Fish Tracking From Space

Almost a decade ago, Bill Dobbelear, general manager of Gray Taxidermy in Florida, conceived the idea of introducing a network of more than 10,000 captains and mates around the world to a method of tagging and releasing sport fish caught in their respective areas.

tagging roosterfishIn January 2015, the non-profit international, fully interactive fish tagging organization, Gray FishTag Research (GFR), a 501(c)(3), was launched in Los Sueños, Costa Rica, the sportfishing capital of the world. They planned to collect information in real-time, capturing valuable scientific data directly from professional fishermen in every part of the world where Gray Taxidermy was providing tags and equipment at no charge to local captains and mates.

GFR created an Advisory Board of prominent individuals from the sportfishing, conservation, and scientific communities around the world who shared common goals and recruited locations for research centers throughout the GFR network along with sponsors (*listed at the end of the story).

Dobbelear has met his goal, and then some. GFR is international and entirely powered by the world’s largest network of fishing professionals of some 10,000 charter boat captains and mates.

GFR also cooperates with FECOP (Fish Costa Rica), GHOF (Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation), NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and ROFFS (Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service).

In addition to the traditional “spaghetti tags” being distributed for use on sport fish caught in the different areas, GFR also recruited donors to assist in an aggressive satellite tag program, deploying the tags in select regions on a variety of species.

roosterfish mount

Roosterfish 2015, Costa Rica 

Los Suenos, January 22, 2015: members of the Gray FishTag Research team, Dr. David Kerstetter (Nova Southeastern University), Dobbelear, and advisory board members Zsolt Szekely and Carter Takacs successfully deployed the first-ever pop-off satellite archival tag (PSAT) on a roosterfish. (The roosterfish was named in memory of Todd Flanders). The sat-tag deployment took place while fishing with Captain Ishmael of the “Sunny One” and First Mate Christian Bolaños from the Official Research Center, Los Sueños Resort and Marina, a five-star resort and marina centrally located in Herradura, Costa Rica.

The roosterfish measured 35 inches and weighed approximately 17-pounds at the time of the sat-tag deployment. The MiniPSAT Satellite Tag, 2.2 ounces, 5- by 2-inches in diameter, was attached to the roosterfish for 16 days.

The results of this “first of its kind” roosterfish sat-tag deployment demonstrated two crucial factors: first, a roosterfish can handle the initial stress as well as swim and function normally with the sat-tag attached; second, roosterfish do not just stay in one location or live on one rock off the coast of Costa Rica – the roosterfish migrate and exhibit dives to depths greater than 75 feet.

striped marlin tagging

               Striped Marlin, Baja California Sur 

The striped marlin “Tracy” was caught by angler Dave Bulthuis and tagged with a satellite tag (PSAT) on Nov. 1, 2016. The PSAT stayed in the fish and collected data for 38 days.

At its closest point, “Tracy” was 5.6 miles from the shoreline of Baja Sur. The fish traveled approximately 924 miles in a southeast direction. During those 38 days, it swam over the Mazatlán Basin and spent 10 days around the Rivera Fracture Zone.

Although striped marlin “Bill Gray” and “Tracy” were tagged on the same day, “Bill Gray” went north up into the center of the Sea of Cortez off Loreto, and “Tracy” went south.

They each demonstrated a vertical movement pattern similar in profile to swordfish, with nighttime hours spent at the surface and daytime hours spent at depths of 120 to 240 feet.satellite tagging

Of the two marlin, “Bill Gray’s” journey up into the Sea of Cortez created the most stir. Most of the sportfishing on the east coast of Baja Sur at Loreto has been for yellowtail in the winter months and dorado during the summer. The fleet of traditional pangas and trailer boats seldom ventures offshore more the 20 miles.

A local fisherman, Robert Ross from San Cosme, BCS, observed over the past 20 years that the area where “Bill Gray” remained was, in fact, a prolific area for billfish and giant tuna, as well as dorado and wahoo – all of which are attracted by huge schools of squid.

In November 2018, the Marina Puerto Escondido, with 100 slips accommodating larger sportfishers and mega-yachts to 200-feet, had its grand opening.

Encouraged by the documented success of Robert Ross over the years during the month of May, and the expanded list of species he had encountered, which added yellowfin tuna and billfish to the customary dorado and yellowtail, in May 2019, the marina sponsored the 1st annual Robert Ross Fishing Tournament.

Twenty-eight teams participated in the event. According to Ross, 136 billfish were released during the two-day tournament, which underscored and confirmed the data gleaned from GFR’s “Bill Gray” sat-tag in 2016.

Striped Bass, New York

satellite tagging2019 Collaborative Striped Bass Satellite Tagging Expedition, New York

 Satellite Tags deployed May 21, 2019

 Location: New York Harbor​

First-ever Satellite-Tagged Striped Bass

Gray FishTag Research, along with Advisor Mike Caruso and The Fisherman Magazine teams, traveled to New York City to catch, satellite tag, and release two excellent candidates to carry the tags for the first time in the history of the local striped bass fishery.

“Liberty” was tagged on May 21, 2019, around 1 p.m., and the tag released from this striped bass on July 9. The tag floated and eventually washed up on Cape Cod Canal near Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts.

There, a woman walking the beach recovered the tag and returned it to the GFR office. At no time between those dates did the tag ever lose all three components – light, temperature, or depth.

satellite tagging striped bassThe team at Gray FishTag Research spent two weeks with the Marine biologists and technicians at Wildlife Computers to compile the data the first tag collected.

This study is exceptional in many ways. In satellite tagging, the team typically must wait for the deployed tag to release and more limited data to be transmitted through Argos satellites. As a result of the discovery of the actual tag, the data points were recorded in 15-second intervals.

The GFR team collaboratively stated with great certainty that “Liberty” traveled over 300 miles (straight line) from New York in eight weeks, spending most of the time in offshore waters following the contour edge of the continental shelf in the northeast, also known as the Canyons.

In all fish telemetry, there is always a small margin of error, which is minimal in this study because the original satellite tag was physically recaptured.

The second fish tagged, named “Freedom,” was caught a little west of the first fish on May 21, not far from the Statue of Liberty aboard the charter boat Fin Chasers with Captains Frank Wagenhoffer and Dave Rooney.

The timing and location of the catch, tag, and release project was planned around the end of the Hudson River spawning in hopes of capturing a pair of post-spawn bass; at 42 inches, “Freedom” was precisely the fish they were looking for!

On October 22, while doing his regular cleanup, Peter Dello stumbled upon the Wildlife Computers’ MiniPSAT device from the Northeast Striped Bass Study.

After being tagged in the lower Hudson River on May 21, data showed “Freedom” heading in a southeast direction above the Hudson Shelf Valley, making it to the westernmost tip of the Hudson Canyon just inside the Babylon Valley – roughly 100 miles – for the Memorial Day weekend.satellite tagging striped bass

The Wildlife Computer tag revealed that “Freedom” spent the next month moving out and about within 20 or so nautical miles of that point, eventually zigzagging her way through Block Canyon out towards Veatch Canyon before heading north towards Nantucket Shoals in early July.

The second $5,000 Satellite Tag “Freedom” washed up along that legendary striper hotspot at the Jersey Shore, and began its transmission on October 19 after popping free of the striper.

In early November, researchers confirmed the tale of a 42-inch striped bass caught and released from a Fin Chasers charter on May 21 in the lower Hudson River. Where she traveled in those 152 days, and how far she went, may surprise every striper fisherman and scientist along the entire Striper Coast, north, south, and east of Asbury Park. The data confirmed that both fish had gone offshore to the outer banks and canyons.

2019 Collaborative Blue Marlin Satellite Tagging Expedition, Costa Rica

satellite tagging blue marlin

The following question prompted the study – “Are the blue marlin found in quantity at the 80-mile seamount offshore in the rainy season the same body of fish caught inshore during Dec. and Jan.?”

The GFR team (12 strong) headed out to the FADS – 80 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica near Los Sueños Resort and Marina – last July aboard two Maverick boats provided by Will Drost of Maverick Fishing, out of Los Suenos Marina. On their one-day trip (on what the team later referred to as “Blue Marlin Mayhem”) they managed to deploy three satellite tags. They are awaiting the data that is expected to be available this spring.

GFR is an essential means for promoting the sustainability of marine game fish and increasing public resource awareness. The program is collecting information in real-time, producing valuable scientific data directly from fishermen in many parts of the world, and providing a bridge between professional fishermen and angling enthusiasts with the scientific community, which is desperate for pertinent data.

All fish species in every ocean are being monitored. Billfish, sharks, general offshore and inshore fish species are being tracked and recorded. Results provide scientists and biologists with valuable information on migration patterns, fish stocks, growth rates, habitat depths, and much more.

The data collected is being analyzed and used for scientific purposes and shared with any interested parties at NO COST.

The success of the program is made possible by the participation of fishing professionals, official research centers, and the contributions from donors and sponsors. GFR’s pledge is also to continue to offer all tags, applicators, data cards, hands-on training, and support to the professional fisherman for FREE, as this continues to be the key to accurate data and the success of the program.

Since 2015, the number of sat-tags deployed has increased every year as other species were targeted, including swordfish, roosterfish, and last year, striped bass, along with blue marlin.

Gray FishtagRoosterfish in Costa Rica = 9

Swordfish in USA = 2

Swordfish in the Cayman Islands = 3

Striped marlin in Cabo = 8

Blue marlin in Costa Rica = 3

Striped bass in USA = 2

* Advisory Board Including; Steve Hagett, Dave Bulthuis, President, Pure Fishing; Captain John Brownlee, Maverick Yachts; Eric Leech, Tracy Ehrenberg, Pisces Sportfishing; Samantha Mumford, Premium Marine; Kristen Salazar, vice president, Casa Vieja Lodge; Chris Scanzillo, Caterpillar Marine; Captain Dave Marciano, Captain & Owner FV Hard Merchandise; Carter Takacs, harbormaster, Marin Pez Vela; Zsolt Szekely, president Dolphin Electric Reels; Daniel Espinoza, manager, Maverick Yachts; Tami Noling, Gary Graham, That Baja Guy; Greg Stotesbury, Gerry Benedicto, Seaguar; Albert Battoo, fishing director, Tropic Star Lodge; Jody Whitworth, Captain Ray Rosher, James A. Donofrio, Executive Director, RFA (Recreational Fishing Alliance); Keith Poe, Accurate Reels; Michael Caruso, The Fisherman Magazine.

*Research Centers, The Fisherman Magazine, Sunset Marina, Aquaworld, Ocean City Marina, Crocodile Bay Resort, Grande Alaska Lodge, Los Sueños Resort & Marina, Marina Pez Vela, The Pisces Group, The Zancudo Lodge and Casa Vieja Lodge, J-Dock Seward Alaska.

Sponsors: AFTCO, AA Video, American Fishing Wire, FECOP, Costa Del Mar, CR Primo Fishing Tackle, Seaguar, Southern Most Apparel, Squid Nation.

Gray FishTag Research Tagging Expeditions 2020

Want to be part of the solution? Join a GFR Team on one of its many different tagging expeditions to famous sportfishing destinations where teams consisting of staff, guests, and members of the Advisory Board interact with local Captains, mates, event sponsors, Research Center personnel, and scientists.

Share the excitement of being part of a team deploying implantable electronic and satellite tags, as well as conventional spaghetti tags on a variety of exotic species – roosterfish, striped, blue, black, and white marlin plus swordfish. These are just a partial list of fish that are targeted.

For more information contact Roxanne Willmer, [email protected]