Fish science and salmon tagging programme

Some observations on the rivers of the Kharlovka area, Kola Peninsula, Russia

by Dr. Ken Whelan

Background

In August, 2014, I visited the rivers of the Kharlovka area as a guest of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve and PINRO, the Polar Research Institute, based in Murmansk (PINRO). This was my second visit to the Kola Peninsula. My visit coincided with the annual electrical fishing and general fish surveys carried out on the rivers by some of PINRO’s scientific staff. I was based for the first week of my stay at the Rynda camp and I stayed at the Kharlovka camp for the remainder of my visit.

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Survey Work

We sampled salmon parr reference sites on the four main river systems (Rynda River, Zolotaya River, Eastern Litza River and the Kharlovka River) and their upper watersheds over the course of the survey. In some of the sites the parr densities and the condition of the juvenile fish we encountered was impressive, relative to those I had encountered on other Kola rivers, where the productivity of some of the sites sampled appeared to be far lower, due to the nature of the habitat and the underlying geology. In a previous article I remarked on the inherently delicate nature of these systems, located as they are in the far north, close to the limits of the range of Atlantic salmon. I concluded that if the Kola rivers were subjected to the same pressures as those of western Europe and southern Canada, they have far less biological buffering capacity and recovery would be a decadal if not a century long process. All of the sites were well populated with parr, which bodes well for future stocks of adult salmon in these systems.

During my visit we also had the opportunity to carry out more general surveys of small areas of the upper watersheds of the Rynda and the Kharlovka systems. These were particularly impressive and comprise vast areas of tundra, dotted with an array of still-waters ranging from large pools, to ponds, to small and large lake systems. They are untouched by modern approaches to freshwater fisheries management, which often include pro-active programmes to control or reduce populations of perceived predators and competitors. It was a wonderful experience to visit and sample discrete parts of these pristine watersheds where the stocks of predatory fish such as pike and perch were apparently in balance, as nature had intended, with the more highly prized angling species such as trout and charr.

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It was also apparent that once you moved on to the tundra proper, above the main stems of the rivers, where the salmon angling beats are located, the biological productivity of the river and lake systems greatly increased. The relatively shallow still-waters held impressive stocks of high quality, resident fish. We surveyed both lake and river systems in these upper watersheds and captured large (1kg to 2kg) brown trout, perch to 1kg and charr to 1.5kg. Over the course of the survey it was quickly apparent why the ASR trout programme had proven so successful. The vast extent of the resource and its inherent natural productivity could in my view provide the basis for a greatly expanded angling programme targeting trout, charr and large perch.

Litza September

Estuaries – Sea Trout

During the course of our work we also had the opportunity to visit several of the river estuaries and the lower sea pools, where we recorded excellent stocks of large, well- conditioned, sea trout. Over the period of my stay I saw anglers catch sea trout to well over 3.5kg and I was shown pictures of even larger sea trout, approaching 7kg in weight. The abundance and high average size of the sea trout could provide the basis for an additional and very valuable component of the trout programme. Recent survey work I carried out around the coast of Ireland clearly indicated the potential for sea trout fishing in the ocean, at or close to river mouths. Many of the prime areas we encountered in Ireland were adjacent to the mouths of small coastal streams and far removed from the traditional sea trout fisheries (medlar press). Survey work along the coast of the Barents Sea, adjacent to the existing camps, might well reveal a valuable, marine- based angling resource which could be targeted by visitors. Further survey work is also required in the estuaries and lower pools, across a full season or two, to identify the prime angling times and the run patterns of the various migratory trout stocks. Fly fishing for sea fish in temperate waters is of increasing interest to anglers and there may well be abundant stocks of other marine species which could be targeted, in conjunction with sea trout fishing, by such a programme.

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Thoughts on a Broader Research and Monitoring Programme

It is apparent from recent research that arctic areas are likely to be strongly impacted by the effects of climate change. By the latter half of this century it may well be that the arctic tundra areas will have witnessed great changes, not least changes affecting the productivity of the freshwater systems. Marine ecosystems are already strongly impacted from such changes and keystone species such as Atlantic salmon have, in recent decades, shown clear evidence of poor marine survival in the North East Atlantic. Not all of the predicted changes are negative and some of the more northerly areas may witness an increase in productivity, as previously ice-bound areas experience milder summer weather and longer growing seasons. I fully realise the cost and logistical challenges of a more broadly based survey programme but it does seem to me that if the owners and managers of these unique river systems are to fully understand the extent of these changes, both positive and negative, it is important to draw together existing data on the basic functional components of these unique systems. The data required to give a comprehensive overview of the status of the Kharlovka watersheds may exist. However, where this is not the case, it is important to establish long-term, basic, physico-chemical, invertebrate and aquatic floral monitoring along with the fish monitoring programme which has been in place for many years.

It is also vitally important to assess where in the ocean the migratory stocks of salmon and sea trout are feeding and to monitor ocean changes in these areas. Modern advances in tracking technologies (atlantic salmon trust/hot topics) and in the development of chemical tracer systems offers the possibility that ships of passage or large fishing vessels may, in the future, be in a position to monitor these keys feeding area, at relatively low cost (atlantic salmon trust/news).

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ASR and PINRO Staff

Finally, I wish to thank the managers and staff of both the Rynda and Kharlovka camps for their kindness and hospitality during my brief stay. I have seen at first hand the quality of the service they deliver, which is second to none. To provide visitors with a consistently professional and high quality experience in such a remote, desolate but stunningly beautiful area, requires unique organisational skills. Every member of the ASR / PINRO team I encountered personified this professional approach to their work. In addition to their commitment in catering for the guests their enthusiasm for the conservation and protection of the resource under their care was most impressive.

Dr. Ken Whelan

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Since 2001 there has been annual salmon tagging and collecting of the fish scales on Kharlovka, Eastern Litza, Rynda and Zolotaya. Almost 250 salmon are tagged every year. The program is carried out within the scientific research of PINRO with the assistance of the guides from the Northern Rivers Company

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Kharlovka river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 7/06/2002
Sex male Length 106 sm.
Weight 30 lbs.
River age 6
Sea age 3 +

This fish is offspring of spawning 1992. It was born from caviar in 1993 and spent 6 years in fresh water in the Kharlovka river system. In summer of 1999 it went like a smolt to the Barents sea, and in June of 2002 has come back to Kharlovka for spawning.

 

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Eastern Litsa river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 9/06/2002
Sex male Length 103 sm.
Weight 28 lbs.
River age 5
Sea age 3 +

This fish is offspring of spawning 1993. It was born in 1994 and spent 5 years in fresh water in the Eastern Litsa river system. In summer of 1999 it went like a smolt to the Barents sea, and in June of 2002 has come back to Eastern Litsa for spawning.

 

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Kharlovka river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 05/06/2002
Sex female Length 100 sm.
Weight 25 lbs.
River age 5 +
Sea age 2 +Sm+1+

This fish is offspring of spawning 1992. It was born in 1993 and spent 5 years in fresh water in the Kharlovka river system. It went out as smolt to the Barents sea in summer 1998. Came back as adult to the river in summer 2000 and then spawned that autumn (Sm). It left river as kelt in spring 2001 and than came back for second spawning in summer 2002 when was caught in Kharlovka.

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Kharlovka river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 11/06/2005
Sex female
Length 81 sm
Weight 16 lbs.
River age 3 +
Sea age 2 +Sm+

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Rynda river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 17/06/2006
Sex female
Length 77 sm.
Weight 14 lbs.
River age 4 +
Sea age 1+Sm+1+ 

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Rynda river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 01/07/2007
Sex female Length 53 sm.
Weight 4 lbs. River age 3 +
Sea age 1+ 

Salmon (Salmo Salar L)
Rynda river, Kola peninsula
Date of catch 10/07/2008
Sex female Length 77 sm.
Weight 14 lbs.
River age 3 +
Sea age 2+

The Northern Rivers Company is one of the largest companies offering sporting fly-fishing on the Kola Peninsula. We have welcomed anglers from the whole world for more than 15 years. In 2003 on initiative of Peter Power a unique recreation and research project Home for Salmon was created.

Over the years of its existence, the Northern Rivers Company has done a large amount of work for protection, conservation and study of the Atlantic salmon. Efficient year-round security is maintained on the Rivers Rynda, Zolotaya, Kharlovka, and Eastern Litza. This has resulted in minimization of poaching.

Jointly with PINRO (the Polar Research Institute of Marine Fish Industry and Oceanography of N.M. Knipovich) large-scale activities are performed to collect research materials every year. In 2002 jointly with Swedish researchers on the Kharlovka River behavior of salmon during the spawning migration was studied with the help of telemetric equipment – that is, by way of radio-tagging.

Since 2003 over 1000 salmon have been tagged with flog-tugs every year which allows monitoring of the salmon numbers. Continuous control over the parr dispersal density is carried out; the age structure and growth rates are analyzed. As the result, the parr density has increased 4.7 times on the average, which is an excellent result to be proud of.

    

The parr density (per 100 m-2) at the spawning grouds of the Rivers Kharlovka, Rynda, Eastern Litza and Zolotaya in 1999-2011. Confidence range is shown.

FISH SCIENCE

The ASR Conservation Project started in 1999. We operate in accordance with the proposed mandate. The protection of our fish stocks is directed by our Operations Director, Volodya Kulagin. He has a staff of 12 full time protection personnel on constant land patrol. They are supported by river authority and armed police officers on helicopter or offshore boat patrol available at any time for “incident” call outs. All activities are coordinated through an elaborate communications system. Operations begin in April by snowmobile and do not end until our fish stocks are protected by the “ice over” end October/November. The results have been remarkable successful as illustrated by the following PINRO Graphs for Salmon Parr (Juveniles) Counts together with our comments:

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Left: Kharlovka    Right: Rynda

Both Kharlovka & Rynda are excellent recovery curves. This is the result of the ‘catch & release’ fishing program since 1998 (End May to mid-Sept) and intensive river guarding since 1999 (April through October). Prior to these programs it is estimated up to 40% of the fish stocks were poached on the Kharlovka and up to 60% on the Rynda.

Eastern Litza Zolotaya

The Eastern Litza graph is a direct reflection of the poaching history. Commercial poaching in lower and middle river continued until the closure of the boarder guard camp in 2002. Meanwhile the upper river was poached by Murmansk professionals through 2003 ending with there employment by NR. It is estimated that up to 80% of the mature fish stocks were removed prior to cessation. There was rampant poaching on the Zolotaya until 2000 when NR began regular fishing and comprehensive guarding. Unfortunately there are no prior records of the parr count but we suspect the salmon population was moving to near destruction by 1998. Recent parr counts are most impressive.

Numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon in Kharlovka river

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1965-1980 Commercial fishery on a counting trap (in average)
1981-1990 Illegal fishery (in average)
1992-2000 Illegal fishery + Sport fishing by ‘Catch & Release’ principle (in average)
2003-2006 Sport fishing by ‘Catch & Release’ principle.
Determination of the numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon by the method of second catching of the tagged salmon.

Numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Litsa river

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1963-1980 Commercial fishery on a counting trap ( in average)
1993-1998 Illegal fishery + sport fishing ( in average)
2003-2006 Sport fishing by ‘Catch &Release’ principle.
Determination of the numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon by the method of second catching of the tagged salmon.

Numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon in Rynda river kp11

1963-1981 Commercial fishery on a counting trap (in average)
1992-1998 Illegal fishery + sport fishing (in average)
2004-2006 Sport fishing by ‘Catch &Release’ principle.
Determination of the numbers of stock of Atlantic Salmon by the method of second catching of the tagged salmon.