Fish tagging program offers Gulf anglers $250 prize

MOBILE, Ala. (CN) – Anglers at this weekend’s 89th annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo – billed as the “world’s greatest fishing tournament” – will compete for a wide variety of fish. Prizes are awarded to the greatest specimen in more than 30 categories.

Some of the favorites, both for anglers and the public who gather at a wharf on Dauphin Island to watch the weigh-ins, include tuna, tarpon, snapper, wahoo, swordfish and dolphinfish, better known as mahi mahi. For the first time in seven years, the rodeo – held July 14-17 – is also reintroducing sharks to the list of award-winning categories.

But one species missing from the rankings will be the greater amberjack.

Since 2001, the Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recognized greater amberjack as overfished in the Gulf of Mexico, where the fish has also been the subject of a population recovery plan. Two other recognized populations in the South Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are not overfished, but little is known about the species, including how the populations interact.

In fiscal year 2020, Congress funded the majority of an $11.7 million study of greater amberjack, with the goal of more accurately estimating populations, along with their movement patterns and information additional biologicals.

This summer, a team of 18 scientists from 13 partner institutions will begin large-scale tagging of greater amberjack and although anglers will miss out on the tournament prize for the species, they are encouraged to collect and submit data. on tagged fish they catch for a $250 reward offered by the Amberjack Research Program.

A similar study of red snapper in 2019 determined that the species’ abundance was 2.5 times higher than the federal government had previously estimated, and data from the surveys could have important implications for commercial fishing and recreational and coastal economies supported by these industries, according to NOAA Fisheries.

“The greater amberjack is not as abundant or as popular as the red snapper, but it is an important predator in the system because it also migrates,” said Sean Powers, chair of the marine science department at the University of South Alabama and senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Marine Laboratory. Powers is also the head judge for this weekend’s fishing rodeo.

“The tagging is part of a larger study to determine the absolute abundance of amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic,” Powers said. “The idea behind this is to get a survey large enough using the latest technology to get a baseline of abundance. It will tell us about their movements and levels of fishing mortality.

A total of 1,200 fish will be tagged, 750 with one or two conventional tags and 450 with acoustic tags and conventional tags. Acoustic tags are basically electronic transmitters programmed to emit unique signals to each fish. Double tagging allows scientists to estimate how often fish lose their tags.

After tagging, the fish are returned to where they were caught and the signals from the tags are recorded by a set of underwater receivers strategically placed offshore between Texas and South Carolina. The success of the study largely depends on the participation of fishermen, who are expected to collect and return tags along with information such as where and when the fish was caught, its weight and its length.

Powers said the red snapper tagging effort yielded a 30% recapture rate in some study areas.

“That’s why we’re making the reward so high to give anglers enough incentive to ensure that all tags caught are reported and returned,” he said. “Their participation is crucial.

Dustin Mosely, a resident of Spanish Fort, Alabama, has been rodeo fishing for 15 years. He doesn’t usually target amberjack, but says he knows they’re out there in abundance.

“Anywhere we go some distance out there, they’re thick,” he said.

Mosely uses a rod and reel during the tournament, but in recent years has also become an experienced spearfisherman.

“I dived and literally had to go through them to reach groupers or other fish, hundreds of them, although many of them were younger and around 20 pounds,” he said. -he declares.

Mosely said he was aware of the red snapper investigation when it happened, as well as a related debate between the State of Alabama and NOAA Fisheries over fishing quotas, boundaries and seasons, but said, “I don’t read too much into their studies. .”

“I only know what I see, and I don’t think the state and the feds are on the same page when it comes to their data,” he said.

The rodeo record for greater amberjack was a 120-pound specimen caught in 2019.

Separately, amid public outcry, rodeo powers and organizers have defended the decision to reintroduce sharks to competition this year. Powers said no shark species targeted in the Gulf are listed as threatened or endangered, and the rodeo uses guidelines above federal regulations for harvesting animals.

“We’re not doing anything different than federal and state guidelines allow,” he said. “Whether the rodeo happened or not, someone could go out and harvest sharks. What we’re going to do is make sure they’re not wasted by collecting all the important biological samples we can from those specimens.

Powers said the scientific data collected during the rodeo is paramount. Independently funding such a large sample for scientific study would be an expensive and hard sell, and the resulting survey would not be representative of a species’ distribution. Plus, “scientists don’t make the best anglers,” he said.

“Think of it this way: I have 4,000 anglers who go out there for the express purpose of catching the biggest fish in the population, at no cost to me,” Powers said. “We use this event to train some of our emerging scientists, where they learn how to remove ear bones, take measurements and samples, and interact with the public. To top it off, we can use this information to generate data on the lifespan of some of these species and whether their abundance is increasing or decreasing.

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About Irene J. O'Donnell

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