Saturday, October 1, 2016

Weekend Dozen

Tuna fishing can be one of the most frustrating sports in the World...there are times when you will spend days on the water and never see a fish...and there are other times that you will catch a fish but the hook will pull out or the line will chafe and break.

This weekend was not that weekend...with only two boats fishing for the tagging team...the F/V Bay Queen IV and F/V Nicole Brandy tagged and released 12 bluefin tuna on 16 hook-ups. To say the bite was hot is an understatement...the fish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are large by anyone's standards, and the "small" fish are still over 500lbs. It takes almost an hour to fight these fish, so in two days we fought fish for over 12 hours (including the ones we lost). 

We had fish erupt all around the boat on multiple occasions...imagine twenty 800 lb tuna coming 6 feet out of the water only an arm's length away from the boat. Standing at the back of the boat, you actually got splashed by the jumping fish as they chased billfish (saury) from Cape George to Cape Breton.

Our last bite on Sunday came as the sun was was our 6th fish of the day...and as I reeled in the Huey bait...WHAM...double header! Double headers happen quite often in fishing, especially tuna fishing and it is quite exciting. However, when both fish are over 700lbs it can be quite difficult to get both fish back to the boat. The captain has to maneuver the boat to make sure the fish don't take all the line off the reel or that the fish cross and cut the lines. Captain Dennis continued to amaze as he flawlessly positioned the boat to ensure both fish were successfully tagged!

Double header

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fall and Herring

Lloyd fights his 9th fish of the a waterspout!!
Capt. Bernie Chisolm passes off another one
TAG is back in Cape Breton to take advantage of one of bluefin tuna's favorite meals...Clupea harengus, aka the Atlantic herring. Herring are a pelagic species which form schools particularly during feeding and spawning periods. In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, herring spawn in the spring and fall. Fall spawning occurs mainly from mid-August to October at depths of 5 to 20 m. Eggs are attached to the bottom and large females can produce up to 360,000 eggs. Herring eggs also attract another one of bluefin tuna's favorite meals...Scomber scombrus, aka the Atlantic mackerel. The mackerel are there to eat the herring eggs...and so you have an large amount of prey, which in turn attracts a large amount of predators...from bluefin to pilot whales to seals.

The bluefin are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to fatten up on herring and mackerel before making their long migration back to the Gulf of Mexico (or Mediterranean) to spawn.

In the first two days back on the water we have had 16 hook-ups!! And so a busy couple of weeks begins...just need some good weather!!

Pilot whales ball up some mackerel

Dr. Steve Wilson tags a bluefin tuna

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Canada 2016 Day 2

Bluefin tuna on the sounder!
Tagged fish being released

Dr. Steve Wilson showing his love for the fish
Robbie Schallert and Steve Wilson measure a bluefin tuna
The day started out windy, but by noon the sea had calmed down so the TAG team headed to the docks. We first jigged some live mackerel then joined 4 other boats just off Mabou Harbor. At first it looked like it was going to be a slow day, but around 3 pm the ocean erupted with tuna of all sizes. It didn't take long before the Bay Queen hooked up!

Canada 2016

The TAG season has begun in Port Hood, Nova Scotia. The team arrived to beautiful summer weather...Lloyd MacInnes even wore shorts on the boat...a first for Canada bluefin tagging.

Llyod MacInnes fights the first fish of the season
This is our 9th season in Canada tagging giant tuna and the 20th anniversary for the TAG program. We came a little earlier this season to advantage of the weather and ask new questions about how these fish migrate and utilize the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There are many places to look for tuna between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island...the hole, the feathers, the shark fin, the bat and the ball, the bank, the red barn, the mines, etc. etc...and at the start of the fishing season we have to look around a bit to see where the fish are aggregating. The commercial season has begun and Captain Dennis has been fishing these waters for over 30 years, so we have a hint as to where to look.

After a couple hours the Bay Queen IV was hooked into her first bluefin of the tagging season. It was a nice round 500 pounder that got a Wildlife Computer satellite tag and a Vemco acoustic tag. The 2016 tagging season has started with a bang!
Dr. Aaron Carlisle releases  a tagged bluefin

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Top of the Tagging Pacific Bluefin Tuna Learning Curve!

Barb and Robbie tagging a Pacific bluefin
The trip aboard the shogun reached new territory today as the team aboard hit historic high levels of excitement as we finally had the banner day we were working towards. Five times today we had explosive bites while Kite fishing on breezing schools of the largest Pacific  bluefin we have ever seen in the eastern Pacific. Captain Aaron and Angler Chalie Morito along with crew member Tyler and several others worked seamlessly as a team sighting school after school of large almost giant bluefin feeding at the surface. After hookup long fights pursued in heavy tackle culminating at the swim step where the Tag team took over and gracefully captured each fish in slings barely large enough to hold the fish. Four men lifted the fish to four on deck tackling over 300 lbs of lift. The TAG team handled the fish like in a pit stop- each fish came came into the tagging station and were double tagged then sent on their way. Fish were feeding on Red crabs and anchovy. The fish had DNA and RNA samples taken and swam away strong. Five fish over six hours were  tagged and he team felt a sense of accomplishment as the techniques worked out early in the week succeeded with enormous efficiency and success. By the end of the day all ten satellite tags aboard were out in the sea on the largest Pacific bluefin the team has ever tagged in the North Pacific.  This is terrific for our efforts to learn the exact timing of when the fish spawn. 


A large bluefin being double-tagged on the Shogun  deck

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Archival Tagging Bluefin in Mexico!

The focus turned from tagging large bluefin with satellite tags
in  US waters to getting out surgically implanted archival tags in
high numbers today- and to help us achieve our mission- our Mexican
colleagues at Baja Aquafarms  of Ensenada, Mexico- contributed 32
fish ranging from 40 to 70  lb fish for tagging. We came to some tow
pens maintained by the famr early in the AM, that had beautiful f2016
captured fish circling-that had been caught about a month earlier.
The fish were already feeding and looked quite well. To catch the
fish we used lift poles- manned by two of the crew, and with the help
of their divers and some members of our team- we coordinated the
capture of the fish in a sling, the removal of the hook, and the
transfer to the archival tagging station. The entire operation took
less then two hours (30 fish tagged), and was orchestrated from start
to finish with well coordinated steps. Fish were caught on a barbless
hook by Charlie, Aaron and Renne, then moved to a sling manned by Dr.
Daniel Madigan. Dan managed to keep the fish in the sling with some
water along with two divers assisting and passed off the fish to
teammates waiting on deck led by Dr. Luke Garnder. Luke's team
managed to bring the fish to the tagging station and were greeted by
Drs. Dale and Block, and TAG scientist, Mr. Robbie Schallert.
Together this team placed a surgical archival tag in the fish, took a
sample of muscle for mRNA, and DNA samples, and completed the process
in quick succession 30 different times! All fish looked good and what
made the entire team happy- is that just as we pulled away from the
pens- the captain sited more wild fish- and we within the space of an
hour tagged a few more of the same size class in the pen. It was a
glorious moment- to get about 32 tags out- and all on 3-4 year old
fish. These tags will last up to six years in the wild taking high
resolution data. And have the promise of showing how these fish
mature- the ontogenetics of their changing behavior and the route to
the various spawning grounds. Their only fault is that we need to get
the tags back!


Monday, July 4, 2016

The Pacific Bluefin Got Even Bigger!

On Independence Day 2016 the Tag team aboard the Shogun actually made some real history. We have struggled to learn how to capture tag and release the largest Pacific bluefin tuna we have seen in our lifetime and this day proved more successful then the previous two. Today aboard the shogun, a long range recreational fishing boat out of San Diego we were able to catch three Pacific bluefin that taped  twice on two fish to 184 cm (72-73 inch fish) above the 200 lb class of Pacific bluefin and get them to the swim step. Two of the three  fish were in excellent condition for double tagging with pop up satellite archival tags and an implantable archival tag went in surgically in both. The tasks were challenging for the team from the hook up on a kite with a surface bait to the fight on heavy stand up tackle in the open ocean.The coordination and capacity for our team to capture in a sling and lift a large fish and the water draining from the  sling to the deck for tagging. Led by Robbie Schallert of TAG and Dr  Luke Gardner of Stanford the men with help from many others were able to place the large fish in a sling and move it to the deck placed Mats for tagging.   Pacific bluefin older the six years of age hold a secret we want to know: Where and when do they breed in the Pacific. The excitement aboard the Shogun is that this is a challenging operation and we are succeeding and improving daily. Five of these large fish have been hooked  successfully and three to date tagged and one sampled intensively. These fish hold a secret to he life history of bluefin we all seek to understand. This tagging trip working out the techniques to handle large bluefin for this realm reminds me of our work over twenty years ago off North Carolina in 1996 when a small team from the TRCC went out with Captain Bob Eakes to figure out how to tag and release this similar class of fish on the east coast. From the 1996 work we went on to tag 1300 Atlantic bluefin most bigger then the fish we are working on today. Our goal as we go forward is to satellite tag the larger bluefin we can catch in the Pacific but it's very hard to access these large fish. 

But confidence grows from catching three and releasing two large Pacific bluefin on the fourth of July and we are all excited about what we are seeing. The fish are packed full of red tuna crabs and anchovy. More bait and whales and Albatross and shearwaters making a hot spot on tthis region of our blue Serengeti of the California Current. 


Friday, July 1, 2016

Bluefin Tuna Special

Our Pacific bluefin tuna tagging and collecting trip  is out in the Pacific aboard the Shogun a recreational long Range fishing boat we've used annually to do this trip. The objective of the cruise is to electronic tag Pacific bluefin tuna and study their migrations to the spawning grounds in the western Pacific. In addition we hope to collect 15 to 20!bluefin tuna for the TRCC lab to conduct feeding studies.   For tagging we use two types of electronic tags each with their target size of fish and story we hope to tell with the data  One type of electronic tag is a Pop up satellite tag that is programmed to stay on the fish for one year and potentially show us where the largest year classes go after foraging in the eastern Pacific hot spots. This is a hot question in current Pacific bluefin tuna science. The other type of tag is called an archival tag. These tags are programmed to last six years and will provide in depth data in what a bluefin does over the entire period In 10-20 second intervals. That would be immense data and to far we've successfully used these techniques up to three years in the Pacific and five years in the Atlantic. These tags are brand new and when we put them in fish off the shores of North America we hope to see them five to six years from now recaptured. They have the potential to record the daily position, thus the journeys and behavior in high resolution for the entire six years.  They carry three languages  and all say Return for Big reward.bit takes a fisher person to get the tag back. But we know this works to date we have 53 percent returned in the Pacific and about twenty percent in the Atlantic.  It takes a lot of international cooperation but we are hopeful as this type of tagging has given Atlantic and Pacific bluefin tuna researchers the most  detail required to increase our knowledge of when and where tuna spawn a critical question essential to life history and management questions. In addition these tags provide oceanography and behavioral data essential for better understanding the fish. 

Slow Bite but Big Fish😎

Today the first of July l, we got off to great start with the pop up satellite tagging of our first fish which by measurement is the largest fish we ever have tagged on the Shogun. The bluefin tuna was caught by a crew member and measured 177  cm in curved length. We estimate the fish was close to 190-200 lbs. 

We caught the fish using innovative techniques by the Shogun crew and met the challenge of lifting it on board from a swim step and satellite tagging the fish.   If the tag stays on (a problem for these fast moving fish) we hope to get a year of data on where the bluefin tuna go to spawn.  Fish of this size class are very hard to catch as bluefin tuna vision is extraordinary. We were able to catch two more bluefin tuna of a smaller size class well above the size we intend to collect and for our first day we ended with two archival tags and the largest fish ever in twenty years of TRCC tagging. Great start! 

- Barbara Block