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Great Marlin Race: All Tags Report, Records Break

During the inaugural IGFA Great Marlin Race (IGMR) six satellite tags were deployed at the Club Nautico de San Juan’s 58th Annual International Billfish Tournament (IBT) that was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 5-11, 2011. Since that time, anglers have waited patiently to see when and where the tags would pop up and start reporting information.

The first tag to pop up and report was from a fish caught by Norman Pichardo on IGFA Trustee Pepe Anton’s boat Amirita. Pichardo’s tag popped up October 23, 2011, 419 nautical miles (nm) from where it was tagged near the island of Aruba. Although the tag popped up early, this fish demonstrated an important lesson in the importance of proper revival techniques. Pichardo’s marlin had become tail-wrapped during the fight and was reeled in tail first. Because marlin must continually swim in a forward direction to properly have water flow over their gills so they can breathe, the fish came up browned-out and in bad shape. First mate David Hernandez and IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser spent close to 10 minutes reviving the fish, holding on to it as the boat slowly idled forward to get water flowing over its gills. In time the fish’s color came back and it began to beat its tail, after which the fish was quickly tagged and swam off on its own, recording data with its satellite tag as it went.

The next four tags popped up over the course of the next month. Tag number two belonged to a 150-pound blue marlin caught by Charles Donato on the Islamar and popped up on November 20th, 178 nm southeast of where it was caught. December 7th saw two more tags report. Father and son team Antonio and Jaime Fullana landed a blue marlin on September 8th aboard the Bolita. When the tag popped up and reported, the Fullana’s fish had traveled east 589 nm from where it was tagged, putting them solidly in first place.

The day after Fullana’s fish was tagged, lady angler Mariana Fuster hooked and landed a blue, which she dubbed “Vic,” on the Lucky Dog that was tagged by Jorge Rivera. Vic traveled 497 nm from where it was tagged which, at the time, placed Mariana in second place for the Great Marlin Race.

On December 20th, the tag placed by Gerald Torres in the 80-pound marlin caught by Moises Torrent aboard the Batichica popped up 206 nm from its point of deployment — a fourth place finish at the time. After Torrent’s tag reported, things were quiet and 2011 came to a close. At this point the only tag that had yet to report belonged to a sizeable 575-pound blue that was caught by Mike Benitez on the Sea Born and tagged by Eneau Agusta on September 7, 2011.

Then it happened.

On January 5, 2012 — exactly 120 days after it was deployed — the tag from Benitez’s fish popped off and began transmitting information. Dr. Randy Kochevar at Stanford University codirects the IGMR with IGFA and was stunned when he began reviewing the data.

Benitez’s fish had traveled southeast some 4,776 nm from where it was tagged and crossed the equator — its tag popped off near the coast of Angola, Africa.

“These are the kind of results we dreamed about when we first launched the Great Marlin Race program back in 2009,” said Kochevar. “This may be one of the longest, if not the longest marlin track ever recorded on an electronic tag. To have a marlin swim from the Caribbean all the way across the Atlantic and across the Equator to Africa reminds us how remarkable these animals are and how much we still have to learn from them.”

Travelling more than eight times farther than any other fish, Benitez’s fish became the clear winner of the San Juan IBT race. Unfortunately, Mike Benitez never got to hear the news. A beloved captain in Puerto Rico and the first tournament recipient of the IGFA-Chester H. Wolfe Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, Mike passed away in Boston just two days before his tag reported — he was 79 years old.

Anglers can view all of the results of the IGMR on the interactive map at igmr.igfa.org. The next tournament in the IGMR will begin in February of 2012 in South Africa at the South African Deep Sea Angling Association Classic. For more details and sponsorship information, contact Jason Schratwieser at [email protected] or 954-924-4320.

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Jason Schratwieser is Conservation Director for the International Game Fish Association, which allows him to marry his background in biology with his love of fishing. Jason oversees IGFA's conservation programs as well as its world-record program. When not chained to his desk, Jason is a rabid angler that has fished extensively throughout the United States, Caribbean, Central and South America and Pacific. He enjoys fishing for anything from bluegill to blue marlin but especially loves shallow-water sight fishing fly and light tackle.