Monday, October 6, 2008

In Search of Canadian Giants

Submitted by scientist Robbie Schallert

The TGF team descended once again on gorgeous Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in search for the Giant Bluefin Tuna, and by September 20th five of the TAG boats were on the water. We decided to take advantage of the brief commercial season closure, and it didn’t take long for the first tuna to bite. Unfortunately, we were reminded just how hard tagging Giant tuna can be…after a long fight, with the fish almost to the lip hook, the hook pulled out. For a second, as the tuna hovered at the surface just off the transom, the team scrambled for an over-the-side pop-up tag in a last ditch effort to anoint this beauty with the first tag of the season. In a flash, the fish turned and rushed into the abyss. What a sight to see such a fish…absolutely close to the record! We were concerned about how on Earth we would have gotten it into the boat.

Our spirits still high and the fleet still optimistic, we continued the next morning on the quest for the first Canadian bluefin of 2008. Captain Dennis Cameron and mate Sheldon Gillis aboard the Bay Queen IV guided the TAG boat out of Port Hood, first stopping to jig up live mackerel, and then stopping to pull a small herring net just to make sure we had all our bases covered. After a full day of searching, those two words that make any fisherman’s blood pump…”Hook Up!”…crackled over the radio. North Lake Breeze was hooked into a 300-plus lb fish, and the TAG team scrambled to get the gear ready. The veteran Dr. Mike Stokesbury chose his lip hook and positioned the tuna mat, while making sure the flow of the hose had the proper pressure to ensure the gills would be adequately oxygenated. Dr. Barbara Block checked the tags to make sure they were on and deployable. Once the TAG boat reached the fishing vessel, a delicate handoff of the rod took place. It sounds easy, but with 5 foot seas, a 25 knot wind, and a Giant bluefin on one end, it takes fishing experts to accomplish such an inter-vessel transfer of rod and fish. Sheldon continued the fight, and after a relatively brief battle, the fish was at the leader. To see these guys fight a fish for an hour and then wire the fish effortlessly makes anyone watching feel tired! Dr. Stokesbury had the quickest lip hook to date, and the beautiful bluefin was safely on board. The fish measured over 78 inches, and Dr. Block zoomed into action. This fish got an acoustic, a pop-up, and an archival tag, and the first triple-tagged fish of the season emphatically kicked its tail back into the ocean. While we have not traditionally deployed many acoustic tags, there is a new effort called the Ocean Tracking Network that is establishing acoustic listening stations up and down the East Coast of North America. The acoustic tag on this fish will communicate with the listening stations to let us know its location whenever it is near a station.

The next day brought just as much excitement, as the team again waited with baited breath for its first call to duty. Just like the day before, on a changing tide, the silence was interrupted. This time it was the Angel Brailyne that got her hook in one. A beautiful fish measured at over 90 inches and estimated around 600 lbs because of the girth. You couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque scene…just as the fish was turned loose with its two tags (pop-up and archival), the sun set on the horizon to create one of those magical moments you remember forever.

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