There is probably some principle like Pareto’s law that mysteriously controls how events seem to cluster. How else is it that one can go for weeks without anything on the calendar, then bam, a whole bunch of events get scheduled for the same day. The same sort of thing happened with the subject of fish tagging. I hadn’t heard much on the subject and bam, several interesting pieces on the benefits of fish tagging hit the inbox.
The first was sent out by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries. It told the story of a bluefin tuna that had been tagged in 1997 in the Mudhole east/southeast of Block Island, R.I. by Capt. Al Anderson on his charter boat. The fish was a mere 14 pounds at the time. The fish managed to survive for 16 years at sea and was caught in the fall of 2013 off Nova Scotia at a weight of over 1200 pounds. I suspect it got a free chilled ride to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo within days.
It would have been amazing to have had a super long-lived archival tag that could have told us where this critter had been in the 16 years at sea. However, the fish was tagged with a conventional tag that did give information on the lifespan of these fish, the beginning and ending size and the tagging site and capture site. This is all valuable information, which helps to understand these fish better. Beyond that, what it tells me is how important it is to have a good distribution of age classes in the fishery. This animal, and I am making the assumption it was a female, would have produced tens of millions of eggs over her lifetime. It also says that there absolutely has to be protection for these long-lived critters in their spawning grounds, before during and after spawning concentrations.
The next tagging story that slipped in over the transom was about tagging codfish off Massachusetts’s South Shore. Tagging codfish is not new, but using acoustic tags to help pinpoint specific spawning areas is relatively recent.
The project was conceived by Scituate fisherman, Frank Mirarchi, but was a cooperative effort with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Massachusetts, U Mass Dartmouth, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Mass Dept. of Fish & Game, Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries and NOAA North East Fisheries Science Center. This project also enlisted the help of several commercial fishermen out of the South Shore port of Scituate. Including the industry is a great idea, as I have been and remain a fan of cooperative management in both the commercial and recreational fisheries. The goal was to implant 150 acoustic tags into codfish that displayed the traits of being almost ready to spawn. At the time the piece was sent out they had managed to reach their goal. I had an opportunity to discuss this project with Chris McGuire, the marine program director for TNC in MA. He indicated that these tags are much like an E-Z Pass. They send out a signal that can be picked up and recorded by an array of underwater receivers. They have placed 38 of these in the areas generally known to have spawning concentrations of cod. The ultimate goal is to pinpoint the specific spawning areas and then go through the regulation process of protecting these areas during spawning time.
The State of MA through the Division of Marine Fisheries has put in place the Cod Conservation Zone off Winthrop. This was a well-known spawning area that during late December, January and early February held substantial numbers of spawning cod. Guiltily, I admit to having first hand knowledge gained prior to the closure. The New England Fisheries Management Council put in place another spawning closure off the New Hampshire coast called the Whaleback Cod Closure. IMO, it is imperative that all of these spawning aggregations are protected.
This is the same thing that folks down on the South Shore want to do to protect the remnant spawning population there. By any measure it is the right thing to do and tagging will help make the right location decisions. Done correctly this is an important fisheries management tool. Kudos to all involved, but a special thanks to TNC and the MA Marine Fisheries Institute for funding this effort. This is definitely the kind of forward thinking that will help restore the groundfish resource in the long run.