Impact of Giving

New Brunswick student researches innovative approach to monitor wild Atlantic salmon populations

Author: Development and Donor Relations

Posted on Dec 19, 2023

Category: Scholarships and Bursaries

For Jagger Watters-Gray, exploring new ways to monitor the health and diversity of wild Atlantic salmon populations seems almost instinctive after growing up along the rivers and streams of his native New Brunswick.

Jagger, a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences at the University of New Brunswick, is a recent recipient of the Bud and Peggy Bird Scholarship which is given to a graduate student directly engaged in research in support of Atlantic salmon conservation.

Jagger says the $4,000 award is indirectly helping his research because it enables him to live without financial hardship. “The biggest thing with any scholarship, including the Bud and Peggy Bird, is that it gives me financial security so I can actually focus on my research and continue to do my research rather than having to focus on other things to bring in money,” he says.

Jagger, a native of Perth-Andover, says he grew up in a family that was oriented towards an interest in biology. He spent his days fishing and exploring the woods and waterways of the St. John River Valley. He was an undergraduate student at UNB from 2016 until 2020, before entering graduate school.

His research focuses on an innovative sampling technique for Atlantic salmon called environmental DNA. Living organisms are always shedding their DNA into surrounding environments. In the case of salmon, it is possible to extract and analyze their DNA from water samples using molecular methods.

“My research is focusing on how we can use environmental DNA to monitor the abundance and genetic diversity of Atlantic salmon populations,” he says. “If we can get information on Atlantic salmon populations by just taking a cup of water, that is much easier than some of the extensive monitoring efforts that take place now.”

Jagger says environmental DNA methods are not meant to replace current monitoring efforts for Atlantic salmon but he hopes his research will give scientists and managers more options for gathering data.

The scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from the Chairman Emeritus of the Miramichi Salmon Association, J.W. “Bud” Bird (LLD ’87), an enthusiastic salmon angler and conservationist, and his late wife Peggy, who died in 2013. Bud recently created a new Bud Bird – ASF Wild Salmon Grant for undergraduate Indigenous students in Forestry and Environmental Management or Faculty of Science.

Bud’s support is helping ensure that the mystery of declining wild Atlantic salmon stocks continues to be addressed by research in order to restore their numbers and secure their habitat for the future.

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