Wednesday, November 7, 2007

First Data From Canada!

The first pop-up satellite archival tag (PAT) deployed last month in Nova Scotia popped up right on schedule and we now have data giving us a preliminary glimpse into the behavior of giant bluefin tuna up in those cold northern waters. This tag was programmed to release from the fish after only three days, and the fish was tagged with a longer-term PAT as well. These tags are primarily used as survivorship tags to garner information on where the tagged fish have moved to post-handling at the vessel during tag and release operations.

As you can see from this map, this fish which we measured to be 272 cm in length (translating to 339 kg or 747 lbs in weight) moved a little way north up the Cape Breton coast in the three days between when we tagged it and when the tag popped up. We’re eager to see where it will move to by the time the longer-term tag we also attached to it pops up!

In addition to giving us a highly accurate measurement of the location where the tag popped off, the PAT tag transmits to satellites data on the depths and temperatures that the fish occupied, which tell us a great deal about the behavior of the fish. In the graph below you can see the temperatures and depths the fish experienced over the course of the three day deployment. The y-axis (i.e., the vertical axis) on the graph shows depth, while the x-axis (horizontal) indicates date. Water temperature is then shown via the color scale, with red temperatures indicating warmer waters and blue indicating colder. What you can see is that there is a region in the water column from the surface to about 30 m in depth where water temperatures are relatively constant at around 13C because the water in this layer is well-mixed. Below this mixed layer is a region referred to as the thermocline where temperatures drop rapidly. You can also see that the depth of the thermocline became slightly shallower over the course of the three days as the fish swam northwards.

This next graph shows the proportion of time during which the fish was in waters of particular temperatures. You can see that it spent most of its time in the 12-14 degree waters of this mixed layer and only spent a small proportion of each day in the colder and deeper waters of the thermocline. We think what it's doing is hanging out in the warmer waters of the mixed layer that it finds more comfortable, making only brief forays into the colder waters below to feed on the prey that must be found there. As we get more data back from the longer-term tag attached to this fish, and from the other fish tagged in these Nova Scotian waters, well learn much more about how the fish behave in this cold water region.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Oh Canada! Thanks for Getting the Giant Bluefin Tagged

Canadian tagging continued in the past two days with super fall weather, calm seas and more success tagging giant bluefin. The Canadian fleet of "TAG" vessels working off Port Hood with Dalhousie Scientists, Dr. Mike Stokebury and Aaron Spares continued tagging with Captain Dennis Cameron and mate Sheldon Gillis of Port Hood, along with vessels specifically working for the TAG team from PEI and New Brunswick. In the past two days 4 more giants were captured brought on board the designated surgery vessel measured, and released successfully with Wildlife Computers Pop up satellite archival tags. The largest fish in the past few days was a butterball of a bluefin- measuring 292 cm CFl and had a half girth of 111 cm. That is one fat fish. The TAG A Giant team has completed the mission- and together we've tagged 15 Giants and 4 have double tags (second short term pop up or an archival). We're very enthusiastic about this effort and look forward to reporting the results.

The Cooperation of the local vessels in the region has been fantastic. Everyone mastered catching, transferring and releasing fish "TAG style" quickly. We have made new friends in this spectacular Cape Breton region and the memories will last a long time. The long term pop up satellite tags are set for 240, 270 and 300 days- and hopefully they will remain on the fish. The major objective is to learn when and if these giants are moving into the Gulf of Mexico for breeding. The tagging effort will be augmented with genetic efforts to identify these fish.

The pictures here show Dr. Mike Stokesbury working with a giant tuna, Bruce Kues of PEI catching a giant- and Steve McGinnis- who captured the last fish today- for the tag team.

Thanks to everyone in the region for making the TAG effort for bluefin successful! These are the largest Giants ever tagged anywhere on the Globe- Thank you Canada.
Yours truly, Dr. Barbara Block, Stanford University

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All Canada Team Tags 4 More Giants

We're pleased to report our all Canada TAG team led by Dr. Mike Stokesbury today

tagged 4 more giant bluefin with a small fleet of TAG boats from Nova Scotia and PEI. The team reports the fish were in the 800 to 900# class. While I am back in my laboratory at Stanford- I am still thinking about the fishing and the giants. It was an awesome place- and considering we were only there a week- its an amazing story to be able to tag such large giant bluefin. Cape Breton was spectacular as a venue and our TAG Surgery vessel Captain Mr. Dennis Cammeron and mate Sheldon Gillis were remarkable people. Our techniques that we've been using- work well- the lip hooks are specially designed titanium hooks that the folks who've done this the most (Andre and Mike) put in the fish at the edge of the lower jaw. We than use as many folks as necessary to pull the fish on the boat- the use of the vinyl slippery mat makes the fish- easy up relatively easy. We irrigate the bluefin on deck- and we see them absolutely enjoy the flow of seawater sucking oxygen as we tag them- you can watch as the opercle flaps

actually move. Than we place the tag in the dorsal side- or sew in an archival- and within 3' we're spinning hte fish around with the mat- and shooting the fish out the door. They kick hard as they say good bye to the

tag team. Currently all the fish are in the 275 to 305 cm class (curved length). The tags all carry a mortality program and thus far we're pleased to say- all systems are go- these fish are surviving just fine. The first fish carried a double mortality tag program- two tags to be sure on survivorship- one short term that popped up and showed the fish making regular dives just after release from the surface to about 50 m depth. This fish's tag popped up some 27 nm from the tagging location and headed to the north.

I've put up a photo of last weeks operations- hopefully with some good weather the TAG team will get all the allocated tags in the ocean and we'll get a better handle on foraging behavior, migrations and spawning location for these Canadian giants.

Friday, October 19, 2007

5 more giants tagged in Canada!

The TAG team was back on the water today and tagged five more giant bluefin. All were in the 900-1,100 pound range. For the first time in TAG history, one of the tagged fish was so big that the trusted 300 cm measuring tape was not long enough to measure it. We'll post photos when the team is back in the lab.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tag-A-Giant in Canada!

Drs. Barbara Block and Andre Boustany are currently up in the small fishing community of Port Hood on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. The bluefin fishery there targets fish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and is known for the very large size of fish that visit those cold northern waters in late summer and early fall. Barbara and Andre are heading up a team that is trying to tag some of those big fish.

Today was their first day on the water, and they caught three fish. One was lost, but they tagged the other two, one of which was 273 cm long and estimated to be 1000 lbs in weight! The weather looks good for tomorrow, and hopefully they'll be successful again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tagging Giants Down Under - #6 - 5 more Giants!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the sixth entry in his seven-part series .

After our extremely successful 24 hour tagging trip, we headed to Westport to drop off the 4Gs and pick up the two passengers for the next charter – father and son team of Owen and Trevor Hart.

By mid-afternoon, we were underway again --- heading South following reports of giant tuna occurring en route to Greymouth. The weather had taken a tuna for the worse and another low pressure front had closed in on the South Island. Heavy rains poured down upon us as we raced through increasing winds and swells to the fishing grounds. Shortly before midnight, about 40 miles south of Westport, Captain Larry picked up some marks on the sonar that suggested bluefin were in the vicinity.

Without a trawler nearby to draw the fish to the surface, we began chunking hoki bait in an attempt to bring the tuna to our boat.

Within seconds we had a fish on – but after a gallant fight in the driving rain, the fish was lost at the leader when the hook pulled out. This was the first fish that we’d lost on the trip – and it was followed in quick succession by another giant tuna that snapped the leader as it approached the rail.

We tagged our first fish (~ 260 kg) of the second charter after a 65 min battle at 1:40 a.m. Adrain wired the fish beautifully (caught by Trevor) and it came up alongside the boat for a perfect tag strike. The father and son team fished non-stop for the next 10 hours --- catching and releasing three more tuna, including a huge fish that Captain Larry estimated to weigh over 350 kg!

Our final fish was a 300+ kg beauty that was caught by Captain Larry in 30 minutes on a hand line (tossed on the starboard side of a hoki trawler that was swarming with big fish) with a hoki-baited circle hook.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #5 - 400+ kg!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the fifth entry in his seven-part series.

Within less than twelve hours, the Greymouth Gourmet Guzzlers Group (4Gs) had caught and released four giant tuna. After exchanging salutations with a Kiwi observer standing on the deck of a Russian trawler, we were alerted to the nearby presence of a school of giant tuna.

The tuna were gathered in numbers at the trawler’s stern. They moved wraithlike through the water in pursuit of detritus and waste that spilled from the ship’s onboard fish processing plant. Our jaws dropped in awe, as we watched one tuna after another rising to the surface, flashing momentarily, and then disappearing in unison under the passing swells.

Adrian and Josh worked quickly to rig a giant hoki bait and Captain Larry found position alongside the trawler, aiming the Cerveza 2 so that she would pass within meters of the cod end of the bag. The bait hit the water, swung past the trawler’s stern, and fell into our boat wake. Within seconds the bouncing hoki was slammed by a monster tuna.

But it was a short bite --- the tuna spit the hook, and left us with jaws agape. In frustration (and anticipation, we raced back to the trawler to throw another hoki into the water. Within seconds another giant tuna slammed the bait – fish on! Line screamed off the reel and the pole bent nearly double as the fish took off on a scorching run!

Nearly 2.5 hours later, at approximately 12:17 p.m. a.m. on August 18, 2007, Mike Trousleau “landed” into the biggest tuna that Captain Larry Johnson and his crew had ever seen. As the fish came to the rail, the anglers, captain, and crew were confronted with the decision to either “land and carry” or “tag and release” a potential world record fish. The decision was simple and unanimous. We were not about to miss the opportunity to tag this beautiful bluefin!

Wireman, Adrian Stokes, masterfully restrained the giant fish alongside the boat and lined it up perfectly for me to make the tag stick. I aimed the dart for a spot just in front (2”) and below (3”) the leading edge of the tuna’s second dorsal fin and moved quickly to avoid crossing paths with Adrian and the mighty fish.

With the tag safely deployed, deckie Josh Worthington bravely leaned over the rail to capture a DNA sample. As Adrain clung to the wire, Josh grasped the tuna’s right pectoral fin with his left hand and successfully clipped the fin. We had a sample for the biggest New Zealand bluefin on record!

We released the big bluefin seconds later and watched it drift back for a moment behind the boat, before turning and righting itself with several strong tail thrusts – diving into the depths with the tag in tow.

Although excitement was in the air, it seemed that the bluefin fared better from the battle than fisherman, Mike Trusleau. That said, we established that Mike was a legend for this display of fishing prowess but, more importantly, we were thankful to Mike and his friends from the 4Gs for their commitment to “catch-tag-release!”

Tagging Giants Down Under - #4 - Tags Out!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the fourth entry in his seven-part series.

The scream of the reel and the flex in the rod sent our adrenaline levels soaring. Mike Truseleau, the first angler in the chair, could only hold the rod and watch in amazement as the fish took off on a scorching run. Seventy minutes and two anglers later (Kevin Beems joined the fight) the fish was flashing below us. A short but interminable leader’s length was all that remained to bring the fish into tagging distance….

With Captain Larry at the helm and deckhand, Josh Worthington, manning the chair, our ace wireman, Adrian Stokes, seized the leader and masterfully brought the tuna to the rail.

The fish was gorgeous! She appeared every bit of 250 kilos! As Adrian struggled to bring the fish to the surface, I worked to find the best possible tagging angle. Over-the-side tagging on no sleep, in a rocking boat in big swells in the pre-dawn darkness is no easy feat. The tuna rolled in the boat wake and fought vigorously at the leader, requiring me to constantly change my approach and position – searching for the best possible stick while simultaneously staying clear of the wireman and the tight line!

At last, persistence and patience paid off and the perfect tagging moment arrived! Adrian positioned the fish at the surface on its left side as Captain Larry slowly advanced the boat, allowing water and oxygen to flow freely over the tuna’s gills. I planted the tag deep into the tuna’s dorsal musculature on its right flank, approximately three inches below the leading edge of its second dorsal fin.

During the course of the next four hours, we tagged and released three more giant Pacific bluefin. Each of the Greymouth Guzzlers (4Gs) took a turn in the chair and the bluefin bite stayed white-hot!

Ian (Beau) Boustridge “landed” the second fish at 7:15 a.m. – a beauty that Captain Larry estimated to weigh 280 kilos. Josh bravely volunteered to assist with DNA collection and as Adrian held the wire, Josh took a clipping from the giant’s pectoral fin. Collection of the DNA from the tagged fish proved extremely difficult during last year’s tagging and Josh’s effort represented our first specimen from a tagged NZBFT!

The next fish, the largest yet --- was an estimated 330 kilo behemoth, caught and released by Greymouth dentist, Dr. Garry Rae. While fighting the tuna, Garry quipped that “his friends would probably pay to finally see the dentist suffering in the chair.”

The fishing was so good and so non-stop, that the boat’s owner, Dave Wooff, took his turn in the chair too. Dave promptly hooked up with another giant – and within 45 min, the 4th fish of the morning had been tagged and released!

The fishing off Westport was “off-the-hook.” The fishing reports of monster tuna had been validated and the long wait in Greymouth had been worth every minute. Captain Larry and his crew were making sure that we took full advantage of our limited weather window. We were building an amazing dataset and we were determined to finish the job. Sportfishers off New Zealand’s West Coast were shattering records for giant Pacific bluefin tuna. We were determined to tag more of these fish and to collect as much DNA as possible.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #3 - Fish On!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the third entry in his seven-part series.

The excitement mounted as we pulled within earshot of the trawler. The stern of the trawler was illuminated in bright lights. The silhouettes of hundreds of seabirds mobbed the trawler’s stern and danced around the incoming net. Even as thousands of kilos of dead and dying hoki rolled into trawler, the sea was alive around the boat. A cacophony of seabirds pierced the night sky, overwhelming the din of the trawler’s gear and the sound of our own engines as we approached the scene. In the water, seals darted around the net, scooping up fish from the net and fish-processing offal spilling from the trawler’s scuppers. The photo above shows a tuna feeding on hoki at the bag (left corner of bag).

Captain Larry positioned Creveza alongside the trawler, so close that we could see the faces of the men working the trawl net high on the port side above us.

As we drifted and swung off the trawler’s stern and past the incoming net, Adrian flung the hoki bait into the current. We were hooked up in seconds – fish on (photo above)!!!!

Tagging Giants Down Under - #2 - On the Grounds at Last!

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the second entry in his seven-part series.

Sixty miles from Greymouth and two false alarms later, we were chasing hoki trawlers off Westport (photo above). Our sleepless and hard-working crew was ready with the bait --- large specimens of thawing hoki attached dangling from jumbo circle hooks (photo above).

Captain Larry was adamant about the importance of fishing with the best possible gear and terminal tackle. We were armed with Shimano Tiagra 130A reels, rigged with 130 lb line and 650 lb leader, on Shimano Tiagra bent butt rods.

The crew, Adrian Stokes (First Mate and wireman) and Josh Worthington (deckhand) worked intensively to insure that all leaders and knots were tied properly and that terminal tackle was in the best possible condition before the gear entered the water.

Tagging Giants Down Under - #1 - The Search Begins

TAG scientist George Shillinger is back from his incredibly successful tagging expedition in New Zealand and is ready to share his adventures. Below is the first entry in his seven-part series.

After nearly ten days of waiting, the skies cleared and the seas calmed enough for us to brave the Greymouth Bar and run for the Hokitika Trench. A long-awaited high pressure front cleared the way for us and we raced to the docks intent to capitalize on this short-lived opportunity.

The captain and crew were abuzz with news – fresh reports of jumbo size tuna breaking rods and tearing up tackle in rough waters off the coast of Westport, more than 70 miles north of Greymouth. I arrived at our vessel, Cerveza (photo above), around 10:00 p.m. with Capitan Larry Johnson. The crew was working hard, rigging gear for the giant tuna, and preparing the boat for the 36 intense hours of fishing that awaited. The passengers had gathered in the galley, anxiously awaiting our departure.

The passengers comprised a crack team of local sportsfisherman from the “Greymouth Gourmet Guzzlers Group” (4Gs, see photo above). In their spare time, the Guzzlers were coinsurers of New Zealand’s finest wines, rich cheeses, and fresh game and seafood. The 4Gs had gathered for their first-ever crack at fishing giant bluefin tuna. They had heard tales from West Coast commercial fisherman and local charter boat captains and wanted to partake in the amazing bluefin action.

After giving our requisite safety briefing, Captain Larry Johnston headed for the wheelhouse, with Ian Boustridge (Beau), and I following him up to the second deck to witness our transit over the Greymouth Bar during high tide in the cloak of darkness. Although the waters had calmed significantly in the past few days, we rocked and rolled past the harbor mouth, over the Greymouth Bar and out into the big winter swells of the Southern Ocean. We were on our way at last – on a quest for giant tuna!

Friday, August 24, 2007

On the Board in France!

Dr. Andy Seitz just reported that the team tagged their first Atlantic bluefin tuna in the waters off Carry Le Rouet, France. A pop-up satellite archival tag was deployed on a 57" bluefin tuna. They took tissue samples for genetic analysis from three smaller fish that they caught and released. There was a lot of fish activity in the area, and they'll be back on the water tomorrow for more fishing. Hopefully they'll get some more tags out!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

12 Giant Bluefin Tagged in New Zealand!

This just in, from a quick phone call from George Shillinger, who's on his way back from New Zealand. In the last posting he sent, he was getting ready to jump on a small sport fishing boat and head out 70 nautical miles from Greymouth to shadow the hoki trawlers for bluefin. The short story is that he tagged a dozen giant bluefin tuna, including a thousand-pound fish, the largest that the skipper, a veteran of 20 years' fishing in those waters, had ever seen. All together, George said, those 12 fish that were caught and released would be worth $800,000 (bluefin are a very expensive fish!). He took video, so we'll see some images as soon as he returns.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last-Ditch Effort to Find Bluefin

TAG scientist and Stanford Ph.D. student George Shillinger sent this update from New Zealand...

Great news --- We are heading out tonight!

I am with Pete Saul, a seasoned saltwater fisherman from Tutukaka, North Island. Pete (along with John Holdsworth) are co-founders of Blue Water Marine Research, a fisheries consulting company specializing in pelagic and sportsfisheries. Pete is also a writer and submits columns to Blue Water Magazine in Australia, Trade A Boat in New Zealand, and other West Pacific marine pubs.

Quite serenditiously, we encountered a New Zealand media personality, Graeme Sinclair, while we were waiting for word on weather at our hotel. Graeme was here to do a story on Greymouth and big bluefin. Graeme's colleagues spotted my Tag-A-Giant jacket and immediately wanted to know more. As it turns out, Pete has also known Graeme for years -- and, in short order, Graeme kindly offered to let us both join him on a bluefin fishing trip tonight off Westport.

This is an outstanding opportunity (no pun intended) but, fortuitiously, Larry Johnson, skipper of our partner vessel, Cerveza, has also kindly invited one of us to join his crew and fishers for a run to Westport tonight. Pete and I have decided to divide and conquer. I will depart with Larry at 10:00 p.m. and Pete is en route to Westport right now to meet with Graeme and his crew on the vessel Jewel.

So, our patience in Greymouth may finally be rewarded with a chance to tag some huge tuna tonight and tomorow. Large groups of huge tuna have been spotted around hoki trawlers off Westport , about 70 miles north by sea, and all of the local vessels are already there or en route soon. The reports are excellent -- up to 30 fish have been spotted around a single trawler.
The hoki trawlers come from all over the world. Many of the boats are from Eastern Europe (especially Russia), but there are also several boats from Korea and Japan. New Zealand also has a number of trawlers.

The ships basically circumnavigate a trench within which the hoki have concentrated to spawn. The boats move in circles around the clock, setting and hauling in their trawl nets. Hoki is a mid-water trawling fishery -- the nets are not dragged along the bottom and don't tear up the sea floor. The sportfishing vessels follow the trawlers and target the giant bluefin that are chasing the dead and dying hoki spilling from the trawl nets.

The hoki boats operate on a quota system. A hoki quota is allocated to the industry players and distributed across all fishing vessels. Once the quota has been filled, the hoki fishing ceases. The hoki vessels attract groups of the large tuna, and without hoki trawlers around, it becomes very difficult to find bluefin. Thus, there is an interesting relationship between commerical and sportfishing vessels here that may occur in few other places on the planet.

Here in Greymouth, we are very excited and are packing gear. It is raining like crazy right now, but the winds have died down. The weather looks good for next few days and we hope to make the most of it!

Wish us luck, tight lines, and tagging opportunities.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Searching for bluefin on the French Riviera

TAG's Dr. Andy Seitz is in Carry Le Rouet, France (~20 km west of Marseilles) for a few weeks working with a local team who would like to deploy electronic tags on bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea. He arrived on Saturday morning and fished the next four days. The first two days, they fished for giants, but did not have any luck. No one has seen any giants yet this year, so they fished in areas where giants have been caught in past years. After two days of seeing nothing, they changed areas and caught some small school-sized bluefin. The area had a lot of life...fin whales, common dolphins and many sea birds. All of the fish they caught were 13-23 kg....too small to tag.

The next few days are supposed to be windy, so they will probably stay on shore.

Too Rough to Land Bluefin

TAG's George Shillinger sent this update from New Zealand...

Well, it's sunny today -- a miracle in very grey Greymouth!
Up until today, we've had tons of rain. Unfortunately, in spite of the recent clear weather, the ocean has been extremely rough. It's been way too rough to enable us to fish. The Greymouth docks are lined with charter boats filled with frustrated skippers and their crew members -- everyone is rather glum about the weather and the slow fishing so far.

Our partner vessel, the Cerveza, went out with one full charter -- it was too crowded for us to join -- and returned empty-handed. Around eight vessels braved the difficult conditions during a one-day weather window. Only one boat landed a fish, which was taken by sea back to Westport, 70 miles north. The fish was an impressive giant Pacific bluefin, about 660 pounds (300 kilograms). A few other giant bluefin were lost at the wire -- sad stories all round. The photo above shows what a tuna looks like when it's on the was taken last year.

Almost all of the boats were out for less than 24 hours, and many of the charter passengers became very seasick during the journey. Although the weather in town is breezy and chilly, offshore in the trench the winds are raging at 20+ knots now, and predicted to rise to 40+ knots by tomorrow morning, accompanied by a large swell from the southwest. The outlook for Saturday is a front that will sweep through from the northwest and be followed by southwesterly winds of 25 knots. The good news is that another high pressure area is coming. It's due to arrive sometime during the weekend. This may very well be our first (and potentially last) real weather window -- we are really hoping!

We've collected 2 DNA samples -- one from a Pacific bluefin and one from a southern bluefin) and have given sample vials to several of the local sport and commercial captains to get samples for us. We also have been collecting images and anecdotes from the local fisherman about bluefin. Now we just need some good weather and good fishing!

I will try to send a few photos of Greymouth and the infamous "Greymouth Bar." The bar was absolutely stunningly ferocious earlier this week....people often watch from land to see if any boats capsize. I tried to capture it all on video.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the Hunt for Pacific Bluefin in NZ

TAG scientist and Stanford Ph.D. student George Shillinger sent this report from New Zealand...

I arrived in Greymouth on the 9th and am organizing gear right now. At the moment we are dealing with some bad weather. There is a big low from the southwest moving through quickly, but it's kicking up a lot of rain and heavy winds -- up to 57 mph (50 knots). It looks like our first good weather window may be Sunday morning -- keep your fingers crossed. Thus far fishing has been hot for southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), with many of the fish in the jumbo-size range, up to 331 pounds (150 kilograms). The record is 348 pounds (158 kilograms). Fishing for giant Pacific bluefin (Thunnus orientalis) has been slow -- so far 2 fish have been caught. A third fish broke off at the wire on the the boat Cerveza, our partner vessel.

This is how sportfishermen go after southern and Pacific bluefin: they follow the hoki trawlers, giant floating 24-hour fish factories that slowly plow the seas around New Zealand and pull in giant nets filled with hoki (see picture above). A lot of other animals -- bluefin tuna, sharks, albatross -- go after the fish slipping from the nets. [ed. note: Hoki -- also known as blue grenadier, blue hake, New Zealand whiptail, whiptail or whiptail hake -- are an enormous commercial fishery. They're one of five types of fish used in McDonald's fish fillet sandwiches worldwide. McDonald's restaurants in New Zealand alone serve about 300 metric tons (661,500 pounds) in fish sandwiches every year.]

The hoki trawlers have been concentrating their effors south of Hokitika, about 25 miles south of here. At the moment, they're smack in the middle of the worst winter weather. They should be working their way up to the Hokitika trench duing the next week. Once the trawlers arrive en masse, the Pacific bluefin tuna fishing should improve markedly.

While we wait for the weather to clear, we're going to canvas the docks and boats to ask skippers to provide us with tissue and data -- such as sea surface temperature, location, and length -- for all the bluefin they catch.

Hopefully we will be on the water no later than Monday, if we're lucky! I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bluefin Tuna: Past & Present

The disappearing populations of bluefin tuna were once so plentiful in the North Sea that their carcasses filled fish-auction houses. In a fascinating look at bluefin tuna, past and present, the Census of Marine Life, a TGF partner, highlights research from several of its affiliated scientists. In research affiliated with COML’s History of Marine Animal Populations, Brian R. MacKenzie of the Technical University of Denmark and the late Ransom Myers of Canada’s Dalhousie University have painted the first detailed portrait of a burst of fishing from 1900 to 1950 that preceded the collapse of once abundant bluefin tuna populations off the coast of northern Europe. The booming catches helped strip the Atlantic bluefin population in a relative blink of time – 1910 to 1950. The species virtually disappeared from the North Sea in the early 1960s and is still rare today. (In the photo above, a couple of hundred tuna are laid out for an auction in Skagen, Denmark. Photo by H. Blegvad, c.1946.)

The chronicle of decimation of the bluefin tuna population in the North Sea is being published as other COML researchers -- including TGF scientists Andre Boustany, Steven Teo and Barbara Block -- are discussing the latest results of Tag-A-Giant. Fish tagged off Ireland and in the Gulf of Mexico are revealing remarkable migrations and life-cycle secrets of the declining species. For example, two fish tagged within minutes of each other off western Ireland wound up more than 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) apart eight months later. One traveled 3,600 miles (6,000 kilometers) southwest in 177 days past Bermuda to waters about 180 miles (300 kilometres) northeast of Cuba. The other remained in the eastern Atlantic and moved off the coasts of Portugal. A third tagged bluefin swam into the Mediterranean Sea and was caught by fishers southeast of Malta in 2005.

We believe there are two stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna, one that spawns in the Mediterranean Sea, the other in the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits. We theorize that the two stocks forage together in the North Atlantic and travel to opposite sides of the ocean to reproduce. As Ron O'Dor, another COML researcher, said: "Part of the lesson here is that restoring bluefin tuna populations to health requires us to consider and manage activities one-fifth of the way around the world.”

We're getting a lot of interest in what's happening to bluefin tuna. Science Daily, BBC News, Reuters, and more than 40 other online news publications around the world are featuring this story.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Making Lemonade

Barb Block from the Shogun Expedition. We spent a few days hunting bluefin and scored some nice albacore fishing and a fantastic view of a blue whale mom and calf. We continue to have challenges getting bluefin to bite our live sardines. One reason may be because the bluefin are feeding on anchovy bait balls -- schools of anchovies driven to cluster by larger fish attacking them -- and getting them to switch to sardines is a challenge. A second reason may be that the fish were boat shy from the commercial fishing efforts in the region.

We decided to change our tactics. We headed to Ensenada, Mexico, to work with the ranchers at Maricultura del Norte, a spectacular bluefin ranch that catches wild bluefin and holds them in pens. We went down to the pens where in previous years the ranch helped our scientists release small bluefin tuna for our archival tagging study .

The ranch owners allowed us to approach a pen and “fish” from the stock. While it sounds easy to execute this “fish in the barrel” effort, it takes careful planning to catch a live bluefin and safely transfer the fish from the pens to the wells flowing with seawater on the Shogun. Captain Bruce and Sean were the fishers; they used a line and circle hook. They caught the fish and transferred each fish to a seawter sling. Luis Rodriguez and Ty Brandt from the Tuna Research and Conservation Center removed the hook and passed the fish to researchers Andy Seitz and Kurt Schaefer who motored in a Zodiac over to the Shogun swim step, where Dan and Jake lifted the fish to the deck of the shogun. We measured each fish and placed it in the “slammer” -- the back bait well on the Shogun. It was quite the operation.

We sampled several fish by placing small tissues in liquid nitrogen -- a quick way of super-cooling muscle samples -- for a new national NOAA-funded aquaculture project we have started in collaboration with the fish ranchers. We hope to develop several genomic markers for conditioning that will help establish the health and aerobic status of bluefin in captivity. All and all, it was a fun day with innovative techniques made possible by the ever versatile crew aboard the F/V Shogun. ABOARD THE F/V SHOGUN, off Ensenada, Mexico.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Watchful or Busy? Bluefin Ignore Bait

Barb Block from the Shogun Expedition. Bluefin tuna must have good vision. After all, they warm their eyes with counter-current heat exchangers that keep the temperature of their retinas warmer than the water around them.

That's just one hypothesis as to why they won’t take our live baits, even when we present them on 20-lb fluorocarbon fishing line.

In the old days -- 1999 -- when we were collecting live tuna, our team would only use heavy gear for any size bluefin to reduce stress on the fish. Now, we use anything we can. Today, we worked the same waters we’ve pretty much been in the entire trip to find bluefin tuna na├»ve enough to bite our large sardine baits. We are pleased to tell you all that we did get 3 more bluefin in the 15-20 lb size range in our wells. But we felt a minor bit of frustration as every school of bluefin we approached either did not leave the anchovy bait ball it was on or barely noticed our sardine baits.

We know that the fish we are trying to collect -- young 2-year-old bluefin tuna -- were born in waters off Japan and swam across the Pacific this year to these waters. The archival tagging data shows that once they're here, most of these fish will ply our California Current waters for up to 3 to 4 years before they return to the western Pacific, presumably to spawn in the warm waters off southern Japan.

Some of the fish we’ve tracked, as small as 30 pounds, will swim back and forth across the Pacific and move to the Emperor Seamounts when production in the California Current is low. This confounds all our theories. For now, we’re focused on finding more bluefin of collecting size, and with the promise of good weather tomorrow, we hope to snatch a few more fish from the sea. I’m thinking smaller baits...and wondering how one rigs an anchovy. ABOARD THE F/V SHOGUN, Off San Diego, California.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Barb Block from the Shogun Expedition. We decided to take the 8 bluefin tuna we caught yesteray to shore to load on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s specially designed truck to send the tuna up to the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC). Because the small bluefin tuna are so valuable to our year-round research program, we need to move them quickly from the open sea to the lab. After the tuna arrive, our team will put these bluefin through their paces. These fish -- the “Lance Armstrongs of the sea” -- will reveal the secret of their athleticism to our students.

So, the Shogun carried its research load of fish to Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s MARFAC facility, where a specially built Tunabago truck was waiting to receive the bluefin. Andy Seitz, a former technician at the TRCC and now a researcher, got the nod to hop into the wells to remove the bluefin. Andy, who's living in Alaska these days, opted out of using a wet suit, and quickly removed the bluefin from the wells and placed them into the vinyl sling filled with seawater.

Each tuna was carefully lifted to the deck, where Mike Lipnick and I put into each fish pit tags that carry an identification number. The fish were quickly carried up to the truck and placed inside the seawater filled tank.

The fish looked super in the transport tank. The tank is kept at the cooler end of the bluefin tuna’s comfort zone. As they go in I love to see them light up as they swim around in the tank mouth’s gaping opening. It's a sign of their continuous need for oxygen.

The Tunabago drove to Monterey, and within nine hours of leaving the dock all 8 fish were reported to look great swimming in our tank at TRCC.

We were back fishing by noon and spent the day hunting for more bluefin. Sure enough, we found a school. Captain Norm’s excitement was palpable as he called out: “Get ready on the bait tank!”

Despite all the live sardines we threw overboard, the bluefin ignored everyone’s baited hooks and continued to feed on a large bait ball. We were all disappointed. This picky nature of the bluefin -- the difficulty of attracting them from their rich natural forage to our lines -- has frustrated us for years. It makes me appreciate how each fish we do catch and tag or capture is so valuable to our research efforts.

Hopefully, they’ll bite again tomorrow. ABOARD THE F/V SHOGUN, Off San Diego, California.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Perfect-Size Bluefin

Barb Block from the Shogun Expedition. I'm happy to report that the Shogun, the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC) team, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium team have taken the jinx out of Friday, the 13th. We found the perfect bluefin tuna for collection.

Captain Norm put us on a school that was chowing on a bait ball of small sardines. The Shogun crew quickly tossed out a lot of live sardines. We all snapped into action and put out our 30- to 50-pound test lines with barbless circle hooks and voila! -- we had hook-ups on small bluefin. The swim step team (Ty and Luis, our TRCC techs) who had been drilling on albacore were quick to step into action. They rapidly placed live bluefin into the vinyl stretchers. Fish were coming in from both directions. Then the fish were rapidly placed into the hands of a deck team who guided the fish into the Shogun's wells, which are filled with aerated seawater. The fish were the perfect collection size of 18 to 25 pounds. We have 8 fish on board so far, and we’re continuing to look. We'll head into shore to unload tomorrow morning at the dock. ABOARD THE F/V SHOGUN, Off San Diego, California.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bluefin Tuna and the New Moon

Barb Block from the Shogun Expedition. The wind and seas came up a bit today as we searched around for baby bluefin tuna.

A small sport fishing boat from San Diego had reported catching a handful of the collectable-sized bluefin in waters just offshore so we worked the area all day long. We had a nice stop on a small school of albacore late in the day, but found no bluefin. We think that the weather may have pushed the fish down.

But it's the phase of the new moon and we now know, from the data retrieved from more than 180 satellite tags returned to us by anglers, that the bluefin are very responsive to the moon phases: they are up closer to the surface both day and night during the new moon. In fact, when they dive, they go down to the top of the thermocline -- that's the layer of water where the temperature rapidly decreases as you go deeper -- and spend most of the day foraging between the surface and the thermocline.

That's why we’re out right now. I think we have a higher chance of encounters with the bluefin during these new moon periods. I have high hopes for Friday the 13th. The photo is Stanford graduate student Dan Madigan on his first tuna fishing trip with the team. ABOARD THE F/V SHOGUN, Off San Diego, California.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

First Day - Signs of Life

Our first day out at sea and conditions have looked very good. Just a few hours out of San Diego, and we've got great weather, the right water temperatures for Pacific bluefin tuna and waters rich in bait. Good signs of ocean life are everywhere -- sea lions, seabirds, spinner dolphins, and fish jumping. Today we found a large school of albacore tuna and fished through them for several hours. We practiced drilling the team through tag and release operations.

To tag the fish, we have to catch them on a line with a barbless circle hook, then move them onto the swim step where a team puts the fish in a sling and hands it up to a second team on board the vessel. We then move the fish into the surgery station where Kurt Schaefer or Barb Block places an archival tag into the tuna.

Over several expeditions, we’ve tagged over 386 Pacific bluefin. The two bluefin that were tagged today were 97 and 110 cm in length -- exactly what we hoped for. A smaller fish of 65 cm was loaded on board for our live bluefin collection. After today's start, we have high hopes for the next few days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Summer Tradition: Going after Pacific Bluefin

The team from the Tuna Research & Conservation Center of Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium headed out Tuesday on the F/V Shogun, a long-range sport fishing boat out of San Diego. We have a dual mission at sea - 1) to tag Pacific bluefin tuna and 2) to collect Pacific bluefin for our laboratory studies.

We’ve been implanting archival tags inside the body cavity of bluefin in the Pacific since 2002. To date we’ve placed approximately 400 archival tags in the Pacific. We’ll be working off San Diego, where the Pacific bluefin have just begun to show up.

Our laboratory studies focus on the aerobic performance of bluefin tuna. These fish, whose tags have shown they swim across the entire Pacific to Japan and back to California in a single year, are the Lance Armstrongs of the sea. They have a superior level of cardiac performance and, on this trip, we have 4 physiologists with us to study the tunas. If we succeed in collecting some for the trip up to the tuna center, we’ll be examining the capacity of the energetics of the bluefin tuna.

The photo above is from our previous trip, and we expect to take many more like this over the next 10 days.

Monday, June 18, 2007

No Luck!

Unfortunately our colleagues at NOAA weren't able to catch any more tuna by the time their cruise ended, and so we didn't get any tags out in this Gulf of Mexico tagging effort. All of the gear and tags we sent down to Mississippi is now back here in California, ready for the next time the TAG team heads out!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bad Weather in the Gulf

Our NOAA colleagues have been beset by bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico and haven't yet had the chance to tag any tuna. So far they have made two longline sets of approximately 400 hooks each. They did catch one bluefin and one yellowfin tuna, but neither fish was in good enough condition for tagging. The team is back out on the water today though, and hopefully their luck will turn!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tagging in the Gulf of Mexico

It's presently the bluefin spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds, and TAG is hoping to get some satellite tags onto a few fish. Our collaborators at NOAA Fisheries in Pascagoula, Mississippi are heading to sea to conduct a bycatch mitigation study, during which they will likely be catching both yellowfin and bluefin tuna. Last week we sent them a care package of 12 satellite tags and all the gear they need to tag some tuna. Andre Boustany then had a conference call with the research vessel’s captain and four of their scientists to instruct them in tagging technique. Andre had earlier sent them some video of previous tagging trips, to help with the lesson.

The NOAA vessel was scheduled to sail this past weekend, with Dan Foster taking charge of the satellite tagging operation. Hopefully they will be able to get 6 tags on yellowfin and 6 on bluefin, although we’ll be happy with whatever they can manage. From what we hear, their days at sea are long and tiring, so they put in to port every 2-3 days. Next time they’re back in we should get an update from Dan as to how the tagging is going. Good luck guys!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The bluefin have eluded us...

Sunday and Tuesday saw the TAG team skunked in the search for bluefin. It sounded like it was slow fishing around the fleet with only a handful of bluefin encountered coupled with a slowdown in the yellowfin bite as well. We did manage to get 5 yellowfin. Not bad for a bluefin fishing trip. On Tuesday, we ranged far and wide looking for the schools of bluefin. We travelled far offshore but still had no luck. We did see quite a range of other animals though. Travelling through the nearshore, shelf and offshore ecosystems that North Carolina has to offer, we were lucky to see bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and pilot whales as well as a few loggerhead turtles. A couple of nice days on the water, even without bluefin. As we travelled so far to the north on Tuesday, we decided to head into Oregon Inlet at the end of the day. A one hour car ride back to Hatteras made for a long day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Back in Hatteras

March 24th and 25th saw the tag team aboard the Boss Lady with captain Eric Holmes and mate Barry Jr. Andre and CP were joined by Andreas Walli and Jake Nogueira from California. Ramunas Zydelis, a postdoc at Duke University also joined the TAG team as a guest angler. Saturday saw one bluefin caught first thing in the morning. It was a larger fish than the ones we had seen the day before (approximately 170 lbs). Ramunas did a great job angling a big fish on 80 lb gear and after about an hour, the fish was on the deck. Andreas performed the surgery and the fish was back in the water before he knew what had happened. With a full day ahead of us, we had high hopes for more tagging opportunities. Unfortunately, the bluefin didn't get the memo that we were looking for them and we didn't see any more tunas for the rest of the day. We did manage to get a wahoo towards the end of the day though.

Sunday the 25th saw 5 yellowfin but no bluefin encounters. Oh well.

Back in the game!

Well, after a brief hiatus, the TAG team geared up and headed back to the coast of North Carolina for another bout of bluefin tagging. Charles Perry and Andre Boustany headed out to Hatteras where we heard of a good bluefin bite occurring. On Thursday the 22nd we joined Rom Whitaker and his charter aboard the Release. We didn't get any tags out but we had a nice day on the water, which gave us a chance to get our sea legs back.

Friday, the 23rd was the type of day you dream about if you are a bluefin tagger, the type of day on which legends are made, the type of day that brings weaker souls to their knees, begging for mercy, they type of day that old men relive as they share pints in dimly lit pubs. With only a skeleton crew of captain, mate and two scientists, we headed out of Oregon Inlet to try our luck. We encountered large schools of smaller (approximately 40 lbs) bluefin. At times we could see fish busting at the surface in all directions around the boat. The large swell also gave us several glimpses of lines of bluefin surfing in the waves as they moved towards the boat. Truly a sight to behold. The action was fast and furious with multiple hookups throughout the day. The captain's foresight to bring along his electric reels saved the day as it freed up hands to accomplish all the other tasks required for bluefin tagging. Charles Perry took over the jobs of three scientists as he held and irrigated the fish, collected DNA samples, measured the fish and wrote notes. Of course, anyone who has ever met CP knows that he is equal to at least three normal men. CP's superhuman effort freed up Andre to focus on performing surgeries. By the end of the day we had 21 tagged with archival tags. It was a welcome change of pace from earlier in the season when the fishing was significantly slower. Unfortunately, the fast pace of tagging kept us from getting any pictures, but I have included an image of where the fish were caught in relation to SST.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

TAG team finds bluefin!

Bluefin have been found along the frontal regions of the northern portion of the Carolina Coast. With the help of Captain Rom Whittaker of Hatteras, the rapid deployment across the country of a small TAG research team to Hatteras has paid off as the Tag team has been able to quickly place 22 archival tags in bluefin tuna. Led by Dr. Andre Boustany of Duke University and Andreas Walli & Jake Noguiera of Stanford University the team is now fishing aboard the Boss Lady with Captain Eric Holm. Fish in the area have ranged from large fish- over 300 lbs to smaller fish in the 60-80 lb year class. A strong cold front is expected to affect the region tonight and tomorrow- hopefully we can stay with the tunas- for another few days. This spring bluefin fishing historically lasts only a few weeks and if the weather and water warm up- the bluefins continue to move north. For now- the team is in striking distance of the overall TAG objective of 1000 Atlantic tags. It would be super if that goal could be reached at the place where the winter bluefin tuna fishery all started:
Hatteras, NC. Go team.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Carolina on My Mind

Sometimes you cannot break old habits.
Charles Perry and Rom Whittaker called me to tell me how
the Hatteras vessels were releasing tunas off the point- on a break as many as 25 a day. Its March- and the old days thats exactly where we were- when we tagged
204 tunas, in 1997. So having more than a few electronic tags leftover from our
last efforts, and wanting to move forward on our quest for 1000, with less than 10 days
t o go on our 2007 Carolina permit- we've activated the Go Mode. Like flipping a switch
in our Stanford lab- a frenetic pace of sending out pads, getting electronic tags programmed,
moving the team in place- getting the boats all the permits, and finding out
exactly where the fish are and when exactly we can go again- weather permitting.
The team, led by Dr. Andre Boustany from Duke, and Andreas Walli
and Jake Nogueira along with CP Perry are on their way and getting in place
in what are moderate Carolina Seas. I hope that they can
at least move TAG forward in our tagging- Go Hatteras- I hope
we can finish the year on 1000 where we started it all in 1996! Go TAG Team 2007.
And welcome back to Hatteras, NC.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The short-term tag we deployed on Monday popped up as scheduled on Saturday. It appears as though the fish moved offshore and into warmer waters than in which it was tagged. The TAG team is currently downloading the data from the tag and we'll take a look at both the temperature and depth records to see what this fish did after it was tagged. It will be about 10 days befor ethe entire dataset is transmitted through the satellites but we should start getting a pretty good idea of the environmental preferences of this fish in the next day or two. We're still watching the weather and hoping to get out on the water again one of these days. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

All Duke TAG Team Scores

After most of the TAG team has gone home, the tagging continues off the coast of North Carolina with the generous assistance of Duke, NC State and University of North Carolina researchers. After tagging a nice 80 inch fish on Friday with the help of CMAST/NC State students Chris Butler and Christine, the TAG team was excited to head into the weekend when several other boats were also planning on heading out.

On Saturday, Jeff Moore and Ben Best, both of Duke University joined the crew of the Sensation in an effort to tag the mighty bluefin tuna. It was a cold day on the water as we headed out towards the area where we had tagged the fish the day before, about a half a mile off Atlantic Beach. We found the same school of bait that we had fished in the day before and trolled around there for a few hours. With nothing much going on and several other boats in the area, we decided to move and try our luck somewhere else. We picked up and moved East, near the shoals. We found a nice temperature front and the area was alive with marks of bait, diving gannets and dolphins. We were also excited to see a couple of large basking sharks feeding on the cold side of the temperature front but, unfortunately, no bluefin to be had. The lack of fish and the cold weather combined to induce a strong bite in the cabin of the Sensation, with several sausage egg muffins, a can of Pringles, a bag of pretzels, several microwavable entrees, a PB and J or two and assorted fruits all being consumed.

On Sunday, we headed back to the same area near the shoals with Mary Turnipseed and Lesley Thorne of Duke and Amy Waggener of IMS/UNC. Again, the bluefin got the better of us and we didn't get a single bluefin strike. We did catch a small shark as we trolled along the shoals but we decided let it go without an archival tag in it.

Lesley joined us again on Monday along with Caroline Good and Danielle Waples for an all Duke tagging team. We trolled in several places throughout the day with nothing too promising anywhere. We finally settled on fishing near the "Little 10" and ran over there and set our lines in the water. We were trolling for about 10 minutes when the starboard outrigger popped out of the clip. No line ran off the reel and there was no pressure on the rod so we all figured it was a false albacore strike. C.R. started to reel the line in when all of a sudden he felt something more than a false albacore on the other end of the line. With a cry of "That's him!" C.R. knew we had found what we were looking for and the line screamed off the reel. Lesley jumped in the chair and the battle began. Thirty minutes later, a nice fish was at the back of the deck and C.R. began the wiring clinic. The fish was brought on deck and the surgery team, a mixture of veterans and rookies, sprang into action. In what was likely the greatest surgery ever performed on a fish in the history of mankind, Dr. Boustany implanted the archival tag into the peritoneal cavity of the tuna. In addition, a short term pop-up tag was attached to the back of the 76 inch fish. A DNA sample was taken and the fish was released out the tuna door. Godspeed, Mr. Tuna!

The weather looks like it will be bad for the rest of the week but we hope to get out again as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Tuna on the Board

Captain Dale Britt, Dr. Andre Boustany of Duke,
Chris Butler of NC State, and the f/v Sensation Crew of the
all North Carolina TAG team scored by tagging an 8O inch fish. The Tuna
was caught in 48 degree waters, with gannets, loons and dolphins
swimming nearby. It was great to see North Carolina fishers and scientists
working together across school lines. And nice
to know at least one Giant is swimming free with a tag.

Today- they're out with a small group of boats trying to work
cooperatively Tag-A-Giant Style. Good luck. Go Duke!

Go Team- and Congrads

Thursday, February 8, 2007

TAG is back out on the water trying to locate giant bluefn again off NC. The commercial season is closed, the winter weather has sent a few more fish to the area, and Dr. Andre Boustany of Duke University, fishing aboard the Charter boat F/V Sensation with Captain Dale Britt hopes to satellite tag some fish. The SST imagery suggests that the conditions are gettingmore favorable and bait has moved into the area.
Maybe, just maybe winter is 1 month late and the
fish will move in, Good luck Andre!

Monday, January 29, 2007

January Winter Weather

GALE WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 AM EST MONDAY OVERNIGHTW WINDS 20 TO 25 KT...BECOMING NW 25 TO 35 KT. SEAS4 TO 7 FT. SEAS 4 TO 6 FT NEAR SHORE. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS WITH ASLIGHT CHANCE OF VERY LIGHT DRIZZLE EARLY THIS EVENING. Would you go fishing with that weather? Well we won’t either. I am heading home-after a slow January TAG and realizing more and more- what it meant to be here in the good years. Some of the commercial boats were discussing selling their boats due to the the poor fishing this year. The headlines are filled with bluefin news- One very positive outcome of being here is that we obtained over 70 DNA samples for the genetic analyses we’re conducting. We had great help from all the fishers who landed fish and the fish houses. We are working on sorting through the entire TAG data set to examine what populations we’re tagging (Gulf of Mexico or Mediterranean). OK- That’s it for now- Andre will keep us informed as he’s sticking around these parts. I am building a bumper sticker "Hatteras in 2009!" I am hoping for an echo of the mid- 1990s. That is the fish breeding now in the Gulf- this coming year and the past few- their young (those 30-150 lb fish we've been hearing about) - hopefully they will provide a banner set of fishing days a few years down the road- we all have to do our part to ensure these fish recruit into the fishery- protecting the spawners and the young fish will be key to ensuring the bluefin's future in the west.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Scream of the Reel

The Tag team heard the scream of the reel again aboard the Leslie Anne
as a large tuna struck a bait and swam off. This occurred at a location
just off the inlet- a place so close to shore it makes one marvel at giant bluefin
swimming in 8-10 fathoms of water. Menhaden were plentiful in this area
and the temperatures were extremely cool.
But, as luck would have it- with only two boats on the ocean at the time
of the strike, the fisher without the fish, dragged a planer across the Leslie Anne's line,
and cut the monofilament close to the hook. Captain Stuve remarked it
was a 'good one'. This is the second day that a large fish was hooked or captured
close to shore- but for the entire fleet of less than 12 boats- slow fishing was the name of the game.
The TAG team hopes to get out one more time this weekend- if the winds
let up. A blast of cold arctic air has swept into the area and with any luck- schools
of bluefin are being pushed from the North to the South in this El Nino warmed winter.
With commercial season coming to a close- the bluefin may have gotten off easy
this January by keeping the secrets of their whereabouts from scientists and fishers alike.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bluefin Futures Discussed at Duke's Town Hall

The Bluefin Town Hall was a success Monday night with over 60 fishers and scientists spending an evening together discussing bluefin science with Drs. Block and Boustany. The discussion included concrete suggestions by the community of bluefin tuna fishers here- that could be taken to ensure the future of the fishery. For all of you interested in bluefin science and policy, we will try and post relevant information on our latest reports and downloads link to keep you informed. It was a lot of fun having fishers from North and South Carolina, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine all in the same room. Together we shared our knowledge and our concerns for the bluefin. The weather improved today, but once again the tuna were not found at all- we fished hard today- in seas that came down all day and allowed some good effort by a small fleet of a dozen vessels. Together we searched a lot of the places that the tunas have been hooked- primarily to the west of the shoals. There was a good sign of bait and some birds but no bluefin. The weather will only allow one more day tomorrow and then the TAG team will retreat and hold off fishing until a sign of fish shows. With a Duke presence in the state led by Drs. Andre Boustany and Pat Halpin, we can sit tight and hope that the bluefin return providing the opportunity to tag once again.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Back on the Water

Both TAG vessels, the Sensation and Leslie Anne, were again on the water Sunday, hoping that the colder water temperatures brought about by the two days of strong weather would bring better fishing. Captain Dale Britt was seeing tracings of bait on the Sensation's depth sounder, but no tuna were to be found. The closest we got was watching a nice 94" fish being brought on board the Last Call just to port of the Sensation. The highlight of the weekend was the fantastic gumbo cooked up on Saturday evening by Doug Roberts, mate on the Leslie Anne, for our nightly family-style dinner at Dr. Block's house. Leftover gumbo certainly helped everyone stay warm on the water the next day!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Keeping Busy on Land

The bad weather that we have seen so much of this January continued in the past two days and the seas were unfortunately too rough for the TAG team to do any fishing. So we have been waiting on land for the seas to subside, where the sunny skies have really shown off the beauty of the Carolina coast. The team stayed busy preparing tags and other equipment for coming days on the water. We also had a very pleasant surprise Saturday morning. In talking to some of the commercial fishers on the dock we came across one guy, Walter Armstead, who had tags from fish he had caught that we had tagged in previous years, one in 1999 and one in 2002. We are going to gain some valuable data from these tags, while Wally just earned himself a tidy $2000 in reward money. Not bad at all for either party involved!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Join us on 1/22/07 for TAG Happy Hour!

Cold Weather Returns

The TAG teams two vessels, Sensation and Leslie Anne, searched to the west of Cape Lookout for bluefin in choppy seas and less than ideal conditions. The cold weather reminded all of us of the early years, but the lack of fish did not. After the warm days of winter this cold northerly blow we know is good for moving the fish our way, but either the team is getting soft or we’re all aging. When you’ve been tagging in 70 F weather, the cold weather is a bit tougher on the skin and soul. The winds and the seas are not cooperating much these days – and I am sure the commercial fleet is frustrated at the lack of access due to weather- natural protection in this realm for bluefin tuna. Let’s hope the winds subside and we get another crack to find them. Potentially we’ll get out Sunday. The Monterey Bay Aquarium TAG team members have enjoyed some sight seeing on the days off- and truly enjoyed a fine tour at the recently renovated North Carolina Pine Knolls Shores Aquarium which is spectacular.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Searching for Bluefin

The Tag team has been sitting out the weather after a warm day fishing on Monday, January 15, 2007. MLK day started well with smooth seas with some high winter air temperatures > 70F in Beaufort, North Carolina. Sensation went west with a reduced commercial fleet, and the Leslie Anne fished directly off Cape Lookout Shoals. Both teams looked at an ocean that had signs of life- with bottle nosed dolphin, gannets and some bait. Despite a strong effort, neither team saw a fish but we did see black tip sharks leaping and spinning in almost every direction we looked. Several large bluefin were landed by the commercial green stick boats and DNA samples were taken by the tag team to discern what stock (Gulf of Mexico or Mediterranean) of bluefin were visiting during the holiday. Warm water is moving in very close to shore potentially squeezing the available habitat for the 400-500 lb class of fish swimming nearby. A strong cold front with a northerly wind potentially might help conditions. The SST image shows the warm water pushing in close to shore.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nice Fish!

TAG Team Gets on the Board

January 13, 2007

Today could not have been more beautiful. Aboard the Leslie Anne with a veteran crew led by Captain Gary Stuve with owner Richard Worley aboard and guests Randy Repass and Richard Tilghman. The TAG Team, with veterans Dr. Barbara Block and Chuck Farwell of Stanford University and Monterey Bay Aquarium, caught the big fish of the day, on the edge of Cape Lookout Shoals near the shad boat buoy. The fish quietly took the bait and thought it would sneak away but the line came tight and the fish began to pull off the line. Richard Tilghman moved into the chair and persuasively pulled the fish toward the boat. After a 30' fight, Doug Roberts wired the fish to the boat and Chuck Farwell got the liphook in place in no time flat. To the delight of the entire team, Chuck got the fish in place and yelled "Pull". With four team members tugging on the line, the fish slid into place on the padded vinyl mat. There, glimmering in the summer like sun- was the bluefin, all 90", over 480 lbs. The team surgically inserted an archival tag, tied a double suture, and placed a pop up satellite tag on the same fish. After sampling for DNA, it took 5 TAG team members to turn the fish around and send the tuna out the door. In the clear warm water, with sargassum floating by- the bluefin swam away quickly. Everyone was enthused by nature's reward as the first fish of 2007 swam hard and fast away.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nice Day on the Water

Well, it was another beautiful day on the water but we didn't manage to get any bluefin tuna to the boat. The region in which we were fishing was full of life, with spotted dolphins, birds, bait and sharks all being seen in abundance. A few of the boats were fortunate enough to hook into a bluefin and several others, including our boat, hooked up to some large sharks that were in the area. About a dozen bluefin were landed throughout the fleet.

Included is a picture of Jake doing epic battle with a ~ 7 foot shark (maybe a bull shark but we didn't get a good look at it before it broke off). C.R. stands ready to wire. Good job, guys!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Quest Continues

Tuesday saw a cold front moving through coastal North Carolina with air temperatures dropping from the 70's to the 50's. All the TAG boats were on the water but we didn't manage to get any fish on deck. Once again, only a handful of fish were landed throughout the entire fleet, with most bites coming early in the morning. The bluefin seem to be spread out along the coast with no large aggregations in any one place. There was a nice temperature break offshore with sea surface temperatures going from 61 to 68. We were marking large schools of bait on the warm side of the break but still didn't manage to see any tunas.

Back on land, the team was treated to a wonderful meal of crawfish fettuccini prepared by Jane Britt. The meal was served with a delicious Asian salad on the side and was followed by big slice of Pecan Pie. Great job Jane!

The TAG team will be off the water on Wednesday due to high winds but it looks like the rest of the week should see some good weather. On our day off we plan on catching up on our paperwork and all the other logistic needs of conducting a tagging program. In addition, we'll likely head over to the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort to learn about the rich and storied maritime history of this great state.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Second Day on the Water

The Tag-A-Giant team had it's second day on the water today. We fished three boats and saw a little bit of action but ended the day without deploying any tags. The F/V Leslie Anne, with Luis and Jake aboard, had a strike but pulled the hook after about 5 minutes. They also had a couple of false albacore caught and released. The Sensation didn't see any bluefin but did get three false albacore, which added a little bit of excitement to the day. The weather was good and there was plenty of life in the waters in which we were fishing. We saw some large schools of spotted dolphin, several good sized groups of feeding birds and we were marking plenty of bait on the sounder but the bluefin were few and far between. Only a handful of fish were landed by the entire fleet. Tomorrow looks like a day off due to high winds but Tuesday and Wednesday look good, so hopefully we'll get some tags in the water in the early part of this week. Wish us luck!

Friday, January 5, 2007

First Day on the Water

The TAG team had our first day on the water yesterday. Robbie, Luis, Jake and I joined the crew of the Sensation in our quest to tag the elusive bluefin tuna. It was a beautiful day on the water but the fleet didn't manage to find any sizable body of fish. Only a handul of fish were landed throughout the entire fleet with the tagging boat not getting any bluefin on deck. It looks like the weather will prevent us from getting on the water on Friday and Saturday but we'll be ready to go on Sunday with our full compliment of three TAG boats. The F/V Leslie Anne arrived in Beaufort yesterday after a tough three day trip up from Florida. Captains Gary Stuve and Doug Roberts came up from Florida and were joined by John Rafter who drove down from Pennsylvania. In addition, the F/V Summer Session, with a crew from Wofford College in South Carolina, will be making it's first appearance at TAG this year. All three boats will be ready to go once the weather clears and hopefully we'll find some fish to tag.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

First day of fishing

The Tag-A-Giant team is in NC now fishing aboard the F/V Sensation with Captain Dale Britt and Mate C.R. The TAG team, led by Dr. Andre Boustany and Rob Schallert, along with Luis Rodriguez and Jake Nogueira from Stanford, spent their first day on the water. With the commercial season in full swing, over 150 boats are working the waters close to shore in search of bluefin. Despite good weather and a large fleet of boats, only 6 fish were boated today (all by commercial boats), and the tag team did not hook one! Some stormy weather is approaching but the team hopes to get out early tomorrow to find the first fish of 2007.

Welcome to TAG 2007!

It gives me great pleasure to write my first blog for the Tag-A-Giant Foundation (TGF) and to welcome you to TAG 2007.

Through the generosity of Mr. Richard Worley, the owner of the F/V Leslie Anne, and Dr. Tom McMurray, an alumnus of Duke University and advisor for the Duke Marine Lab, we’ve built a new foundation, TGF. Our goal is to continue doing rigorous science that will influence policy and management in a way that ensures the bluefin’s future. I personally think our involvement in this fishery is remarkably important at this critical time. All signs in the ocean indicate that the northern bluefin tuna are not doing well in the Atlantic, and I feel our team is providing the scientific data that are key to improving how the species is managed.

We need your help! We have approximately 80 tags to put in to reach the goal of 1000 bluefin tagged in the Atlantic, and we’re just not going to stop until we get there. I am here for all of you who care about bluefin tuna, both recreational and commercial fishers. I believe we can have a sustainable bluefin fishery in the North Atlantic, but we’ll have to get the eastern nations to believe us when we say that our fish are their fish. So let’s keep putting in those electronic tags, and if you see a fish with green and white external tags, remember to keep the tag or let us know immediately so that we can help remove the tag. Each tag has a story that remains critical for showing how bluefin use the North Atlantic.

At TAG 2007 you’ll see Dr. Andre Boustany, who finished his Ph.D and is now at Duke University working with Dr. Pat Halpin’s lab, taking a lead role. Andre’s move to North Carolina provides the State and Duke with a first rate leader from the TAG program here. I thank both Andre and Pat for helping to move the team forward in North Carolina. Mr. Richard Worley has once again donated the use of the Leslie Anne complete with Captain Gary Stuve and company, perhaps the most committed bluefin tuna taggers ever. Captain Dale Britt’s back with the Sensation, and for sure you’ll see us all out fishing. Please consider passing fish to us by calling Dale if you want an archival or pop-up satellite tag on your fish.

Finally, you should know that another former student, Shana Beemer - now Miller - is back with the team. She heads the coordination of the Foundation. You can sign up on our webpage ( to receive information on bluefin tuna - or look around town for one of our new brochures. We’re committed to helping the west save our bluefin and our fishery, so remember, we’re here for you. We need DNA samples from all fish- please stop by the TAG boats and pick up some sampling kits. See you on the water! Barb