Determining Life History Traits of Genetically Distinct Atlantic Salmon

Successful Applicant:
Canadian Rivers Institute

Award:
$10,350

Project Title:
Determining Life History Traits of Genetically Distinct Atlantic Salmon


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Project Summary:

Recently, a large study of salmon genetics identified a unique genetic strain in the north eastern corner of Prince Edward Island. To follow this up, CRI@UPEI undertook a finer scale genetic analysis of PEI salmon populations that was funded in part by the WCF. This presence of this unique strain, in combination with the high level of success that SAB have had with salmon management in the eastern region has significant practical implications for salmon management on PEI. If the unique genetic strain in the region imparts significant advantages for the PEI stages of the salmon life cycle, the practical application is that we have been going about salmon conservation incorrectly, by stocking unsuitable genetics. Might these genetics help us restore salmon to self-sustaining populations on other parts of PEI?

Genetics alone will not tell us if these salmon possess traits that increase their fitness as compared to non-native salmon. The present project followed on for this and seeks to determine the unique life history traits of this genetic strain. Thus, we believe the ultimate practical application will be to entirely change how we restore and conserve Atlantic Salmon populations in most of PEI, moving away from hatchery based stocking, and implanting eggs of the appropriate genetic stock to survive and thrive in the PEI environment, an increasing the probability of those fish returning to spawn.

The objectives of this proposal were to initiate work to determine the return rates of Atlantic salmon smolts to North Lake Creek and to determine the reproductive behaviour of adult Atlantic salmon in North Lake Creek. It is hypothesized that genetically distinct Atlantic salmon as found in North Lake creek are better adapted to PEI streams and the recent success of Atlantic salmon in the region are driven by excellent return rates. Furthermore, we hypothesize that salmon in North Lake Creek have a unique reproductive strategy, and due to the small size of PEI stream, only enter the streams briefly to spawn in the late fall, unlike other populations in the region. Salmon likely make multiple trips into the stream to spawn, returning to the sea or estuary between spawning events.