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 The Char Experiment
While fishing for Arctic char on the Kaldakvisl River in Iceland, I was invited to help with a project run by the Icelandic Fisheries officers to radio tag char and brown trout.
The lower part of the Kaldakvisl is under threat from a proposed dam for hydroelectric power plant at the junction of the Kaldakvisl and Tungnaa rivers. This will effectively destroy the area where Iceland's largest char live.

It is hoped that by radio tagging these fish, a clearer picture of their habits will be obtained, especially regarding migration and breeding. Generally little is known about this aspect of their lives: the fish are always in the river at the start of summer and still there at the end of summer. The rest of the year, access to the area is virtually impossible and until now no one has bothered about where these fish go in winter. It would be a tragedy if a badly sited power plant and lake destroyed access to their spawning grounds and wiped out this unique population.
 
Radio tag ready for attachment

To house the char until the scientists arrived, we installed heavy wooden boxes with slits in the sides and concrete blocks in the base at the end of the main pool in the flow. In these boxes we placed all fish caught over five days. The object was to catch 15 char and five brown trout for tagging.
 
Recovering the fish box

Unfortunately the weather and river water conditions were not always favourable and while 15 char were boxed, the brown trout remained pretty elusive with only one being caught on Day 5.

The fisheries guys arrived and explained the plan. They would attach radio transmitters to each fish. These transmitters, while bulky, are very light and have been used on salmon for the past two years with a very small percentage of fatalities to the fish (less than 2%). The information will be recorded in listening stations along the river and also by overflying the river in an aircraft.

This will give scientists the data necessary to state with confidence where these fish are at any given time. The study will last for 12 months, which is the minimum life of the battery powered transmitter. After this time, a report will be written and published. If as suspected, these fish migrate a substantial distance downstream, it is likely that the proposed dam will be stopped.

The tagging was an interesting procedure. In batches of four, the fish were sedated using clove oil, a natural sedative. They were then measured and the radio tag inserted along the back on the right side using steel wires, large needles and a crimp. In addition, two blue plastic discs were used to make the fish more visible from the bank.
After the tag was added, the fish was placed back in fresh water and allowed to recover before being released. Individual fish took different times to recover and the scientists worked very hard to ensure all the fish were fully fit before being released, so all swam off strongly.
 
These fish have all got their transmitters attached