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