KONA tag and release record? Fishing in Hawaii

It’s hard to tell whether you have set a record if you don’t know what the old record was.  It is even harder when you don’t know what your new claim is.  But let us allow none of that to keep us from plunging recklessly forward because the implications are definitely worth cheering about.

PBMVSchultzLast week, counting both tournament and non-tournament fish, the Kona fleet tagged and released 112 blue marlin.  That is almost certainly a record.

But what was the previous record? That’s the first murky bit.  It definitely sounds like it should be a record so I will call it a new record until someone proves it isn’t.

It does get a bit murkier, however.  Some fishermen release their fish without tagging them, so calling the total “tag and release” isn’t exactly accurate if you think the “tag” part matters.  And others release fish without telling us about it. Our weekly report is as good as we can possiblly make it but never really complete.

Why release without tagging? The release part is pure conservation of the species.

The no-tag part is a sign of frustration over the very low percentage of tags that are recovered.  Re-captures hover around the 1% mark, which is good news or bad news depending on the low-recapture significance.  On the good side, it may mean the marlin population is so huge that the chances of recapture are minimal.  After all, with the great number of tags deployed here over the last weeks, months, and years, we might have expected one of those fish to be recaught right here.

On the bad side, it means the tags are being shed. Marlin might shed tags like you and I shed splinters.

On the even worse side, it could be that the fish are being recaptured by major commercial fishing operators who don’t want the recaptures to be known.

Against the odds of recapture, more fishermen are willing to put in the effort to tag, fill out the information card and send it to one of the data gathering agencies in hopes of doing something meaningful to the study of marlin habits and biology.

The 2014 Billfish Newslater of the Soutwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) gives you a sense of the frurstration caused by the lack of recaptures.

You would think that with all of the problems plaguing traditional tagging methods, someone would have come up with a more effective way of gathering information about migration patterns and the ability of fish to survive fishing operations.  In 2013, the most recent available year, only 3 blue marlin were recapture. Two of those were recaptured here in Hawaii and the third was tagged here.

The first was recaptured by Capt. Gene Vanderhoek after it had been at liberty for 36 days, SWFSC said.  I was tagged her by Jack Leisher and Paul Cantor and ha travelled only 16 miles. Capt. Dave Bensko caught the other recapture here, but the release card was never returned.  The chance for to learn about movement and time was lost.  The third fish was tagged her by Sam Kossak and Chris Wong and then took off at a rapid rate.  It was recaptured 885 nautical miles away after only 37 days.

Aha, they have.  It’s the “PSAT,” the Pop-up Satelite Archival Tag.  It’s a minature information-gatherin computer that attaches to the fish with a leash.  After a programmed period, the leash is broken, the PSAT pops up to the surface and relays the data to a satellite and from there to a  lab at Stanford University.  The data includes a track showing where the fish has travelled during the time the tag was attached.  The fact that it has moved a great distance tells that the fish has survived.  The tracks themselves are remarkable for what they say about where the fish go and how fast they get there.

But don’t believe me. Visit http://greatmarlinrace.org and you will see the tracks of marlin tagged here over the last 6 years.  The “Great Marlin Race” started here at the HIBT in 2009 and has now branched out to include competitions around the globe.

Tagging began here in Kona way back aroun 1970 when Capt. Jack Ross used a screwdriver to attach a protype traditional plastic “spaghetti tag” to a marlin and then released it.  The fish and tag were never to be seen again but it was a start.  Then scientist Heeny Yuen began poking around the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament to encourage fishermen to help him in his efforts to get more tags in more fish. The effort expanded from then to know when we see the numbers posted here last week.

Right from the first, we were sending tagging information to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. Back then, the few blue marlin tags from Hawaii were dwarfed by the huge mass of data being generated from tags of striped marlin in the Eastern Pacific.  As the numbers grew here, the ratio began to reverse.  By the year 2000, the SWFSC was getting more blue marlin tags from Hawaii than from anywhere else.  Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, Hawaii has become the blue marlin tagging center of the Pacific.

If you don’t believe it, just look at the tagging numbers from last week, alone.

Beasts of the week (marlin weighing 500 pounds or more).  Note also the estimated 600 pounder on Marlin Magic II.

August 9: Blue marlin (777) Camilo Maldonado/Eric Gurwin, Capt. Jeff Fay, Humdinger

August 10: Blue marlin (573.4) Makoto Yaegashi, Capt. McGrew Rice, Ihu Nui (biggest of 7 marlin weighed in the HIBT)

August 14: Blue marlin (547.3) Keiji Matsuba, Capt. Kerwin Masunaga, Rod Bender (second biggest of 7 marlin weighed in the HIBT)

Tag and Release

In addition to the catches listed below, 87 blue marlin and 1 striped marlin were tagged during the five-day Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.  The list was too long to include here.  With the 25 releases below, last week’s total of 112 blue marlin releases could be an all-time record for Kona.

August 9: Blue marlin (120 and 130) James/Laurel David, Capt. Mat Bowman, Northern Lights

August 9: Blue marlin (160) Mitch McConnel, Capt. Andrew Peterson, High Noon

August 10: Blue marlin (100 and 150) Carol Herren, Capt. Bruce Herren, Raptor

August 10: Blue marlin (100) Andy Witt, Capt. Marlin Parker, Marlin Magic II

August 11: Blue marlin (325) Rick Mills, Capt. Kenny Fogarty, Hula Girl

August 11: Blue marlin (175) Dorian Hasbond, Capt. Jeff Heintz, Linda Sue IV

August 11: Blue marlin (150 and 250) Meris McHaney, Capt. Mike Holtz, JunKenPo

August 11: Blue marlin (125 and 175) Pryce/Savannah Robertson, Capt. Steve Epstein, Huntress

August 11: Blue marlin (220) Pat Tooley, (180) Andy Witt, Capt. Marlin Parker, Marlin Magic II

August 11: Spearfish (35) Jim Eby, Capt. Robert Hudson, Camelot

August 12: Blue marlin (125) Dwane Sablatura, Capt. Steve Epstein, Huntress

August 12: Blue marlin (180) Don Ensley, Capt. Russ Nitta, Lepika

August 13: Blue Marlin (125) Bevan Beauchamp, Capt. Bruce Herren, Raptor

August 14: Blue Marlin (200), spearfish (25) KJ Robinson, blue marlin (200) Bevan Beauchamp. Capt. Bruce Herren, Raptor

August 15: Blue marlin (200) Craig Chambers, Capt. Tony Clark, Ihu Nui II

August 15: Blue marlin (200 and 600) Pat Tooley, Capt. Marlin Parker, Marlin Magic II

August 15: Blue marlin (150) Darryl Hammond, Capt. Steve Epstein, Huntress

August 15: Blue marlin (175) Angela Rubbio, Capt. Steve Epstein, Huntress

August 15: Blue marlin (180 and 200) Dillon Manchester, Capt. Kenny Fogarty, Makana Lani


August 9: Spearfish (27) Felix and Henry, Capt. Reuben Rubio, Sundowner

August 10: Blue marlin (257) Marc Townsend, Capt. Kent Mongreig, Sea Wife II

August 11: Ahi (104, 117, and 124) Shire/Moorhouse/Shire, Capt. Russ NItta, Lepika

August 14: Barracuda (49) Ben Bermoro, Shoreline

August 14: Ahi (191) Claire Duke, Capt. Kenny Llanes, Vixen (biggest of 7 ahi weighed in the HIBT)

August 14: Ahi (115), Ashely Mohr, (132) Ronda Mohr, Capt. James Dean, Blue Hawaii.