top of page

Ground-Truthing Surface Currents in the Saint John Harbour, Bay of Fundy

To be successful in the Bay of Fundy, inshore commercial fishermen must have a vast and detailed knowledge of surface currents. These currents determine how they set fishing gear and when they have access to haul their gear. The development of this knowledge base is intergenerational; passed down from grandparent to child to grandchild. Although there has been oceanographic study of Bay of Fundy currents, the science base is limited and does not contain the level of detail and richness that the fishermen’s knowledge affords.

There is an identified lack of detailed scientific data on Bay of Fundy surface currents outside of Saint John Harbour. To counter this, we have built a knowledge base of nearshore oceanographic and hydrographic data for the area by conducting a study of currents in the Bay of Fundy area using drifters. By comparing the results from these drifters to fishermen’s knowledge of surface currents (collected in 2019), we have made valuable assessments on the seasonal weather conditions influencing currents to examine how those factors may have changed over time. This comparison is particularly relevant in determining the impact of climate change on surface currents by exploring the perceived generational changes fishermen have observed in prevailing wind conditions. 

Considering increased human activity (such as shipping in and around the Saint John Harbour region), documentation of the state of knowledge regarding surface currents (both fishermen’s and science-based) is a key component of characterizing and understanding the coastal marine ecosystem to put in place measures to mitigate potential impacts of these activities on species, habitats, and commercial fisheries throughout the Bay of Fundy. In this project, we focused on how contaminants would potentially travel when influenced by currents (i.e., dispersion of contaminants via surface currents). In doing so, we addressed objectives and priorities under the Coastal Environmental Baseline Program regarding contaminants through enhancing the information on surface currents in and around the Saint John Harbour (SJH). A better understanding of surface currents has contributed to a circulation model that, outside of the scope of this project, could be extremely useful in considering how contaminants may disperse via surface currents in the Bay of Fundy.

The overall goal of this project was to enhance the scientific knowledge of oceanographic currents in the Bay of Fundy through engaging fishermen’s knowledge. Specifically, our project looked to ground-truth fishermen’s knowledge of surface currents; a knowledge base that has been built over multiple generations, through an experimental drifter study. Through this study, we have leveraged information gained through interviews conducted in 2019 about fishermen’s knowledge of surface currents. By determining the accuracy of their knowledge, we are able to advise on management regimes (such as DFO and Transport Canada) and incorporate this information to improve response plans for SJH contaminant spills. This ground-truthing also provides an opportunity to explore any discrepancies between harvester knowledge and drifter results. One potential benefit for future use of this baseline data is the opportunity to explore the impacts of climate change on surface currents over time. This is especially relevant to this project as we compared a historical knowledge base (30 plus years of harvester experience) to drifter trials that began in 2020. It will allow future researchers to explore these implications beyond the scope of this project. 

We also compared results from the drifters and harvester interviews to operational models that are being developed at DFO and internationally for the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy. This enables us to interpret model fit based on the “real world” results of the drifter trials as well as check the historical fit of the model against trends identified by harvesters, and provide valuable input into how well the models are performing. This work would allow us to add pertinent information to the tools available to decision-makers for responding to contaminant spills, as well as information for fisheries science pertaining to research on food sources and species that are dispersed by surface currents, such as plankton and krill. 

Finally, this project offered the opportunity to facilitate relationship-building between harvesters, scientists, and government to improve information sharing on oceanographic currents in the Bay of Fundy. It also helped advance future opportunities for collaboration.


For more information, please see a Story Map with some of the project results. 

bottom of page