Tag, You’re It

Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries research technician with SMAST-UMASS-Dartmouth,  uses a suction tube to extract unfertilized eggs for study during cod research aboard the commercial fishing vessel Endeavor off the coast of Scituate, MA Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Behind him Brad Schondelmeier, an aquatic biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, records the fish measurements and tag data (photo by John Clarke Russ for the Nature Conservancy)

Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries research technician with SMAST-UMASS-Dartmouth, uses a suction tube to extract unfertilized eggs for study during cod research aboard the commercial fishing vessel Endeavor off the coast of Scituate, MA Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Behind him Brad Schondelmeier, an aquatic biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, records the fish measurements and tag data (photo by John Clarke Russ for the Nature Conservancy)

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.

Bill Hoffman (left), an aquatic biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries technician and Ph.D. candidate at SMAST/UMASS-Dartmouth, use rod and reel to pull up Atlantic cod for T-Bar and acoustic tagging in Massachusetts Bay during their December 3, 2013 outing on the "Michael Brandon" a Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing boat. Local fishermen are working with government, university and nonprofit scientists to research the local cod population by tracking their breeding activities using tagging technology with audio and acoustic tag monitoring . (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Bill Hoffman (left), an aquatic biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries technician and Ph.D. candidate at SMAST/UMASS-Dartmouth, use rod and reel to pull up Atlantic cod for T-Bar and acoustic tagging in Massachusetts Bay during their December 3, 2013 outing on the “Michael Brandon” a Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing boat. Local fishermen are working with government, university and nonprofit scientists to research the local cod population by tracking their breeding activities using tagging technology with audio and acoustic tag monitoring . (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

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.

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Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries research technician and Ph.D. candidate at SMAST/UMASS-Dartmouth, holds a lipstick-sized acoustic tag while performing cod research in Massachusetts Bay with fellow scientists aboard the Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing vessel "Michael Brandon on December 3, 2013. The acoustic tags will help researchers gather data about cod behavior, to help preserve this species and the local communities that depend on it. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Doug Zemeckis, a fisheries research technician and Ph.D. candidate at SMAST/UMASS-Dartmouth, holds a lipstick-sized acoustic tag while performing cod research in Massachusetts Bay with fellow scientists aboard the Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing vessel “Michael Brandon on December 3, 2013. The acoustic tags will help researchers gather data about cod behavior, to help preserve this species and the local communities that depend on it. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

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.

Jeff Kneebone (left), Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries contractor, and The Nature Conservancy's Chris McGuire, right, discuss cod findings during a research trip to tag and study cod aboard the Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing trawler "Yankee Rose" on December 19, 2013. The acoustic tags that researchers implant in the cod will help researchers gather data about cod behavior, to help preserve this species and the local communities that depend on it. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Jeff Kneebone (left), Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries contractor, and The Nature Conservancy’s Chris McGuire, right, discuss cod findings during a research trip to tag and study cod aboard the Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing trawler “Yankee Rose” on December 19, 2013. The acoustic tags that researchers implant in the cod will help researchers gather data about cod behavior, to help preserve this species and the local communities that depend on it. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

 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.

Capt. Kevin Norton, center, of the Scituate-based commercial fishing trawler "Yankee Rose" tosses a freshly-caught Atlantic cod into a holding tank as biologist Jeff Kneebone (far left), deckhand Greg Cook, The Nature Conservancy's Chris McGuire and SMAST/UMass-Dartmouth researcher Doug Zemeckis (far right) look on during their research trip aboard Norton's boat on December 19, 2013. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Capt. Kevin Norton, center, of the Scituate-based commercial fishing trawler “Yankee Rose” tosses a freshly-caught Atlantic cod into a holding tank as biologist Jeff Kneebone (far left), deckhand Greg Cook, The Nature Conservancy’s Chris McGuire and SMAST/UMass-Dartmouth researcher Doug Zemeckis (far right) look on during their research trip aboard Norton’s boat on December 19, 2013. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Jeff Kneebone, a marine biologist contractor for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, releases a freshly-tagged Atlantic cod into Massachusetts Bay while performing research with others aboard aboard the "Yankee Rose" --a Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing boat. Photographed December 19, 2013.  (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

Jeff Kneebone, a marine biologist contractor for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, releases a freshly-tagged Atlantic cod into Massachusetts Bay while performing research with others aboard aboard the “Yankee Rose” –a Scituate, MA-based commercial fishing boat. Photographed December 19, 2013. (photo by John Clarke Russ for The Nature Conservancy)

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"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

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