Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tagging Pacific Bluefin

Epic- Remarkable- Inspiring- Those are words to describe today, Friday, July 11th aboard the F/V Shogun. I’ve not experienced a day fishing and tagging Pacific bluefin like this since early August of 2002- same place, same ocean- but a long time has passed since the bluefin were biting like this. It is a day you live for as an angler- and as a tuna scientist- the fun of such great action keeps you enthusiastic about what we’re doing forever. Bluefin decided to feed today, after they had stayed off the bite on Thursday, and with this-along with some spectacular weather, what had been a trickle of tagging for the first half of our trip- turned into wide open fishing-tagging and releasing effort, as fast as our teams could go. We first loaded up our live wells with 7 additional bluefin for transport back to the Tuna Center- and put a surgery station open sign up on our archival implantable tagging station. Captains Norm & Bruce along with mates Tommy, Patrick, Matt and Randy (our chef) were the anglers who specialize on these long range trips- getting the fish in fast- which helps to guarantee survivorship post surgery & release. The fish were coming into the slings at the swim step where the action for Ty Brandt, Luis Rodriguez, and Alex Norton was as fast and furious as it gets. We spent the morning tagging small bluefin that ranged from 12-20 lbs with the occasional 40-55 lb fish in the mix- they were all lifted aboard the Shogun in a sling of water, measured, tagged and released. When the fishing is this good the scientists (~10 of us) from our team have to remain at our stations to keep up with the line up of fish waiting to receive implantable archival tags. Two green conventional tags near the base of the second dorsal fin- provide anglers and commercial fishers with the advance notice that inside the fish is an archival tag that garners a big $$ reward when returned. A long green Teflon sensor stalk protrudes through a small incision out of the fish- collecting valuable data tracking their movements in some cases tracking individual bluefin tuna as they migrate back and forth across the Pacific 20,000 nm. At one point today-the bluefin were hanging in slings, 3 and 4 deep waiting for surgery but with the steady morning action we trained Mr. Jake Noguiera, TRCC technician, and avid fly fishermen and fly tier who along with long time MBA aquarium veteran Mr. Chuck Farwell led a second station which eased the pressure on Robbie Schallert and myself. At one point every 2 to 3 we had a new tuna in the surgery stretcher- it was continuous for the entire day, with Steve, Nishad, and Dane lifting every fish to the station and Stanford University students, Gen Del Ray and Christine O'Neil along with Dan Madigan kept the surgery stations organized. When we were done- 88 Pacific bluefin were tagged, 6 live ones swam in the wells, another half-dozen samples for a Ph.D students project measuring the genomic and protein expression of bluefin had been landed. 100 bluefin caught aboard the Shogun in a single day- Glad we’re able to say that these fish are here- that they’re biting sardines- and look plentiful at the surface with great action- boilers, jumpers and foamers. Whales, albatross, dolphins and bluefin- what a show.