Team of scientists monitor New Brunswick fishways

WATCH: A team of scientists from Acadia University are working in southern New Brunswick to monitor the movement of migrating fish. Alex Abdelwahab reports.

AULAC, NB – A team of scientists from Acadia University are in southern New Brunswick to monitor fish migrating back into rivers to spawn.

They want to make sure the fish can safely make it through a series of fishways that are designed to work as a ladder-system to help fish get from downstream to upstream.

“When they’re in freshwater on the spawning run, they don’t feed, so they’re starving basically,” said Aaron Spares, a marine biologist at the Coastal Ecology Lab at Acadia. “They can only use the energy reserves they have, the fat reserves.”

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Spares compared it to charging a battery and then having it run dry.

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They are monitoring the alewife and gaspereau fish, which are born in the fresh water of New Brunswick’s waterways, but then spend most of their life in the ocean. They only return to the fresh water to spawn, which happens in May and June.

Spares and his team are catching fish making the journey, examining them and tagging them with a special sensor. Then upstream, as they travel through the man-made fishway, a series of antenna read the tags and send information, including the fish ID number, date and time to a computer.

“It’s just like a UPC code, like your groceries at the supermarket,” Spares said.

There have been fishways in the area since the 1950s, it’s the law that whenever a dam or other structure is built that blocks a fish passage. But the one being monitored by Spares’ team was only put in last year, by Ducks Unlimited Canada. They want to make sure it’s doing the job it’s supposed to.

Nic McLellan, Conservation Program Specialist for Ducks Unlimited told Global News that they believe the ladder system will help more species of fish successfully migrate through the waterway. It also helps them monitor the situation for the overall ecosystem, as these two fish are an important part of the food chain.

“These fish are coming from the ocean, inland to spawn,” he said, adding that they’ve just started a study looking at the importance of marine nutrient transfer. “They’re releasing potential nutrients into our wetland system.”

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These fish are also important for another reason. They are now the key bait for lobster fisherman in the area.

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