Southern Califonia Marlin Online believes strongly in the
concept of tag and release. But t & r done wrong is just
tag and death. Releasing fish is good for the resource, but
if the fish doesn't survive, then releasing a marlin is nothing
more than a feeble gesture.
The following information is presented to help you increase
the chances that the fish you release will survive, and is
part of SCMO's ongoing commitment to billfish conservation.
Go Easy On The Fish
The steps you can take to keep the fish alive start
before you catch it. Different techniques can affect
the survival rate:
Bait hooks are often swallowed and are more likely
to cause serious injury than lures, which tend to
Using single hooks will minimize lethal hooking
and are easier and quicker to remove. Avoid using
cadmium plated hooks, which are toxic when they
Catching the fish as quickly as possible will
reduce exhaustion. Light tackle tends to prolong
Exhaustion comes much quicker to the fish in warmer
Handling should be kept to a minimum and be as
gentle as possible.
Obviously, conditions determine techniques, and the
desire for a sporting battle can conflict with some
of these points. In fact the only way to meet most of
them would be to jigfish with battery cable and back
down like a big dog, and that's not very sporting. But
keep these points in mind as you make your fishing decisions
and you'll give the fish a fighting chance for survival.
The first thing you should have is proper tagging gear.
That means a tagging stick at least 4 feet long and
NMFS or TBF tags. Tags are available through most fish
weigh stations and fishing clubs, or contact the organizations
below if you need supplies.
The preferred tagging zone is near the base of the
dorsal fin, no closer than a foot to the head and gill
plate. Insert the tag well above the lateral line running
along the body. Placing the tag high on the body decreases
the chance of causing serious injury to internal organs
and reduces internal hemorrhaging, since the upper torso
has fewer blood vessels than in the lateral line region.
>The act of tagging is similar to gaffing in that you
want to get it right the first time. Never try to tag
the fish until the crew has it fully under control.
Push the tag into the fish with a single strong thrust
- the metal rod holding the tag should fully enter the
flesh of the fish. And have a second tag unshipped and
standing by ... just in case.
Know How To Release
Never, never, NEVER release a marlin without first
reviving it. Imagine you're found near death after a
fight, and are brought home and left to die on your
front porch by someone who leaves thinking they've done
a good thing. That's what you do if you simply release
a marlin without taking steps to insure its survival.
It doesn't take that much time, and I swear to you it
will be worth it ... more on that later.
Once the fish is controlled and tagged, you must remove
the hook. Grab the bill with one hand (cotton gloves
are good here ... the bill is just like a rasp) and
use a pair of fishing pliers to remove the hook with
your free hand. If the hook cannot be easily removed,
or the removal itself may cause excessive injury, cut
the leader as close to the hook as possible. Time is
of the essence in this operation. Since both of your
hands are on the fish, it's a good idea to have someone
hold you by your rod belt as you work.
Now it's time to revive the fish. If you have a swimstep,
you can do this while lying on it (although you'll get
wet); if not lean over the side ... but you definately
need that helping hand on the rod belt now. Hold the
bill and push it down so the fish's entire mouth is
underwater. At minimun throttle, put the engine in forward
gear .... if you have two, use only the one opposite
the side from where you are working. As the boats starts
forward, water will run through the mouth and over the
gills. Now here's the reward I mentioned above: you
will feel the fish come back to life ... you
will see the color come back into his body. It
usually takes 30 seconds or less, and the bill will
begin to twitch ... the fish is telling you it's time
to go. Gently release the fish and watch it gracefully
sink out and swim away. It is the most incredible fishing
experience you can have ... and far better a memory
than any picture of a trophy fish on a meathook.
Fill Out The Tag Card And Mail It In
If You Catch A Tagged Fish
Clip and save the old tag, and retag the fish before release. If you do intend to keep the fish, NMFS would like both the tag and a sample of the tissue around it, so they can study the healing process. Contact Suzy for information on shipping the samples to her.
I am still a young man, yet in my lifetime I have seen many
local fisheries dwindle and die. I can remember catching bluefin
at Ship Rock, rock cod at the West End and albacore in the
Catalina Channel. Those days are long gone. But I also remember
when you couldn't catch white sea bass on the back side of
Catalina ... and now you can, because of the Hubbs White Sea
Bass Project and the conservation efforts of many. The time
to preserve the striped marlin fishery in Southern California
is now. Do your part ... tag and release.
For More Information
NMFS / Southwest Fisheries Science Center
8604 La Jolla Shores Dr.
La Jolla, CA 92038-1508
2419 E. Commercial Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
In the three years since I wrote this primer, much has been
learned about tag and release fishing, and some important
changes have been announced ...
Released Fish Do Live
A lot of research has been done in recent years to determine
the mortality rate of released billfish. While the studies
continue, it appears certain that a billfish that is released
healthy has a very good chance for survival. Tag recoveries
have shown that some fish do survive, of course, but new studies
using pop-up tracking tags show that a properly handled marlin
quickly regains its strength and resumes its normal activities.
This is important, since a wounded or weakened fish is a target
New Tagging Methods
Another ongoing study is the effect of the actual tag on
the fish. After all, the tag does create a wound, which can
lead to infection. As a result of such studies, most tagging
organizations are changing to the plastic style tag such as
that used by the Billfish Foundation. The National Marine
Fisheries Service, which runs the prevalent tagging program
on the West Coast, has recently switched over to the plastic
style tag as well.
Whether from research studies or just common sense, some
modification has been made to the preferred tagging location.
While it is still important to avoid the lateral line, scientists
say it is also important to avoid placing the tag too close
to the vertical fin as well. This fin folds down into a slot
on the back, and close tag placement could interfere with
that action. The example photo above
shows a good placement between the two areas to avoid.
One of the most exciting recent changes in billfish angling
has been the emergence of circle hooks for bait fishing. Long
used by commercial longliners, circle hooks have gained popularity
due to their well-publicized use by several very successful
charter captains. The biggest advantage to the circle hook
is that is almost always hooks the fish in the corner of the
mouth, making hook removal easier and greatly decreasing the
chance of gut hooking the fish. This is clearly one equipment
change that can have a dramatic impact on the number of released
marlin that survive to fight another day.
T & R vs. C & R
While tagging billfish is important for research, the angler
should always keep in mind that it is more important to release
the fish healthy than to release it tagged. All too often,
improper tag placement or the extra time needed to install
the tag causes damage to the fish. Never lose sight of the
fact that the goal is to release a billfish that will survive,
even if that means releasing it untagged.
C-P-R Is A Sham
Releasing billfish has grown in popularity in the
last few years, and that is a good thing. But there
is still a segment of the angling community that feels
a need for some kind of trophy to commemorate their
achievement. Out of this need was born the concept of
c-p-r - catch-photograph-release. This idea of this
misguided procedure is to catch the fish, hoist it out
of the water to get a good photograph, and then release
it "unharmed". While admirable in its goal, it is dangerously
unrealistic in practice. The skeleton of a billfish
was not designed to support the weight of its body out
of the buoyant protection of the water, and serious
damage can be done to its internal organs. And, as any
fisherman knows, handling a fish causes damage to its
protective slime coat, greatly increasing the change
of infection or infestation. Billfish are beautiful
creatures that provide us with wonderful entertainment
but which need our protection. If the memory of the
battle is not sufficient reward for you, perhaps you
should seek a different pastime.