Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It Takes A Village

TAG's 2009 Canada campaign has come to a close. In total we deployed 19 tags on 10 giant tunas, including 9 double-tagged fish with satellite and acoustic tags! It's thrilling but exhausting, technically challenging work for the fishermen and scientists in the field. All of us at the Tag-A-Giant Foundation would like to express our sincere appreciation to the TAG 2009 Canada team - congratulations on a job well done!

Homebase: Captain Dennis Cameron and Mate Sheldon aboard the tagging vessel F/V Bay Queen IV

Captain Bruce Keus aboard the F/V North Lake Breeze

Captain Bernie Chisholm of the F/V Nicole Brandy passes a rod (+tuna!) to the tagging vessel F/V Bay Queen IV.

Captain Steve MacInnis of the F/V Carrie Anne

Captain Scott Jenkins of the F/V Angel Brailyne

Captain Ross Keus aboard the F/V North Lake Breeze

Captain Pete Sutherland of the F/V Pete's Pair-A-Dice passes the rod to the tagging vessel F/V Bay Queen IV.

Celebrity tagger Chris Mihm

Naomi Pleizier, Robbie Schallert & TAG Canada 2009 Chief Scientist Dr. Steve Wilson
TAG Canada 2009 Chief Scientist Dr. Steve Wilson & Robbie Schallert

Scientist Aaron Spares of Dalhousie University aboard the F/V Carrie Anne.

The tags are scheduled to report in late spring/early summer 2010. Bon voyage, bluefin!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Giants Return for our Last Day of Canada Tagging 2009

TAG A Giant fishers from Nova Scotia and PEI- teamed up to produce 4 hook- ups and while one fish pulled hook, three giant bluefin made it to the back of the tagging vessel. Angel Brailyn hooked up first- made the transfer and than we lost the fish just at the lip hook point when the leader touched the hull. It's happenned before for sure (ask TAG wiremen CP Perry & Daryl Brower). Neptuna hooked up in the late afternoon. This fish was brought aboard and measured 261 cm and was estimated at about 750 lbs. and received a tag. Next was Angel Brailyn who had hooked up earlier. They passed the rod again and fought for about 1 hour into the night. The fish was brought aboard in excellent condition and measured 268 cm and was girthy- so estimated about 800 lbs. The ocean was very lively today. Birds everywhere diving on bait. Hundreds of dolphins with us all day. Bluefin were mixed in with them and often seen breaking surface in the middle of groups of dolphins. Some were jumping clear of water- 800 lb fish jumping completely out of the water about 100 feet from the boat.

We're so pleased to have put two more long-term satellite tags in true Canadian giants. We've got at least 10 PATs out all in very big fish- some estimated at 1200 to 1300 lbs. The pop up satellite tags will give us the long distance movements (we can estimate position approximately on a daily schedule or at least get positions several times a week) to help better understand the movements and migrations of the giants that visit the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We'll get a window into their breeding schedules in the Gulf of Mexico and potentially teh Mediterranean Sea. We'll be "listening" for the acoustic tagged fish that with their new pinger tags that will deliver a coded data set that says the number of the tag, sort of "here I am tuna 42034". We can track them within about 300-400m of a listening post- or "receiver" line - one is now located in Cabot Straight and potentially they may acoustically hit another Halifax line off the Nova Scotian shelf. These tags have the potential for long-term monitoring. We hope to "hear" them next season come into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Lines are maintained by the Ocean Tracking Network of which Dr. Mike Stokesbury from our team has a leading role. The acoustic tags were supplied for this very first experiment of external tags (Last year we did internal acoustics) from TAG A GIANT- another first!

Special thanks to our super tag team from Nova Scotia (Dennis, Steve, Bernie and Peter and their mates) and PEI (Bruce Kues et al.) led by Dr. Steve Wilson and students Aaron S. and Naiomi P.. We had challenging weather this season over the 18 days we were camped there, but we're very pleased to have put out satellite and acoustic tags on so many big fish. The water temperature is cooling so we know the bluefin will be heading south shortly. Great fishing here in Canada and some fine fishermen helping garner new knowledge on bluefin tuna.

Monday, October 26, 2009

TUNA = 3. TAG = 2

Here's another take on Saturday's tagging from Aaron Spares, one of the field scientists tagging in Port Hood...

Sunrise was a pink sky highlighted with gold-rimmed stratus clouds, the kinda morning sky that turns to satin streams as the day goes on. Gannets soared everywhere as they and tuna boats fished for ‘pig-sized’ mackerel. Steaming offshore brought more birds, gulls and guillemots, but no tuna. Off the Mull River, the first few gannets started pluggin’ surface bait. A tuna ripped a white streak through the surface under them, followed soon after by ½ a dozen more. We set up and reset numerous times near events inshore, but only had our first marks o’the day by 11:18. We headed outside to a hotspot termed ‘The Sharkfin’, markin’ bait as we steamed.
The radio cracks with the voice of Captain Bruce Keus of the ‘S/V North Lake Breeze’ outside of us, “Fish up! Gotta go!”

Other TAG vessels report similar activity. We waited with baited breath, feeding our building excitement with early Halloween treats. Birds began to gather around the ‘S/V Bay Queen’. ‘Were we the startin’ line?’ What little wind there was had us lulled into believin’ we were headed towards what Capers call “a flat-ass cam” day. By noon, the sounder showed two solid green bands of bait, one shallow, one deep. Kites were deployed, dropped and redeployed, desperately trying to take advantage of the light breeze. A lone Sei whale surfaced off our stern.
“On there Dennis?” the radio sounded at 12:13 with Capt’n Bernie Chisholm of the ‘S/V Nicole Brandy’, “We’re hooked up here.”

The game, and our taggin’ day, began. By 13:13, #1 tagged tuna was back in the water with tags attached. An hour later, we marked a fish deep and soon after our ‘Huey’ surface bait screamed off the reel. The fish remained high, makin’ our line chaffer, a soother to shield the leader line from a tuna’s sharp teeth, useless. The line snapped after a 27-minute battle. ‘Catcha later tuna #2.’ With the wind pickin’ up, Capt’n Steve MacInnis of the ‘S/V Carrie Anne’ hooked up tuna #3 at 15:33. After comin’ aboard the ‘Bay Queen’ with his hooked up rod, he fought the fish for 2 hours, bringing the giant to the surface only once before it dove deep beside the boat doubling over the rod like it had been kicked in the groin. With a sharp crack, it snapped off at the base of shaft. The reel with a baseball bat thick stub left became the TAG team’s only weapon against this monster. With Capt’n Steve MacInnis and Dennis Cameron hand-linin’, Dr. Steve Wilson reelin’ in slack and PhD student Aaron Spares protecting the monofilament from sharp edges of the gunwale with a mat, the monster was brought to the surface once more. Its powerful tail, as thick as a Husky sled dog’s shoulders are wide, still pumped water over the crew fighting it from the stern. The line tightened and released. The fish swam away. The crew was left with two more fish hooked up by other vessels. In the increasing wind, gusting to 20 knots, with waves floodin’ the back deck of the ‘Bay Queen’ through the transom door, the TAG team tagged tuna #4 in the gathering dark and stomached the message tuna #5 broke off. TUNA = 3. TAG = 2. May these giants bite again when the wind lets the TAG team out another day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Granders Getting Tagged & Breaking Rods

The TAG A Giant team let by scientists Steve Wilson of Stanford University, Aaron Spares of Dalhousie once again aboard the TAG vessel Bay Queen IV owned by Captain Dennis Cameron have had a busy day in Canada. Giant bluefins were hooked again by many of the TAG teams vessels fishing together from the ports of Nova Scotia and PEI. Three of these fish were taken to the tagging vessel. Two received a complementary set of TAG jewlry: double tagging with 1 pop up satellite tag and one acoustic tag. You can see the tags in the middle photo above. Captain Steve McGinnis who has fished and tagged with the team for four seasons came aboard on a transfer with a monster on his rod. He fought it for over 2 hours, then it snapped his rod at the base. The team recovered quicky and handlined the big fish to the door where it broke off just before being lip hooked. Well over 1000lbs but free to get a tag another day. The wind picked up late in the day just as three fish were simultaneously hooked. The TAG team has had some difficult weather this season- but what can you expect its Late October in the northern waters of the Canadian Maritimes. Congrads to everyone working hard on behalf of bluefin tuna!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Giant Leaves and Giants Return

You know it must be fishing when the celebrity angler leaves just in time for the big fish to start showing up! Yesterday the bite was on, with three big ones tagged and a fourth that broke off.

Steve Wilson tags a 950 pound tuna

Steve Wilson reports:

Like Tuesday, the day started off slow and then exploded in the late afternoon. Bait was on the surface with birds and white-sided dolphins foraging. Lots of tuna being marked deep (beneath the bait). Dolphins were right alongside our boat eating bait that was trying hide beneath the boat. Bruce handed us the rod with fish #3 on it, and had hooked up again within 5 minutes. Broke off half an hour after sunset.
Awesome out there today.

Here's a 1,200 lb. giant getting tagged.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Giant Tagged in Canada

The weather kept us on land in the morning, but we decided to take our chances and were on the fishing grounds by lunchtime. The decision paid off, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. There were fish busting everywhere, but they weren't biting. We tagged one bluefin, hooked by Capt. Bruce Keus aboard the F/V North Lake Breeze. At 84-inches long, the fish was small (at least by Canadian standards) and was estimated at ~400lbs. Celebrity tagger Chris Mihm did the honors, expertly affixing the satellite tag near the base of the second dorsal under the guidance of veteran TAG scientists Dr. Steve Wilson (in the white Stanford hat) and Robbie Schallert (sampling skin mucous in the photo below).

The water temperature was 11.7C today - down from 12.5C two days ago. Everyone in the fleet was commenting that it was strange that there were lots of fish but they just weren't biting. Hopefully we will have a few more productive tagging days before the season ends.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Battle Between Giants in Canada

The TAG team got on the board in Canada yesterday, releasing two giant bluefin tuna with satellite and acoustic tags thanks to the help of a giant that remained safely onboard. Even at 7 ft tall, angler Chris Mihm, center for the Los Angeles Lakers, was nearly dwarfed by the 98-inch and 107-inch fish he brought to the tagging vessel, Bay Queen IV, which was captained by Dennis Cameron.

TAG Angler Chris Mihm

After several days stuck onshore due to weather (during which time Chris stayed busy hanging out at the dock learning how to wield a saw to sample bluefin tuna earbones, called otoliths, and taking pictures with fans eager to guess who was taller - Chris or their fish!), the TAG team was thrilled to be out on the water yesterday. Three other vessels were fishing with the F/V Bay Queen IV - the F/V Pete's Pair-A-Dice, F/V Nicole Brandy, and F/V Carrie Anne. After a quick stop to catch mackerel on the way out of the harbor to use as bait, the fishing began. The ocean was alive. The team marked lots of fish under the boat, and they were surrounded by porpoises, pilot whales and minkes.

Capt Bernie aboard the F/V Nicole Brandy before transfer to the tagging vessel, F/V Bay Queen IV in the background

The first to hook up was the Nicole Brandy, and after a 72 min fight the ~750-lb fish was tagged and released under the direction of TAG scientists Dr. Steve Wilson and Robbie Schallert. Next to hook up was Pete's Pair-A-Dice, and after a 43 min fight, the ~950-lb fish was released with its brand new tag accessories.

Chris vs. Fish

Although the Carrie Anne hooked up and successfully passed their rod to the tagging boat, the fish pulled the hook after a half hour fight and the team had to go home content with two fish tagged.

It was good to break our duck, and hopefully the upcoming good weather will be productive. Stay tuned!

Success in Japan!

Chuck Farwell reports 11 Pacific bluefin tuna released with archival tags in Japan. All fish were 1-2 years old - the hope is to tag a fish that will soon migrate to the California Current in the eastern Pacific and record a detailed track of the trans-oceanic journey. Congratulations to the team!

Friday, October 16, 2009

TAG team returns to Cape Breton

TAG scientists Steve Wilson and Robbie Shallert returned to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia a week ago, hoping to tag more giant bluefin. This is the same area where last year they placed the 1,000th tag in a true giant - estimated to weigh over 1,250 lbs. Reports leading up to their departure suggest that there are lots of fish in the area, although the granders have yet to show.

The weather has been challenging, but on Tuesday Steve was able to get out for a few hours of fishing, while Robbie collected samples from fish coming in to Port Hood. Although they didn't catch any fish, they observed some feeding activity late in the day.

They are on the water again this morning, hoping to get some tags out before the wind picks up. I'll keep you posted as I hear more from them!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TAG in Japan

This morning Chuck Farwell, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Curator of Pelagic Fishes and long-time TAG collaborator, departed on a unique opportunity to tag Pacific bluefin tuna off the coast of Japan. Chuck will be working with colleagues from Tokyo University's Ocean Research Institute. Their operation will be based in the port of Nagai, on the Miura Peninsula - at the northeast end of Sagami Bay.
We'll look forward to hearing more from Chuck in the days ahead!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

La Bella Tonno Rosso

TAG is in Italia! TAG scientist Dr. Andy Seitz, with the generous assistance, support and hospitality of Daniele Crepaldi, is on the trail of Italian bluefin, or tonno rosso to the locals. The expedition began in the city of Imperia on the Ligurian Sea. The first day was windy so they toured the city. They fished the next three days and saw nothing. Just as they decided that there were no fish in the area and it started to pour rain, they caught a small bluefin of 103 cm (~40 in). Because it was too small to satellite tag, they tagged it with one of the new LAT tags - a more compact archival tag.

They are now in Livorno on the southern Ligurian Sea in the Tuscany region, where they will fish for a couple of days before heading over to the Adriatic Sea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuna Tagging in New Zealand

After two weeks of bad weather, Tag-A-Giant finally made it out on the water. We left Greymouth September 4th for a 48 hour trip under blue skies and calm seas aboard Reel Passion captained by Mark Hoare and mates Paul Eyers and Craig Taylor. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the fishing ground, Reel Passion had her first tuna bite of the tagging season. After an hour and forty minute fight, 16 year old Shyloh Knight caught his first Pacific Bluefin tuna weighing in at 278.6 kg and 258 cm. We worked hard to catch some more and get our 9 satellite tags in the water, but we were unsuccessful. The TAG team moved up to Westport to give it another shot aboard the Te Ariki Nui captained by Jason Wootton...hopefully they will be snapping!
(Posted by Randy Kochevar for Robbie Schallert)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monitoring tuna ranches

TAG-A-Giant descended upon Ensenada Mexico in mid-August to install an acoustic monitoring station in collaboration with Maricultura del Norte. The TAG team led by Dr. Barbara Block, Robbie Schallert, Luis Rodriguez and Dane Klinger successfully implanted twelve acoustic tags inside captured Pacific Bluefin tuna. The fish were then released back into their grow pen, where they will be monitored remotely from Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, CA. The internal tags measure the tuna body temperature and transmit the data to a receiver mounted on the outside of the cage. The receiver then relays the information to a satellite overhead, which downloads the information to scientists.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Filling the Wells

Bluefin finally cooperated today. With a tremendous effort by all involved we loaded up the wells to maximum capacity - it took all day and diligence at every stop. This size class we're collecting are extremely picky eaters. The Shogun crew led by Norm, Gunny, Cha-Chi, Matt, Pat and Randy along with our team had to have extreme patience and perserverance. These fish are very tough to collect. But today on every stop we were able to get 2-4 to bite- we often lost a few due to the reliance on light tackle. A larger class the third year juvenile bluefin were also present- and a half dozen fish were released with tags once they were deemed too large for the wells. All the fish are measured- and the smallest was 26.7 inches (about 10 lbs) and the largest 36 inches - a robust 38-40 lb fish. All the bluefin are in great condition and tonight with a sliver of the moon we're able to watch about 17 swim below decks here on the Shogun. Tomorrow is another day- and we hope to put some archival tags in small bluefin. Tagging for a living and saving the PBFT!

Stealth bluefin fishing

Today we used stealth techniques on bluefin, and sure enough a few consistently bit the sardines. The crew loves to fish for bluefin on this trip- and everyone was on the decks as Norm consistently put us in the large bluefin tuna schools. We opened archival tagging station 1 led by Robbie Schallert and Dr. Barb Block. We were able to deploy 5 archival tags into small bluefin ranging in size from 20-35 lbs. Anglers from the Shogun and TRCC used a variety of newly tied gear which included smaller circle hooks, 25 # test, and stealthly tied knots. The bluefin than proceeded to bite some of this gear along with the typical heavy tackle we used to get fish in quick. However, we also got bit on 40 and 50 lb test raising the point that maybe some of these fish would have bitten anything we put out! But most did not bite at all. They just go down when we go over them- a bit skiddish. We were rewarded today with 5 really nice bluefin for tagging and 3 for collecting. About five more got away either at the swim step- on the first bite or after a long fight. Currently the cut off for tagging is about a 20 lb bluefin- above this size we tag them as they get a bit too large for the wells for collection of live specimens. There are scattered bluefin in the region. Some larger schools of small jumpers, boilers. Our camera crew got some awesome shots with their super fast digital arrays. Weather could not be finer and armed with a tremendous dose of enthusiasm- I hope tomorrow will be the day we get our wells filled.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 22nd

The Shogun crew and research scientists spent a day looking hard for small bluefin tuna. We saw remarkable schools of collectable size bluefin tuna in the 10 to 15 lb. range, but we were unable to get a single fish to bite. We had a fantastic film day for our Ocean Futures colleagues filming a bluefin movie on the Shogun for the Cousteau team. It was an Audubon special- bluefin and a few albacore schools, mola, blue whales, Risso dolphins,white sided dolphins, albatross, storm petrels, terns and phalleropes. At least for the film team we put some serious hours in the tape bank. We're pulling together the best hypotheses as to why it's hard to get those small bluefin to bite- you can be sure we're moving to the lightest line we have. One issue going on is the tunas are feeding on anchovy and sauries- which are very small compared ot the sardines - so we're trying swim baits, anchovy,small sardines and iron jigs. Tomorrow should be the day! And hopefully we'll deploy our new miniature archival tags in these adorable sized bluefin!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Tunabago

The combined TRCC-Shogun team had a smooth morning offloading the bluefin tuna. The tuna transport truck "The Tunabago" arrived 9 hours later at the Stanford Tuna Research Conservation Center with all passengers in good condition. By 10am we were headed back out to sea and within a few hours were among dozens of blue whales. Late this afternoon a few spots of tuna made a showing underneath diving terns but maintained their elusive status today. Our group has high hopes for a successful day of collecting and tagging tomorrow.

Searching and Sampling

Today was a beautiful day on the ocean - clear skies, warm temperatures and beautiful weather. We started the day with tremendous optimism after the our first day's success; however, we failed to locate Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis. A highlight of the afternoon was Jim Miller catching a 25 lb yellowtail- his first ever off a large kelp paddy. We did find one lonely albacore on the troll. Dan Madigan sampled the the albacore for his thesis research on diet of albacore. We're going to take the live fish in to the dock to off load for a trip to the research tanks in Monterey. Hope to be back out fishing by the afternoon. We're thinking a lot about how the bluefin tuna interact with the banks of the region and where they might be.
The sampling shows Gen Del Ray and Luis Rodriguez taking fresh samples of the tuna hearts for studies that help us better understand how these olympians tolerate large changes in ambient water while delivering oxygen to tissues that operate at high temperatures. Our heart is warm- and sends blood to warm tissues- the tunas have this remarkable capacity to go deep into cooler waters- chilling the heart- but maintaining flow to warm muscle tissues. How they do this is a mystery given a mammal's heart would stop! Dan is getting the samples from the stomach for isotopic analyses, and Jim Miller is smiling about that first fish in the Pacific.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Outstanding start to Pacific Bluefin trip

The Shogun has become a Research Vessel for the week as the Tuna Research and Conservation Center team of Stanford University and MBA are out with Captain Norm and the Shogun Crew for our annual bluefin tuna tagging and collecting trip. The trip is supported by our Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) program (http://www.topp.org/), a 10-year program focused on using electronic tagging technologies to document the movements and behaviors of marine predators in the North Pacific. The objective has been to advance electronic tagging technologies and scientific methods to meet the challenges of the 21st century for marine resource management and ocean modeling. To date the TOPP team has tagged 4000 fish, sharks, whales, squid, albatross and turtles. The second objective of the trip is to collect bluefin for our research center in Monterey, CA.

Today we got off to an outstanding start on our summer trip as we’ve located some bluefin of the perfect collectable size, about 12 lbs. We quickly placed 10 bluefin aboard the ship in two holds and began tagging with archival tags. This process is somewhat akin to throwing a laptop computer into the bluefin and returning the fish to the sea. This trip we’re carrying the Lotek 2310 archival tags that require surgical implantation and some brand new very advanced tags that we’re testing. The tags record light, temperature and pressure, they have a clock and the algorithms allow us to do position and discern the vertical and horizontal movements of the fish. It’s a great start to the trip to be close to home and have the perfect size fish in the wells for collection. We’ve had a super day with whales, dolphins, bluefin, albatross and terns.
The pictures show Luis Rodriguez and Dan Madigan removing the hook from a fish on a specially built swim step on the shogun for handling live fish. We had two bluefin tagging stations operating where Robbie Schallert and I tagged fish and at the second station we had Jake Noguiera and Alex Norton tagging and they are shown releasing a fish. Gen Del Ray and Dane Klinger assisted.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Great Marlin Race

I know, I know. This is a bit off-topic. But the Tag A Giant science team has a long history of tagging all kinds of cool animals. (In fact, Barb put out the very first electronic tag went out on a billfish!) This week, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT), we are launching the Great Marlin Race! Up to 10 teams will have a chance to tag Pacific blue marlins with pop-up satellite archival tags -- and after 180 days, when the tags are programmed to be released, we'll learn whose fish went the furthest!

You can follow the action on a brand new web site (http://www.greatmarlinrace.org/). George Shillinger, a Block Lab Ph.D. student any me will be reporting each day, sending back photos and videos of the race as it unfolds. You can also follow along on our Great Marlin Race blog. Some of the features and functions you'll see there might also show up on the TAG website, and we'd love to get your feedback!

Off to the races!