Saltwater Bass Tagging
In November of last year I spoke with Lyall Bellquist, who heads up the Coastal Angler Tagging Cooperative. In the original interview, Bellquist explained the funding behind the study and its goals. So with ten months of tagging trips in the books, I checked back in with him to see how the study was progressing.
“So far we’ve tagged approximately 7,000 bass. The majority (around 5,000) being calico bass that were tagged in the San Diego area”
Bellquist explained. “We’ve also tagged over 1,500 spotted bay bass in San Diego and Mission Bays and we’re currently working on tagging more sand bass (they’ve tagged 500 so far).”
Regarding recapture results, Bellquist offered, “It’s still very early in the study, but we’ve already recorded several hundred recaptures. To be exact, 4.5% of the bass that we’ve tagged and released have already been caught again. This recapture rate indicates that catch and release fishing is a viable form of conservation.”
Bellquist also explained that based on his observations, bass that are caught and released have an extremely low mortality rate. “We tagged all of the bass that were brought to the scales at the San Diego Bay Open event this year and then kept those fish in a receiver for a couple weeks afterward to see how they recovered from being kept in live wells and weighed in the tournament. Of the 500 fish that were brought to the scales, less than ten of them died.”
Not only did those fish survive, but apparently they went on to live happy and adventurous lives. Three of the tagged sand bass from San Diego Bay were recaptured during the spawning season off the Tijuana Flats and another one was caught near Dana Point- a remarkable 60 mile swim from where it was originally tagged.
While a few fish have been recaptured a good distance from where they were tagged, the majority of them are staying put said Bellquist. “Other than the sand bass that swam to Dana Point and a short calico that was tagged in the LJ Cove Reserve and was caught again near the San Clemente Pier, most of the bass are recaptured within 1000 yards of where they were tagged.”
Bellquist, being the professional that he is, didn’t offer any predictions based on this very preliminary data. But in my extremely unprofessional opinion, I am hoping that the overall lack of major post-tagging movement by the calicos will call into question the efficacy of the MPA’s claim that the reserves will have a spillover effect on the surrounding waters. It’s probably just wishful thinking on my part, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this information might prevent any future closures.
In the meantime, Bellquist and his team will continue their tagging efforts for at least another year and ask for the public’s help in reporting any tagged bass they catch. “While most of the tagging has been done in San Diego County, we’ve done tagging trips as far north as Long Beach, so if you’re fishing anywhere in between, please keep an eye out for tags on any bass you catch. The tags are white, but they sometimes get covered in algae, so look closely at anything hanging off the fish you catch.”
Tagged fish can be reported online at www.cooperativefishtagging.org and every fish you recapture enters you in a monthly drawing for a $200 gas card.
If you catch a tagged fish you do not need to kill the fish or remove the tag before release.
Simply copy down the number off the tag, along with your GPS coordinates or the area it was caught. Then just log on to the website and log your catch.
For anyone that’s interested in participating in a tagging trip, Bellquist runs regular tagging trips on sport boats and the trips are free to anglers. To get on one of the tagging trips you can follow Coastal Angler Tagging Cooperative on Facebook or frequently check their website www.cooperativefishtagging.org for announcements about upcoming trips. These trips have been filling fast, so make sure to contact them as soon as you see a new trip listed.