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Tagged fish: Why do it? Then what?

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Tagging, recording data, then releasing fish into coastal waters by N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

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BY RICK GOINES
Tight Lines

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

 Finally, cool weather is upon us!

That means the fish are getting nature’s signal to put on the autumnal feed bag and scarf up as many calories as they can before winter sets in around the New Year. To an angler, that means your baits must blend in and be taken for the foods your targeted fish crave.

A little research into what your fish desire, and finding a corresponding artificial bait means fall fishing success. Please send us your tales and photos so that we can share your actions with our Tight Lines readers.

Ever wonder why or how fish are tagged? Did you know you can be rewarded for catching one and reporting it? Now is a good time to update you on reporting a tagged fish to N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.

Tarboro angler Wayne Harrell shared with us his experience catching tagged fish. Several years ago, Wayne was fishing the Alligator River that separates Tyrell and Dare county along U.S. 64. There he caught a rockfish that was yellow-tagged on the Roanoke River in Weldon in early May.

After reporting to NCDMF, he received a letter which told that particular 19.8-inch fish had been at large for 68 days, and it had traveled about 131 miles since being implanted with that plastic tag in Halifax County. Harrell received a hat and an official certificate of recognition and appreciation for reporting the yellow tagged fish. Harrell has reported tagged fish on several other occasions over the years.

Readers may ask why are fish tagged, and what are the benefits? Let’s explore that question and see what all the fuss is about.

Stock assessments are currently conducted on several fish stocks, including striped bass (rockfish), red drum, spotted seatrout (speckled trout), southern flounder and cobia. Among the most favored recreational and commercial fish stocks, these five species have a tremendous annual economic impact of greater than $100 million in North Carolina.

The implementation of best management practices, contingent on timely, accurate and precise assessments of fish stock status, is a high priority for the division. The combination of tag-return data with the type of catch-at-age data collected by the division is a powerful approach to informed and responsive management of these essential fish stocks. The economic impact is huge.

Wifey asks how do they actually capture and tag the fish. So let’s take a gander at it.

Spotted seatrout are captured using hook-and-line and electrofishing gear. Red drum, our official state fish, are captured using gill nets, electrofishing and longlines. Southern flounder are captured by hook-and-line, gillnets, electrofishing and pound nets. Striped bass are captured by electrofishing, and hook-and-line. Cobia are captured using hook-and-line. To minimize post-release mortality, only healthy fish, captured with no bleeding, are tagged.

Depending on the species, fish are tagged with either internal anchor tags, nylon dart tags, steel dart tags or spaghetti tags. Internal anchor tags are inserted into a small incision made by a scalpel approximately 20 millimeters (about ¾ of an inch) behind the pectoral fin, dart tags are inserted near the dorsal fin and spaghetti tags are inserted through the fish body, just forward of the tail fin. All attempts are made to tag fish throughout the state’s coastal areas. This gives individuals throughout the state an equal chance of catching tagged fish.

The NCDMF tagging program is important and really depends on and encourages your help and cooperation. The program is conducted by NCDMF to learn more about the migration, growth, habitat use and population status of striped bass (rockfish), red drum, southern flounder, and spotted seatrout (speckled trout).

If you should catch a tagged fish, measure the fish, cut off the tag and call 800-682-2632 to report your catch. Be aware that some fish may have two tags.

Red-tagged fish are unique and of special interest to NCDMF. They pay a $100 reward if you return a red tag to the NCDMF office in Morehead City. Incentives and prizes are nice, but I would like to think most anglers would participate for all the right reasons, and if you are lucky enough to receive a prize or premium, consider it a bonus for your righteous effort. We would also release the fish after relieving it of its tag. Good reason to keep a pair of snips in the tackle box.

Not only earning a hat, towel, $5 or other reward and a certificate for returning a yellow tag, you are entitled to one entry into the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries end-of-year drawing. What a pleasant surprise that could be. A prolific fisherman could add his or her collection of hats and towels — even the cash — to their own store of gifts to give away for birthdays and holidays. Such a win-win.

Educate and prepare yourself before you catch a tagged fish. These folks are doing a wonderful job that benefits anglers and non-fisherman statewide. The tagging program deserves your rapt attention and unselfish participation. Learn more about the NCDMF fish tagging program at www.portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/tagged-fish. To submit photos with your tagged fish, E-mail at tagrecap@ncdenr.gov or use the reliable old-fashioned phone at 252-948-3913 or 800-338-7804 to report your tagging intel.

Rick’s Soapbox — Three years ago we were supporting the "Save Blounts Creek" efforts on Blounts Creek near Chocowinity. There were many BBQ plate sales, even a 5K Run, silent auction and other activities of support. How had the creek been threatened?

It was all about preventing a major mining corporation, which sought permits for a large-scale open pit mine near Vanceboro, from taking the easy way out of being responsible for maintaining water quality. The plan was to discharge 12 million gallons per day of hard ironed “well water” that would rise up in the mine, from the 15 million gallons per day underground river known as the Castle Hayne Aquifer, which provides well water across six states.

It is hard to imagine wasting that much fresh water every 24 hours for dozens of years, leaving the aquifer with only 3 million gallons of flow daily, and simply dumping it into the brackish headwaters of beautiful Blounts Creek, a pristine estuary.

And what about all those depending on the aquifer from Craven County up through southern New Jersey? Questions about the outcomes? Tight Lines has addressed this important issue in the past, and we are glad to report the citizens’ actions, anglers’ protests and environmental lawsuits worked for the good of clean water for Eastern North Carolina and all our citizens.

Fishing Success? Good for you! Give us all the nice details at carolinaangler@gmail.com. Large file full-size, high-resolution fishy pix make us tap dance.

Stay hydrated, be cool and be careful out there. Autumn weather on the water can be tricky and unforgiving. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

See you on the water, my friend.

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