In 2016, as part of an ongoing Arctic Grayling conservation project in the upper Pembina River watershed (2011 – 2016), members of the Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC) Edmonton Chapter implanted Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags in Arctic Grayling. The objective was to track spawning and post-spawning movements in Dismal Creek, thus helping to broadly locate critical habitats. When fish were initially caught, the tag was injected into the flesh and information such as capture location, fish size, and tag identifier was recorded in a provincial government database.
Prior to 2016, recapture data was obtained using a handheld reader after fish were caught by volunteer anglers. This spring, we deployed long-range antennas in Dismal Creek to record the movement of PIT tagged fish as they moved upstream and downstream in the channel. To date:
- 32% of the Arctic Grayling tagged in Dismal Creek by NLFF/TU volunteers in past years have been detected by the in-stream arrays. These recaptures confirmed the presence of an upstream spawning migration into Dismal Creek, from the Pembina River.
Several grayling were detected mid-April at the downstream antenna and then re-detected at another antenna 25 km upstream. In some cases, grayling made the trip in two days, others took longer.
- There is a large log jam that was previously thought to be a fish passage barrier. Over half of the grayling that the club tagged on Dismal Creek made their way through the log jam this spring, indicating that log jam may not be a total migration barrier as previously thought.
- One fish made its way downstream from the upstream antennae to the downstream antenna in 3 weeks. This individual may have been undertaking a downstream post-spawning migration to the Pembina River, although previous data suggests that most grayling remain Dismal Creek for the summer.
- Some the fish were originally tagged as far as 25 km upstream from the antenna systems, exhibiting a confirmed migration distance exceeding 50 km.
- One PIT tag array (including batteries and solar panels) was made available through a grant from the Alberta Conservation Association.
- The second array was loaned from the TU Canada, Eastern Region. This was a great example of collaboration, as TU staffers identified an opportunity to leverage equipment from a different part of the country.