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Stories from the field. Sea-Run Brook Trout

Here at DSF this summer we've had the privilege of hosting several interns. Ethan St. Aubin has had a variety of jobs supporting our Habitat and Land Trust teams. He is currently studying Environmental Science at Northeastern University where part of the program is to do a 6 month long co-op in the field in place of classes. He is originally from Plymouth, Massachusetts and has just moved to Beddington, Maine.

Ethan has kept a running log of his activities and we're sharing the first one here.

I had the chance to partake in maintaining and improving several PIT tagging arrays along the Orange and East Rivers near Whiting, Maine. The monitoring project is done in partnership with the Sea-Run Brook Trout Coalition. Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) are tiny chips that are often used for pets and other animals to allow for tracking and identifying them. In this case, Sea-Run Brook Trout are the target species being tagged and tracked. Similar to Atlantic salmon, Sea-Run Brook Trout travel between fresh and saltwater, differentiating them from other species of brook trout. They are of high interest as they can act as a nutrient transport between the nutrient-dense oceans and the less dense streams and rivers. Brook trout of all kinds are also sought after by fisherman and predators alike.

Restoration work for Sea-Run Brook Trout is primarily concentrated in Massachusetts, however the Sea-Run Brook Trout Coalition in partnership with DSF has two active arrays in Downeast Maine with plans for a third. One of the arrays is along the Orange River at the base of the existing dam. My job along with Geof Day of the Sea-Run Brook Coalition was to check on the array and ensure that it was working properly. The array is actually pretty simple in how it works. A tagged fish swims near an antenna wire strung across the river. The wire is then able to identify the tag and sends a signal through a receiver to a memory drive that can be checked every so often.

The box containing the computer and receiver for the array and the antenna wire running across the river waiting for a tagged fish to swim by. When we got down to the river we discovered that one of the two wires running across the river was functioning and could pick up a dummy tag placed near it. The other antenna wire failed to detect the dummy tag. Upon our further investigation we discovered one of the boxes containing the receiver was sitting in a puddle so that box was unfortunately toast.

This exercise led us to construct a model array on land so we could accurately figure what equipment was good and which had some issues. After many hours of swapping in and out equipment and a late realization that the tuning box needed to be reconfigured, we were able to determine that the replacement equipment was up and functioning. Now all that is left to do is wait and see if any tagged Sea-Run Brook Trout swim by!

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