Monday, October 20, 2014

Four more on the board

We had another great day on the water...we met the F/V Carrie Anne and F/V Nicole Brandy from Arisaig right off Port Hood early Sunday morning. Before we even had our bait, Captain Steve MacInnis aboard the Carrie Anne was hooked up. The fish was tagged and released and our busy day on the water continued with two consecutive fish from Captain Bernie Chisholm on the Nicole Brandy. We finally got our hooks in the water after lunch...and once again, while the sun was setting we hooked into a nice 700 lber.

We didn't make it out today, but we are hoping to get back on the water tomorrow and Wednesday.

Dr. Steve Wilson release a bluefin tuna with the Bay Queen IV crew
Captain Bernie and his son Kenny prepare to pass us a fish
Waiting for the bite

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Canada 2014

The 2014 Canadian tagging season has begun with two fish tagged and released. We had a beautiful day on the water and we will be at it again tomorrow.

Llyod McInnis fishing a bluefin
Sunset while heading back to the dock in Port Hood.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Morocco Trap Tagging

Divers pick out individual fish to be tagged from the holding pen at the end of the trap system.
Divers guide a bluefin tuna into the supersized sling.
A bluefin tuna is lifted out of the holding pen by crane.
The bluefin being measured.
Scientist Noureddine Abid from INRH puts a piece of bluefin DNA into a vial.
TAG Scientists Robbie Schallert, Pablo Cermeno, and Barbara Block. traveled to Morocco in May to work with scientists from the Moroccan National Institute of Fisheries Research (INRH) and the tuna trap "Es-Sahel" (Larache, Morocco), owned by Société Maromadraba. The objective was to gain more insight into the migratory patterns of large bluefin tuna in the North Atlantic. These particular fish arrive annually in the Spring on their way to spawn inside the Mediterranean. And the traps, as described by Dr. George Shillinger (Moroccan Traps), catch some of the bluefin on their journey...this provides scientists with a fantastic opportunity to tag and release many "giants" quickly and easily. This is the third year our TAG team has been to the traps as part of our our collaborative work with ICCAT and WWF to place Wildlife Computers' mini-PAT tags on the 300-500 lb fish.

Dr. Block carefully inserts a satellite tag before the fish is released outside of the trap.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Canada 2013: Epic Tagging

Dr. Steve Wilson and Robbie Schallert tag a giant bluefin
in Port Hood, Nova Scotia

The TAG team is up in Canada where we’ve had an epic 5 days of nonstop bluefin tagging.  I’m Ethan Estess from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University’s Tuna Research and Conservation Center, here with TAG scientists Robbie Schallert and Dr. Steve Wilson of Stanford University. We came to Port Hood, Nova Scotia on September 27th to work with Mike Stokesbury’s team from Acadia University to study giant bluefin in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. 

TAG team Dr. Steve Wilson, Robbie Schallert (center), and Cpt. Dennis Cameron (at head irrigating the gills)

We awoke on the 28th to flat calm seas and sunny skies. The Tag-A-Giant team headed out with Captain Dennis Cameron and Craig of the Bay Queen IV and Bernie and Steve of the Carrie Anne.  The bait had barely hit the water when we hooked up on a giant bluefin tuna.  An hour later the 270cm fish was on the tagging mat and a minute later it was back out the door, outfitted with an acoustic and pop-up archival tag (PAT).  These tags will help unlock the mysteries of bluefin migratory patterns and spawning cycles, providing critical information for their management and conservation.   To date most of these Canadian giants have been tracked to the Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds, but a few (less then 2%) make their way to the Mediterranean Sea.

A giant bluefin being reeled in by the crew of the Bay Queen IV

The bluefin were there in force to feed on the large schools of herring in the region.  We double tagged 6 fish with acoustics and pop-ups, and many of these fish were the largest I've seen.  All of Sunday’s fish were over 260cm, easily weighing 800 pounds or more.  These fish were extremely well fed and very big around!

Measuring the length of a giant bluefin

Over the next 3 days we deployed 14 more electronic tags in perfect fishing conditions.  Cape Breton is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and we were surrounded by spectacular wildlife.  Hundreds of pilot whales, or “blackfish” as our captain called them, circled our boat throughout.  They were there for the same reason the bluefin were- to feed on the massive schools of herring spawning along the island.   Gannets dive-bombed and grey seals bobbed along with curious glances towards our bait.  One of the highlights of the trip was placing a tag in the largest giant bluefin TAG has ever tagged- a 313cm bluefin we tagged and released.  This behemoth barely fit on the deck of the Day Queen IV.  This fish is surely a spawner, and hopefully its PAT tag will teach us about bluefin spawning locations and behaviors in the Gulf of Mexico.

Surrounded by hungry pilot whales with our other fishing vessel
the Carrie Anne in the background

Cape Breton sunset

Friday, July 5, 2013

Eagle Eye and Homing Pigeon


On September 23rd and 24th, 2012...TAG Canada deployed two miniPATs on bluefin tuna 270cm and 283 cm respectively. On July 1st, they popped off in separate off the East Coast of the US and the other off the west coast of Cape Breton. And so the hunt for the satellite tag see if our scientists are able to recover the tag, we can download the entire archival record of the tag,  ie. we get more information about where the fish have traveled. But, imagine trying to spot a small float with an antenna sticking up in the open ocean...even on a flat calm day it is virtually impossible. So we deployed our best scout team, Dennis "Eagle Eye" Cameron and Jeff "Homing Pigeon" Beardsall, to try and find the proverbial needle in a hay stack.
Here is a picture of the 283cm fish right before it was tagged on Sept. 24th.
From Jeff Beardsall (who was in the field looking for the tag in Nova Scotia):

My initial reaction to the whole hunt was how cooperative the weather was, and the very nice timing of the whole thing. For about 4 or 5 days prior to the tag releasing the weather had been terrible (rain and wind), so had the tag released earlier we would have had to sit and watch it float out to sea. On top of the weather Dennis had mentioned the boat was out of service for some quick repairs, and the refueling kept him on shore until the moment he left. On his steam up the coast to Pleasant Bay the wind and waves were up and he was thinking that the weather was going to be a huge obstacle in spotting the tag.

Meanwhile I'm tearing across the province in a classic adventure vehicle (1997 Jeep Cherokee) on roads that haven't been resurfaced in about 20 years (my best guess) with urgency after getting off the phone with Steve who had mentioned the tag was taking a line for the Cabot Strait, and once something gets caught in that tide current it moves easterly fast into open ocean. So in my mind it was a race against the currents. At about 4:30pm AST I was climbing a mountain on the west coast of Cape Breton and finally the sun blasted through the days-worth of clouds... a welcome sight to say the least. So I arrive at Pleasant Bay Harbor around 4:55; Dennis had been waiting for about 10 minutes (so not long at all considering the length of the trip), and finished up a casual conversation with another tuna fisherman as I hopped out. we threw the gear on board, and by the time I had the car parked the boat's diesel was chugging away and Dennis was starting to turn the vessel towards the sea. I hopped on the boat and we started the 15nm steam to the last position of the tag. At this point we were well out of cellular signal and our latest tag position was already 30 minutes old.

We turned on the PTT locator about 5nm from our coordinates, and approximately 1nm from our coordinates we heard out first signal. We continued to move ahead and the signal strength continued to rise, and then there was a radical drop in signal. We arrived to the coordinates and found a big mass of wrack (sticks, seaweed, and other types of debris), and we still had signals but the strength suggested the tag was at least 500m in any direction. At this point Dennis explained to me that there are two prevailing currents at that spot... one closer to shore that flowed into the Cabot Strait and out to ocean, and another slightly further offshore that runs northeast up the western shore of Cape Breton but turns west and back into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. We turned east hoping to catch up to the tag if it had got caught in the eastern current, and much to our pleasure the signal strength dropped quickly. We turned 180 heading back west to the other side of our wrack float... again the signal strength increased up to the wrack and then dropped off to the west of the wrack (another good sign). So we go back to the wrack and bear north and the signals increase. Just about 4 minutes of this and we've hit maximum signal strength so we cut the engine and drift with the seaweeds and jellyfish keeping four watchful eyes on the water. I was looking off port side and Dennis was in the captains seat looking starboard. Dennis called out "THERE IT IS!" and I whipped around. Plain as day we could see the conspicuous "whip" of the tag antennae bobbing about. the surface was about as calm as a backyard pool. I grabbed our dipnet and Dennis maneuvered the boat to the tag as if he had done it a thousand times. We snagged it out of the water on our first pass, gave some congratulatory highfives and hand shakes and turned back to shore.

On our way back we knew the universe was pleased because the sun was big and bright over the water, the highlands were awesome shades of green with shadows casting in the river valleys... Dennis even remarked he hasn't seen a prettier view of Cape Breton. And when we thought the whole excitement was over, we ran into the stars of the show themselves; a couple schools of bluefin tunas. Some big ones, some "small" ones, but they were casually breaking the surface. We imagined they were jumping for joy, but they were probably just warming up in the surface waters. Got to shore and we said ""Well that was almost too easy.. but we'll take it!" I unloaded the gear, and neither of us wasted any time getting back on our respective roads (mine was an actual road, Dennis was taking the watery road) back home. We joked that we thought this tag was going to be the one to ruin our perfect record... because when you have a perfect record you tend get the feeling the next one is going to be the hardest one.
See if you can see the tag.
The tag safe and sound after a long journey!

Gulf of Saint Lawrence after a successful mission!
Now the data can be analyzed back at Stanford University...initial reports are that the fish may have traveled all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and back to Nova Scotia where it was originally tagged.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuna trap tagging takes teamwork!

Our tagging efforts, initially scheduled to commence on May 14th, following the ICCAT SCRS Meeting, were delayed due to heavy winds and anxious seas, which posed too much risk for both the divers and the tuna.  After waiting five days for the winds to subside and the seas to calm, we headed to the port town of Larache on May 19 and attempted to initiate the tagging operation.  Although the winds had calmed, the swell remained high, and still posed too much risk for the team, but weather forecasts appeared promising for the following morning. 

Waiting for a calm weather window.
Image: George Shillinger
Anchors await deployment at the Société Maromadraba offices in Larache, Morocco.  
Image: Pablo Cermeño  
We decided to divide the tag deployment efforts into two different methodologies to examine for any bias in movement behavior that might be associated with the tagging procedures.  One-half of the PAT-tagged fish (n=7) would be tagged on board and the other half would be tagged in the water while the fish were in the chamber.

Diver guides tuna into the ‘tagging chamber’.
Image: George Shillinger

Artisanal fishermen assist with the tag deployment effort.
Image: George Shillinger

Fishermen prepare the trap for tagging.
Image: George Shillinger
The trapped fish were lead into a smaller chamber, surrounded by the fishermen. The fishermen worked to manually lift the nets, and brought the tuna to a depth (~ 20m) accessible to the divers.  Divers manually captured each tuna and shepherded them into slings, where they rolled over underwater, belly side up.    

Fishermen draw the nets while divers await access to the trapped fish.
Image: George Shillinger

Lowering the giant tuna sling into the tagging chamber -- to awaiting divers and fish.
Image: George Shillinger

Tuna and diver square off in the trap.
Image: George Shillinger

A skilled tuna trap diver captures and rolls a bluefin, in preparation for maneuvering the fish into the sling.
Image: George Shillinger
A huge stretcher and a crane were used to hoist the tuna onboard the tagging vessel. The remainder of the tagging operation followed standard TAG deployment procedures used in North Carolina, Canada, and elsewhere around the world.  The team double-tagged seven fish (ranging from ~215-250 cm CFL) with seven Wildlife Computer mini-PATs and seven VEMCO V16 acoustic tags. An additional tuna was tagged with a single Vemco V16 acoustic tag.  The following morning, another seven fish were tagged in the water with Wildlife Computer mini-PATs.

A bluefin is released from the sling following a successful double-tag (mini-PAT and acoustic) deployment.
Image: George Shillinger

Carefully coordinated teamwork is essential for successful tag deployments on Moroccan trap tuna.
Image: George Shillinger
This year’s Moroccan trap tagging effort was an outstanding success and an excellent example of collaborative research linking together artisanal fishermen, scientists, and fisheries managers. 

Dr. Pablo Cermeño smiles as another tagged tuna departs the trap.
Image: George Shillinger

The 2013 Morocco Atlantic bluefin tagging team.
Image: George Shillinger
The ancient Moroccan trap fishery presents a unique opportunity to expand the state of knowledge about bluefin tuna research and conservation, and TAG is proud to contribute to this effort!