Friday, October 4, 2013

Canada 2013: Epic Tagging

Dr. Steve Wilson and Robbie Schallert tag a giant bluefin
in Port Hood, Nova Scotia

The TAG team is up in Canada where we’ve had an epic 5 days of nonstop bluefin tagging.  I’m Ethan Estess from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University’s Tuna Research and Conservation Center, here with TAG scientists Robbie Schallert and Dr. Steve Wilson of Stanford University. We came to Port Hood, Nova Scotia on September 27th to work with Mike Stokesbury’s team from Acadia University to study giant bluefin in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. 

TAG team Dr. Steve Wilson, Robbie Schallert (center), and Cpt. Dennis Cameron (at head irrigating the gills)

We awoke on the 28th to flat calm seas and sunny skies. The Tag-A-Giant team headed out with Captain Dennis Cameron and Craig of the Bay Queen IV and Bernie and Steve of the Carrie Anne.  The bait had barely hit the water when we hooked up on a giant bluefin tuna.  An hour later the 270cm fish was on the tagging mat and a minute later it was back out the door, outfitted with an acoustic and pop-up archival tag (PAT).  These tags will help unlock the mysteries of bluefin migratory patterns and spawning cycles, providing critical information for their management and conservation.   To date most of these Canadian giants have been tracked to the Gulf of Mexico spawning grounds, but a few (less then 2%) make their way to the Mediterranean Sea.

A giant bluefin being reeled in by the crew of the Bay Queen IV

The bluefin were there in force to feed on the large schools of herring in the region.  We double tagged 6 fish with acoustics and pop-ups, and many of these fish were the largest I've seen.  All of Sunday’s fish were over 260cm, easily weighing 800 pounds or more.  These fish were extremely well fed and very big around!

Measuring the length of a giant bluefin

Over the next 3 days we deployed 14 more electronic tags in perfect fishing conditions.  Cape Breton is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and we were surrounded by spectacular wildlife.  Hundreds of pilot whales, or “blackfish” as our captain called them, circled our boat throughout.  They were there for the same reason the bluefin were- to feed on the massive schools of herring spawning along the island.   Gannets dive-bombed and grey seals bobbed along with curious glances towards our bait.  One of the highlights of the trip was placing a tag in the largest giant bluefin TAG has ever tagged- a 313cm bluefin we tagged and released.  This behemoth barely fit on the deck of the Day Queen IV.  This fish is surely a spawner, and hopefully its PAT tag will teach us about bluefin spawning locations and behaviors in the Gulf of Mexico.

Surrounded by hungry pilot whales with our other fishing vessel
the Carrie Anne in the background

Cape Breton sunset