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.