Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ice House - Port Hood, Nova Scotia, Canada

Tag-A-Giant Canada, Round Two kicked off on October 15, with the departure of TAG Director, Dr. George Shillinger, and TRCC Technician, Danny Coffey to Port Hood, Nova Scotia.

TAG Canada Headquarters – The Lighthouse Cottages, 
Port Hood, Nova Scotia
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)

High winds and choppy seas kept the tagging team off the water the following morning, but the commercial fishermen assisting the TAG effort braved the weather to pursue the giants. TAG veteran, Robbie Schallert accompanied Captain Dennis Cameron and his crew on the Bay Queen IV in the hopes of securing samples from any commercial captures. 

The Bay Queen IV returning to the docks at Port Hood
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)

George and Danny were joined by producer, D’Arcy Marsh of Otter Films, who drove up to Port Hood from Boston, to capture the tagging efforts on film.

The inclement weather provided the TAG team with an opportunity to spend some time in the Icehouse (photo of  Icehouse), where lead fish dresser Duncan Sutherland, practiced his trade in front of the TAG team, demonstrating how commercially captured fish are weighed and dressed for shipment to international buyers.  

The Icehouse in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, Canada.
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)

The fish dressing process involves a series of steps, beginning with the point of capture, when fish are initially towed behind the boat, and then bled by a quick knife slice behind the pectoral fin.  Upon arrival at the docks, the fish are hoisted from the boat, carried into the Icehouse and placed upon the scales.  

Bluefin tuna captured by commercial fishermen near Port Hood, Nova Scotia.
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)
Following weigh-in, the fish are dressed; a process involving removal of the pectoral and dorsal fins (to enable the fish to fit in the shipping crate), extraction of the viscera, removal of the caudal fin (tail) below the third finlet, and decapitation. 
Bluefin tuna weigh-in at the Icehouse.
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)

The dressed fish are re-weighed, given a final rinse, and dumped into an icebath, where they await a trip (usually within 6-12 hours) to foreign and domestic markets, and their final destination on a sushi platter.

-Dr. George Shillinger

Duncan Sutherland rinses a dressed bluefin tuna at the Icehouse.
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)
Duncan Sutherland places a dressed bluefin tuna in ice at the Icehouse.
(photo by Dr. George Shillinger)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tuna 1 - TAG 1

We left the wharf knowing that the wind would pick up later that afternoon...we just weren't sure when. The boys from mainland Nova Scotia (Steve McInnis and Bernie Chisolm) met us off Mabou early in the morning. It was flat calm, and after jigging up some mackerel we drifted close to shore hopping to get bit. There was no wind and the tide was running against the drift, so after doing a 360 around our baits we decided to head off shore. Local scientist, Aaron Spares, spotted some fish jumping from the top of the cab, so we set up.

Craigor Cameron battles a bluefin
With the camera rolling, three or four fish splashed 500 yards off the stern and looked like they were headed towards our Huey bait (named after a local fisherman that flat lines a mackerel with a balloon). The boat waited with anticipation, but the fish didn't look like they were going to bite...then...WHAM...the line went tight, the rubber band shattered, and the reel zinged as the Bay Queen IV scrambled into position. We fought the fish for a good 45 minutes and we could tell it was a big fish by the way it behaved and marked on the sounder. We would reel it up to 50 feet and it would dive back to 120. This cat and mouse game ended when the mono chaffed and the line broke. Tuna 1...TAG team 0.
This bluefin is being tagged with an acoustic tag
Dejected but optimistic, the team regrouped and got the lines back in the water. The clouds over Cape Breton gathered and the wind began to puff. Capt. Dennis put his favorite pink balloon on the down bait for good luck...and just as we were thinking it might be time to head home...Zing...we were tight again. This time the tuna couldn't out smart us, and after a short fight the 250 lb bluefin was on board and back in the ocean with a new acoustic tag that will last for 1300 days.

By the time we were done tagging, the sea had turned into a frothy mess and we were all happy to head to shore.

-Robbie Schallert

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let's Go Fly a Kite!

The Celtic Colors are in full swing here in Cape Breton, along with a cool autumn breeze. The Bay Queen IV headed north up the coast line to the Mabou Coal Mines to meet up with the PEI tag boats. After a quick stop for mackerel, we started to set-up our gear a quarter mile from shore...but before we could get our last bait in the water, the Neptuna crackled over the radio that he had a fish on. After a short, 20 minute fight, Ross Keus and TAG Team 2 were on the board with an acoustically tagged 400 lber.
The SE wind picked up in the morning allowing the boats to fly their kites. The kite allows the boats to fish on the downwind side of the boat, and it keeps the mackerel right on the surface so the tuna can't see the line. I have been staring at the "kite bait" for five years now...and at high noon I was rewarded. The crew was forward in the cab eating lunch and I was about to join them...when SMASH...out of the water...20 feet from the boat...an 850 pound bluefin ripped through the surface under the kite. I have pictured this moment in my head a thousand times, especially how I would react when this actually happened...of course, I froze with excitement. Capt. Dennis tried to yell but he was muffled by the hamburger in his mouth...Craig knocked his bag of mini licorice in the air that rained down like confetti...and after what seemed like minutes I finally reached the rod to crank in the slack. The line went tight...and with a triumphant roar...I had finally seen and hooked a Giant off the kite! Sheldon Gillis took over from there and the TAG team readied the equipment. Everyone's adrenaline was soaring...if you haven't seen a kite strike...get up to Port Hood...it is spectacular!!! After a 31 minute battle, the 800 lb bluefin came aboard and was fitted with a satellite tag along his right dorsal.

We tagged one more fish and saw and two leatherback turtles swimming off the stern. All in all it was a great Cape Breton tuna fishing day!

-Robbie Schallert

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Highs and Lows

Well, as the ol’sayin’ goes, when it rains, it pours...especially in Nova Scotia.  The past 10 days have set records for Nova Scotia and the Tag-A-Giant team fishin’ for Giant Atlantic Bluefin off Port Hood on the Island of Cape Breton.  Intense high and low pressure systems have brought unseasonal weather.  Water temperatures have remained warm, and this past Canada Thanksgiving Weekend set record air temperatures.  Twenty-three oC is very nice for October.  It also blew a gale last Wednesday, gusts up to 118 km/h.
Gannet aboard
The TAG Team tied the record number of tuna tagged in one day in Canada, 9 fish on Monday, October 3rd.  The bite didn’t begin until noon.  But when it started, it didn’t stop.  Tuna after tuna came to the tagging vessel, Bay Queen IV.  According to the fishers, the hooked-up tuna ranged from ‘scrawny little rats’ to ones ‘hard to see swim away’.  A true Nova Scotian, scientist, Aaron Spares, put on the kilt to tag the first fish, and kept it on until setting foot back on the dock at Murphy’s Pond.  The four vessel fleet kept Dr. Steve Wilson, Capt’n Dennis Cameron, Canada’s top wireman Sheldon Gillis and mate Craig Cameron busy as can be.

Pete’s Pair-Of-Dice had a very hockey-like hat-trick, 3 fish in the tagging arena.   The other 3 vessels, Capt’n Steve’s Carrie Anne, Bernie’s Nicole Brandy and the tagging boat, Bay Queen IV topped their hats to two each, which totaled the previous record set here last year.  The low came the next day, Tuesday, October 4th, a shut-out for the tuna.  The fishers never got one on the board.
On alert - Sheldon, Craig and Aaron (kilted)
The winds blew until today, Wednesday, October 12th.  Low temperatures last night had frozen a few puddles by 5 am this morning, but high sun warmed it up enough for a T-shirt and loafers day on the deck.  Tuna streaked the surface, marked the depth sounder, and graced 1 or 2 commercial fishers, but none took the bait for the TAG team consisting of PEI’s ‘North Lake Breeze’, ‘Neptuna’ and the ‘Bay Queen IV’.  Tanned and tuned out, the team trudged up the gangway slightly dejected, but still smiling at the thought of the next day’s potential to break the record.

Depth sounder marking giants

-Aaron Spares

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ophelia? Nine Fish Tagged!

The impending arrival of Hurricane Ophelia in the Canadian maritimes had prevented team member Robbie Schallert from getting back from his brothers wedding in Texas, so longtime reserve liphooker Aaron Spares was called into action on Monday morning. The day started quietly and few fish were marked on the 4 boat fleets’ echo sounders. As noon approached, Captain Dennis Cameron and I discussed the possibility of sending the boats back to port due to a lack of bluefin and marginal weather. A commercial fisherman a few miles inshore of the fleet then radioed Pete Sutherland aboard Pete’s Pair A’Dice to request help. He had lost his steering while fighting a hooked fish. Peter pulled his gear and moved to lend assistance. That turned out to be a turning point for our tagging efforts today. After helping his colleague, Pete noticed a large area of bird activity and busting bluefin. He summoned the fleet and hooked up within seconds of dropping his line in the water. An epic afternoon ensued. We tagged nine fish ranging from 203 to 276 cm in length, a mixture of pre-spawners and true giants. The tagging boat was fighting fish after fish until well after the sun set. Aaron performed flawlessly on the liphook, despite frigid winds nipping at nether regions beneath his kilt. Pete hooked three while the Carrie Anne, Nicole Brandy and Bay Queen each hooked two. Nine fish tagged matches the record number of fish tagged by our team in Canadian waters last year with a fleet twice as large.

-Steve Wilson

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall in Nova Scotia

There was a brisk autumn bite to the air as the team headed to the boats. We decided to stop and get some mackerel for a change…and caught a good number of tinkers. Dennis’s brother started pulling his net, so the fleet moved over to see if any of our tuna friends were waiting for the herring again. At first we thought maybe our luck around Carl had run out, but soon enough he had a good size school underneath. We tossed a herring into the boil and we were hooked up. It was a fairly quick fight, and at first we thought the fish was small…we were mistaken…fish was 266 cm and fat as can be. Once on deck, the tag team sprang into action putting in a pop-up satellite tag and sending the fish on his way. Pete Sutherland snagged one off the net too, but it pulled the hook…and so the Carl herring net trick was over for the day.

We drifted for awhile but came up empty, and then tied off to our own herring net. A bald eagle paid us a visit…he circled for a bit and he swooped down with talons out to pluck a herring right out of the water. After about an hour, we were visited by a lone bluefin…he looked at our mackerel for a good 45 minutes…streaking up and down as we moved the bait through the water column. Finally, Dennis “Magic Hands” Cameron switched the mackerel to a herring and within seconds we were tight for the second time in the day. It took a little over an hour to get the 700 lber to the boat, but once on deck the well oiled TAG team fitted our new friend with the second pop-up tag of the day!!

-Robbie Schallert

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back in the Hood

TAG-A-Giant Canada returned to Port Hood, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for another year of tagging Atlantic bluefin. We were welcomed by unseasonably warm weather and a flat calm day. In order to knock off the rust, we decided to start the season off with three boats...two PEI boats (North Lake Breeze and Neptuna) came across the straight to join the TAG boat (Bay Queen IV). It was a fairly quiet day...marked a lot of fish...hooked three and tagged a beautiful 247 cm bluefin tuna. It is great to be back on the water...especially with the weather and the number of fish around.

-Robbie Schallert

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One for the Record Books

As scientists, anglers and passionate fans of Pacific bluefin tuna we live for day like we have had here on Shogun in the past 24 h. Our mission- to collect tunas for studies back at our home laboratory- the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC). We arrived in the area where fishing reports had been excellent and proceeded from dawn to dusk to have a wide open bluefin bite. And this time, for the first time in years, we were more than prepared. The Stanford University team had programmed over 100 tags prior to coming out on the trip and anticipation was high.

This year we had some older TAG team members from our lab, including Tag-A-Giant and TRCC technicians Robbie Schallert and Alex Norton, Stanford technician for our Gulf oil spill team Ben Machado. Also on board were Stanford graduate students Dane Klinger and Dan Madigan, and undergraduates who had interned with the TRCC this summer including undergraduates Natalie, Ethan, Sarah, Andrew and James.

Captain and Professor Norm put us in a great spot to drift and before sun up Dan Madigan hooked up. This year to prepare with our younger team, we had held a “tagging class," and went over the cradling of fish on the swim step. Sure enough chaos occurred during the first fast bite when the team barely had their feet wet. We put the fish that first appeared as yellowfin into the side wells and quickly filled to capacity.

We then heard the first call from the crew of,  "Bluefin!"  The tagging team (Barb, Robbie, Dr. Joe Bonaventura) went into the action- tagging 7 yellowfin. The bite slowed down and we moved on. Within an hour, Norm glanced and viewed a sonar hit that was extremely interesting- the fish were down on the thermocline- in the “feed layer” or deep scattering layer the area I call the "peanut butter of the ocean," filled with small crustaceans and squid. From the moment we stopped on the sonar school until 6 PM we had steady bluefin action that led to what I think may be the highest single electronic tagging stop for bluefin tuna-96 archival tagged bluefin (all with one tagging station!). In addition, we filled up the slammer with bluefin. Scientific samples were taken by Dan and Ben from a handful of bluefin to discern isotopic signatures (think "You are what you eat!") and to also determine from where the fish had come (signatures from the open sea are lower in numerical value than in the productive California Current).

I was a bit surprised to see Captain Bruce, Randy and Tommy admiring an albacore as if they had not seen one in a while. This was the first albacore of the season – remarkable given it happened the third week in August. I thought the albacore were quite skinny - suggesting they had come from offshore. History was made here today aboard the Shogun-by the end of the day, we had collected all the bluefin required for the TRCC this year, tagged 103 tunas and released another 50 more. All in all, we could have tagged 200 bluefin today! Too bad we did not have more conventional and electronic tags! The fish were very young, potentially new arriving fish on the west coast. From prior tagging we know that this year class will be retentive to the California current and provide super fishing on a 30lb 3rd year fish next season so let’s hope their survival will lead to more knowledge and great fishing!

-Dr. Barbara Block

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TOPP Publishes in Nature

In 1999, a bold plan was laid out to establish a broad collaboration among biologists, oceanographers, engineers and computer scientists in the emerging field of “biologging” science.  At a workshop held at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, more than 50 people gathered and developed a program using electronic tags to simultaneously follow the migrations and behaviors of 23 different species of marine animals – including whales, seals, fishes, sharks, seabirds, turtles and even squid.  The scientsts’ vision was that, by following such a diverse group of animals all at the same time, and combining the observations in a common data system, it would be possible to gain new insights into the way the open ocean ecosystem of the North Pacific works.

After 10 years and more than 150 individual publications, the results of the combined Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) dataset have been published in the journal Nature, in an article entitled, “Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean.”  This study shares the results of 265,386 “tracking days” of data from 23 different species.  It shows that there are ocean hotspots along North America’s West Coast, to which animals return year after year; and a trans-oceanic highway called the North Pacific Transition Zone connecting the eastern and western Pacific.  The study also demonstrates seasonality in the movements of many species, responding to regions of high productivity driven by seasonal patterns in ocean conditions.
The findings of this study provide a “proof of concept” for the use of biologging science to help understand broad patterns of habitat use in the oceans, which in turn can help resource managers and policy makers to more effectively manage the animal populations that live there.

To learn more about the study, you can read the press release here, or you can read the entire Nature paper here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuna and Dolphins and Sharks, Oh My...

Originally posted by Robbie Schallert on the Tag A Giant blog:

It was another fine day on the water aboard the Sensation. Today the TAG team was joined by Michael Tickle in the angler’s seat. Captain Dale, Alan, and CP rounded out the tagging crew with Robbie and Andre. We started the day with a double header of bluefin, one of which made it to the boat for a tag. As we were fighting those two fish, CP drifted a bait back and we had another hit on the drifting ballyhoo. Michael’s expert angling made quick work of that 72 inch fish and it was soon on its way out the door with a brand new tag of its own. The bite slowed down throughout the fleet late in the morning, and we didn’t get any more tags out for the rest of the day, despite seeing bluefin swimming in the waves. We did manage a double header of yellowfin, which added to the excitement as the bluefin bite dropped off. We were also rewarded with some delightful nature viewing, with common and Risso’s dolphin pods swimming with the tunas and the ever present hammerhead sharks. We had Wednesday off due to weather, but will give it another go on Thursday. Wish us luck!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tuna Sensation

Originally posted by Robbie Schallert on the Tag A Giant blog:

We jumped on the Sensation early in the morning (5:00am) to get a head start on the tuna bite...and Capt. Dale Britt did not disappoint. We started the day off with a nice bigeye tuna and then tagged three bluefin. The first one tipped the scales at 416 lbs, and while it was getting its new jewelry, another fish bit a bait that Big Country had drifted back. Angler John Hadley jumped back in chair for his second fish in a row...this one measured 76 inches! The All Stars took over for the third fish with Capt. Alan Scibal in the chair and IGFA Hall of Fame wireman Charles "CP" Perry taking over at the rail! Again the Gulf Stream had lots of life with schooling tuna and hammerheads dotting the surface. We even had a humpback wave to us in a pod of dolphins! Looks like we will be sitting on shore for a couple days because of weather, but hopefully we will get out again on Tuesday.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Closer to the Action

Originally posted by Robbie Schallert on the Tag A Giant blog:

TAG team has moved up the beach to Oregon Inlet...weather was a little more sporty than we hoped, but with local Capt. Charles Perry running the boat we had no problem getting out to the fish. The Gulf Stream was full of life again...mantas, sharks, turtles, and tuna! We fought one fish to the wire but pulled the hook. Heading out tomorrow bright and early to try again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Big Country Comes to Town

(This is a cross-posting from our Tag A Giant blog, courtesy of TAG Scientist Robbie Schallert)

The TAG team was back on the water Friday in search of more bluefin. After a long run past The Point in some sporty seas, Captain Dale put us on the fish immediately...in fact we had a tuna hit the flat line as it was being let out! Anglers Daragh Brown and Erin Wright, having been trained by living legend Peter Wright, brought the fish in with ease. Once to the back of the boat, Alan "Big Country" Scibal took charge of the leader and wired the fish to the transom door. Dr. Dre surgically implanted the tags, and with a couple of quick stiches, the fish were ready to head out the door to show the school their new hardwear. By the end of the day, we had 4 fish tagged, all in the 220-260 pound size range. It was a long ride home as we battled a head sea the whole way but no one seemed to mind after a great day on the water. You can see some of the action below...


Luck of the Irish

Our Tag-A-Giant team is currently off the coast of North Carolina tagging bluefin tuna.  I'm going to be cross-posting their blog entries here, or you can follow them directly at the Tag-A-Giant blog.  This first one is courtesy of TAG Scientist Robbie Schallert.  Go TAG Team!

TAG-A-Giant 2011 got underway with four bluefin tagged on a gorgeous North Carolina day. The Sensation, captained by Dale Britt and Mate Alan Scibal, hooked a double header to kick off St. Patty's Day with Irish scientist Daragh Browne in the chair. Duke grad student Caitlin Hammer fought the next two fish under guest captain Peter B. Wright's tutelage. The ocean was filled with life on the other side of the Gulf Stream with schools of hammerhead sharks, mantas and tuna exciting the crew. There were literally hundreds of tuna surfing down swell...a site to behold! It is great to get the season started...hopefully the weather will hold through the weekend!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

White Shark Team Takes Census of Northern California Population

The white shark research team has published two papers in the past few days, documenting the ability to recognize individual sharks year after year by the distinctive shapes and markings on their dorsal fins; and then using this information to estimate the total size of the white shark population in this region.

The first study, which was published March 1 in the journal Marine Biology (Anderson et. al., 2011) shows that it is possible to positively identify the same shark year after year - even over time periods as long as 15-22 years!

Figures a and b show the fin of a single shark in 2007 and 2008;
Figure c shows a different shark in 2008 - illustrating how
distinctive the fin edge shape can be.

  The second study, published today in the journal Biology Letters (Chapple et. al., 2011), uses fin photographs like those above to calculate the total size of the white shark population that returns to northern California each year - and the estimate was just 219 individuals.

Because this marks the first census of this population, we have no way of knowing whether this number is typical, or if it is unusually low (or even unusually high).  What it provides, however, is a baseline that can be used in the years ahead to monitor changes in the adult white shark population - which will be a key step in managing and, if needed, protecting these animals in the wild.

As one might expect, we've had a lot of media interest in the story.  You can check out the latest news coverage at the GTOPP website.