Monday, September 17, 2007

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.

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