Linking behavior, physiology, and survival of Atlantic salmon smolts during estuary migration. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science 7:68–86.

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.

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