The Billfish Foundation (TBF) in conjunction with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami developed a billfish tagging program for high school students that will educate, invigorate, and ultimately provide research opportunities. The opportunity to contribute in research allows the students to have a stake in protecting the ocean’s resources and realize all the stakeholders involved in recreational sportfishing in south Florida.
Some of the major questions we are currently investigating include:
- What is the distribution and scale of seasonal movement patterns of sailfish and other highly migratory species in the Caribbean?
- To what extent is billfish habitat divided among different geopolitical regions? How does their movement into different regions and countries effect domestic and international policies?
- Are long-term and large-scale billfish movements influenced by other recreational or commercial activities? By oceanographic variables?
Established in 1990, The Billfish Foundation’s Tag and Release Program, is the Foundation’s hallmark. The Billfish Foundation (TBF) is proud to hold the largest private billfish tagging database with close to 200,000 tag and release reports. TBF annually receives over 15,000 tag and release records worldwide that provide vital information for billfish conservation.
The data collected from the tagging program provides the basis for The Billfish Foundation’s conservation policy and scientific advancement across the world. It provides valuable scientific data pertaining to growth rates, longevity, migratory patterns, habitat utilization, and for stock assessment of billfish.
The tagging data also provides a way of illustrating the importance of recreational fishing. The illustration of the social and economic benefits derived from billfishing becomes increasingly important in a world where longline bycatch represents a large source of marlin mortality. This has lead to varied forms of management that can cripple those recreational communities depend on healthy fish stocks.
Students spend time on the water with renowned captains and anglers who teach them how to catch sailfish while learning first-hand about the biology, migration, and feeding patterns of sailfish in South Florida. Students learn about and take part in sportfishing in by actively participating in reeling in sailfish (and any other HMS) a couple miles offshore.
The TBF-RJD team will leave from primarily Broward County — Lighthouse Point or Hillsborough Inlet — where the captain and crew of the boat will use various fishing methods to locate and catch these magnificent fish. The crew will most often use kites with live bait to entice a billfish. The students will learn the basics of recreational fishing tackle how to tend the kites, and the importance of teamwork when a billfish bites. Once, hooked by a crewmember or TBF staff, the students have the opportunity to reel in one of the world’s most renowned sportfish.
Once the crew has safely brought the fish to the side of the boat, the students will take the fish’s measurements, and the fish will be tagged with a spaghetti or conventional, Billfish Foundation tag. Once tagged, the fish’s weight will be estimated and the location will be marked and recorded by the captain. Throughout the day, students will record oceanographic parameters and assist in documenting the process by taking pictures and video of the catch.
Proper release technique is demonstrated to the students by taking time to ensure that the fish is released in good condition. The data is then recorded In TBF’s online database. With the supervision and training from TBF and their schoolteachers, much of the analysis will happen on the boat and back in the classroom.
With over 20 years of data that continues to grow, multiple data sets are available that can be utilized to identify patterns to determine if billfish have regular migratory routes and growth rates. In addition, other variables need to be taken into account such as season, effort from sportfishing, and outstanding climatic or environmental events. All of these factors affect the ability to determine where and how these billfish move throughout the south Florida region.
Recreational fishermen, anglers, for many years know what “season” is the best to target billfish but many still do not understand where they travel and why they travel. This analysis will help illustrate if billfish are actually spending the majority of their time in areas where they are protected from commercial and artisanal fishing pressure. Ultimately, this study also hopes to provide accurate recommendations to fishery managers and policy makers for where to focus protection efforts for the most effective population support maximizing local fishing economies.
The data collected on these trips contribute to TBF’s Tag & Release database and further their advocacy efforts for the protection of billfish, billfish-related species, and the communities dependent on those fisheries. The students will utilize Global Information Systems programs like Google Earth to create projects that will investigate a variety of biological and social elements involving billfish throughout the world.
PRINCE, E.D., M. Ortiz, A. Venizelos, and D. S. Rosenthal. 2002. In-water conventional tagging techniques developed by the Cooperative Tagging Center for large, highly migratory species. American Fisheries Society Symposium 30: 155-171.
PRINCE, E.D., M. Ortiz, and A. Venizelos. 2002. A comparison of circle hook and “j” hook performance in recreational catch-and-release fisheries for billfish. American Fisheries Society Symposium 30: 66-79.
ORITZ, M., E. D. Prince, J.E. Serafy, D. B. Holts, K. B. Davy, J. G. Pepperell, M. B. Lowry, and J. C. Holdsworth. 2003. Global overview of the major constitutent-based billfish tagging programs and their results since 1954. Marine and Freshwater Research, 54: 489-507.
The Billfish Foundation’s Tag and Release Program has largely been based on utilizing the sportfishing community to collect billfish biological and socio-economic data since 1990. Having a constituent-based tagging program allows those anglers who target and release these fish to collect important data for TBF. These trips provide an opportunity for a group of high school students to join the TBF team aboard for a day of hands-on field experience and give them an opportunity to become acquainted with recreational offshore sportfishing. The trips allow students to learn practical research skills, gain a greater understanding of the role billfish play in the ocean, get accustomed to recreational fishing techniques, and empower the students to pursue a career in science and conservation.
This program fits well with RJD since the billfish tagging program builds on the work that the students have already done through the shark tagging program. It allows the students another opportunity to get students out doing actual research on another type of popular fish, learning new techniques out in the field, and possibly get them “hooked” on sportfishing.