Monday, September 17, 2007

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!”

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