Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Must be October

The TAG team had one of the most incredible runs in their 10 year plus Port Hood tagging history...six days straight on the water is almost unheard of in The Maritimes this time of year...and tagging Canadian bluefin in shorts and flip flops was previously incomprehensible. The best part was the fish were biting and we were able to deploy 25 electronic tags on multiple cohorts of giants.

The weather has kept the team on shore for a bit, allowing us to catch up on data entry, tag programming and most importantly laundry. We did manage a half day and discovered that the fish are still close by and still biting as we hooked four more fish in under 6 hours!

Troy Cameron cranks on a giant bluefin tuna

Capt. Dennis Cameron locks eyes with a bluefin

Capt Lloyd MacInnes positions the Bay Queen IV for tagging

Capt Dennis and his nephew Troy Cameron battle a bluefin

Natalie Arnoldi takes a fin clip from a fish for DNA analysis

Dr. Steve Wilson, Tom Horton and Lloyd MacInnes get ready to release a tagged bluefin back into the Gulf of St. Lawrence

First 72 hours

We arrived in Port Hood on the 19th September to kick-off the 2017 giant bluefin tagging season in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada. This year we are pop-up tagging to study movements and habitat use over periods of up to a year, as well as acoustic tagging. Acoustic tags have a life span of up to 10 years and emit an acoustic signal every minute or so. These signals can be “heard” by any listening stations that are in range (within half a kilometre or so) and can provide unrivalled data documenting repeat fidelity of Atlantic bluefin tuna to areas where acoustic receivers are present, such as the Gulf of St Lawrence. As these tags stay active on the fish for such long periods, we can estimate natural mortality rates for the species, which have been previously very tough to estimate. Once incorporated into fisheries models, by combining with ‘F’ (fishing mortality), our hope is that this will further bolster efforts to accurately define annual population losses to help inform management.  

Although the tags are slightly different, our goal on the water is the same; catch and release bluefin tuna. Robbie Schallert and Tom Horton met with Dennis Cameron and Lloyd MacInnes on the morning of the 20th to get the Canada 2017 field season going, this was after hearing that the previous day there were 30 hook-ups in the fleet before 7am. The herring had already begun spawning near Port Hood. 

charter boat gets hooked up as some of the rest of the fleet look on.  

Dennis Cameron looking on as one of the herring boats hauls a net laden with fish just after dawn.

Craig Cameron has been a part of our tagging team in the past; this year he's knee deep in herring on his own boat

This means that bluefin arrive in the early hours to pick off herring that escape as the fleet haul their nets. It usually means good bluefin fishing, and our first day was no exception. We had our first bite at 9:30am and by the close of play we had lost one and released three with acoustic and pop-up tags. This included a 299cm fish, the third largest we have ever tagged. It’s always a real privilege to see a fish that has run the fisheries gauntlet and won for nearly two decades, and we were very happy to see it go back out the transom door with an acoustic tag.

Robbie, Tom, Dennis and Lloyd haul a 299cm bluefin aboard for electronic tagging.

After day three we are 9 fish tagged for 10 hooked up. So, a good start but plenty more work to do. We’ve certainly been blessed with some very un-Nova Scotia – like weather and were even on the boat in shorts yesterday. We’re sure that will change……  

A rare glint of sun off a bluefin tuna prior to tagging in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

'Tis the Season of the Giant Bluefin Pop-Ups!

Summer Recovery Season Begins:

The tuna tagging team from the TRCC put out over 30 pop up satellite archival tags in 2016 on large bluefin tunas built by Wildlife Computers in collaborations that took the team from the waters off California, Canada, Israel and Ireland. These tags are unique instruments  that ride on a giant bluefin tuna externally, and release at a preprogrammed time. The tags float up to the surface and send via radio transmissions to Earth orbiting satellites summaries of position, behavioral diving and environmental data from the sensors on board (depth, temperature, time, light). From these data the scientific team can reconstruct the behavior  of how bluefin tuna use our oceans. TRCC, TAG and affiliate team members are busy this month collecting some of these tags put on over a year ago on Atlantic bluefin in Canada, Ireland, and on Pacific bluefin tuna off the west coast of North America. The team has fanned out this past week to pick up some of the tags on the ocean as they have high resolution data sets archived in the memory. 

First up was the longest ever pop up satellite tag on any tuna in the Atlantic or Pacific. This 13+ month tag and a few others of similar length and archival data quality were on very large Pacific bluefin tuna tag- put out over a year ago on the large Pacific bluefin tuna “ The fish were - about 7 years of age- part of the great bite last July off San Clemente of 200-300 lb fish” Dr. Block said.  These bluefin were caught aboard the F/V Shogun using flying fish as baits, and trolling a kite a long way back. Barbara and the team tagged these fish with the pop up  satellite tag placed on the outside and internal archivals sewn inside the peritoneal cavity. The fish which were approximately 7 years of age (as determined by length measurements) a year ago (last July) are still at large with the internal tags. The bluefin tuna’s  satellite tag  popped up to the south of where we tagged the fish. I was pleased that we were able to keep the tag on this long. Recovering the tags can be challenging as the scientists are looking for a  small 25 gram instrument floating at the surface. Luckily there is w a locator that can “identify” the tag’s radio signature. The team hopes to get out again shortly to potentially recover a few tags in the Pacific.

-Barb Block

Tuesday, October 11, 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 setting...it 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

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.