Gray FishTag Research Symposium 2018
By Gary Graham – Dec 17, 2018
Approximately 40 Gray FishTag Research Scientific Advisory Board Members, GFR Marketing Partners, scientists, marine researchers, hotel owners, fleet owners, captains, publishers, members of the press and staff were on hand when Bill Dobbelaer, President of Gray Fishtag Research, Inc., (GFR) opened the 4th Annual Gray FishTag Research Symposium on Dec. 7 at the Lighthouse Point Yacht Club in Lighthouse Point, Florida.
Dobbelaer observed that he was “it was absolutely shocking, the number of folks present,” adding that
“many had traveled thousands of miles from two continents to attend the event.”
Continuing, he briefly introduced each participant, their background and their contribution to GFR: 1 of 3
Captain John Brownlee, one of the most recent Advisory Board Member as well as a Marketing Partner; Kristen Salazar, who represents Casa Vieja Lodge, Guatemala, the newest Research Center for GFR, and Samantha Mumford, founder of Premium Marine, Quepos, Costa Rica. Moises Mug, from Costa Rica (formerly of FECOP) , who is also on the Advisory Board, was unable to attend.
Dobbelaer announced that Carter Takacs of Marina Pez Vela was awarded the 2018 Bill Gray Conservation Award for outstanding achievement advocating for GFR and the ongoing research, as well as for being a true leader in fisheries conservation.
Nick Froelich was awarded the 2018 Top Fish Tagger in the World for tagging over 200 billfish on his charter boat, Double Nickel. Froelich declared that “tagging on his charters allows his clients to become more excited, and more involved, plus they had more respect for the resource.” He and his wife, Brandi, made a commitment to continue their great work by tagging even more fish in 2019.
Other meeting highlights:
Leah Baumwell, the new GFR Director, detailed the tagging statistics from the past year. More than 5,000 fish of 98 different species were tagged in 2018, and there were 133 recoveries from 32 species, many of which were discussed and emphasized in the program.
The following research centers were recognized for their ongoing efforts on behalf of GFR:
Pisces Sportfishing, Marina Pez Vela, Los Sueños, Sunset Marina, Zancudo Lodge, Grand Alaska Lodge, and Aqua World.
• GFR provided the data analysis from two roosterfish funded by Ramiro Ortiz and staff at Marina Pez Vela and one striped marlin funded by Pisces Sportfishing that were deployed with satellite tags during the year.
• Kristen Salazar discussed Casa Vieja and their successful program banning all single-use plastic water bottles at both the lodge and their ten-boat fleet which she said had saved an estimated 80,000 plastic bottles from landfills and the ocean in 2018; this was supported by the Costa Del Mar program.
• Congratulations from the entire GFR Team to Salazar who recently completed her Executive MBA at the University of Miami in a remarkable 17 months! At her graduation, she observed, “I started … with a 3-week-old Bebe that came to class with me and 23 strangers who thought I was insane. My sanity, patience, family, work, friendships, and intelligence were put to the test and it was one of the most rewarding experiences to date.”
After Baumwell detailed the satellite tag data recovered from the first year of roosterfish tagging, she reviewed some of the proposed work GFR is planning for 2019.
Tracy Ehrenberg of Pisces Sportfishing, stressed that sportfishing was not only her family’s livelihood, but the livelihood of many others who depended on the striped marlin recreational fishery in Los Cabos. Fingerbank study review 1 of 14
She concluded, “There are questions (mentioned in the next to last slide of her presentation) that must be answered. And to that end, Pisces Sportfishing will be funding another satellite tag for GFR research in 2019.
Tracy then described the ongoing, illegal striped marlin harpooning by pangas in Cabo San Lucas Finger Bank area, highlighting Pisces Sportfishing’s response and continuing efforts to prevent the illegal activity in the future.
Reports were received from the Sport Fishing sector in regard to commercial fishermen from Todos Santos (45 minutes drive up the Pacific coast from Cabo) capturing and commercializing marlin in the áreas knows as Finger Bank and Golden GateBank (where there is a concentration of these species due to schools of bait and other marine life which billfish feed on) killing them with hand held harpoons.
On the 21st of November of this year (2018), an operation was carried out with logistics set in place by SEMAR, FONMAR, CONAPESCA and PISCES GROUP CABO, where a navy interceptor boat and a Pisces Sportfishing boat participated with observers from FONMAR on board as well as representatives of Sportfishing. The result of the operation was the impounding of a 22ft panga with S.C.P.P Punta Lobos on the hull with the name Punta Lobos XLII and with registration number 0304182513-5 and a 115 hp Suzuki outboard motor 4 stroke, two harpoons and three trunks of fish without heads or tails which were fresh marlin giving a total weight of 95.78 lbs. It should be mentioned that more evidence could not be obtained at time of the inspection.
This action took place when the crew of the above mentioned boat, where found chumming with bait known as mackerel, to bring the marlin to the surface, where harpoons were then used to spear the fish. When the fishermen became aware of the patrol boats presence advancing towards them,they threw the product, consisting of pieces or marlins into the sea, actions confirmed by the observers of Fonmar and the representatives of Sportfishing. The patrol boat proceeded to do an inspection of the fishing boat, finding 30 pieces of mackerel bait, as well as two hand held harpoons, wrapped in a canvas sheet and blood on the floor of the boat which the fishermen were attempting to clean at the time of the inspection. Immediately a search was made of the nearby área where marlin trunks were found floating, which were secured and the formal report was written up along with the impounding of the fishing boat, motor, product and harpoons which possession and use of is prohibited by law.
Marco Ehrenberg accentuated the need to work with these panga operators to help provide them an alternative source of income.
Travis Moore, Marine Biologist and GFR research scientist, discussed a children’s field trip to a south Florida elementary school where a tagging lesson became a fish-anatomy lesson when they opened a fish for the kids to see inside.
Moore shared with the group how excited the students were to be a part of the activity.
Todd Staley and Marina Marrari, representing “Federacion Costarricense de Pesca (FECOP),” promotes sport fishing in Costa Rica through science and advocacy. They outlined their 2014 victory convincing the Government to increase the no-commercial fishing limit to 45-miles, covering over 200,000 square kilometers. The 2017 analysis of previous bycatch records have shown that it saved 25 tons of what would have been marlin bycatch based on the favorable results thus far. They are proposing increasing the limitations further to include offshore sea mounts in FECOP’s continuing efforts to improve sportfishing in Costa Rica.
Samantha Mumford of Premium Marine pledged to tag in the region beginning with her Pescadora Billfish Championship tournament,
an all-female angler tournament, as well as her pledge to involve more women in fishing.
Don Dingman of Hook the Future & Salt Life echoed the importance of involving women in fishing and then reviewed the need for research on redfish in Northern Florida.
Paul Michele of Navionics and Mike Caruso of The Fisherman Magazine underscored the strong interest in striped bass by anglers in the northeastern United States and agreed to fund two satellite tags for striped bass research.
Luis Basurto of Aqua World in Cancun, spoke on the importance of expanding tagging in his region and his dedication to creating more of an interest in fishing and conservation in Cancun, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres.
Dave Bulthuis of Costa Del Mar emphasized the importance of GFR and his personal commitment to attracting more Marketing Partners in 2019.
Mark Cooper, formerly of the Denver Broncos, volunteered to become more involved by helping to drive the GFR mission, starting with television exposure and outreach to industry friends.
John Brownlee announced that he joined Maverick at Los Sueños as the General Manager. Later during research project discussions, he brought up the possibility of comparing tagging data of roosterfish to amberjack. The results would be welcomed by the angling community.
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Dick Tanner of CR Primo Fishing Tackle and Will Drost committed to helping fund the Los Sueños, Costa Rica blue marlin study proposed during the meeting.
Zsolt Szekely of Dolphin Electric Reel, Alex Henry of Southernmost Apparel, and Joe Herdering of Shadow Graphics,Also, in attendance Kim Underwood – Office Manager Gray Taxidermy, Jonas Masreliez – Creative and Marketing Gray Taxidermy and James “Mango” Buckwald – Captains Support that all participated in the conversations and joined GFR expeditions in 2018.
Eric Leech, GFR Advisory Board, spoke about his tagging efforts in the Dominican Republic.
By: JM-Admin Category: Fisheries, Gray FishTag Recoveries, Marine Research
On December 16, 2017 swordfish (Xiphias gladius) was tagged with a Gray FishTag conventional tag (GFR6486). It was caught, tagged and released by angler Anthony DiMare while fishing with Captain Nick Stanczyk aboard the “Broad Minded” charter boat out of Bud’n Mary’s Marina, Islamorada, Florida USA. The group was fishing the waters about 25 miles east of Islamorada. The swordfish was estimated to be 47-inches. (119 cm) Lower Jaw Fork Length (LJFL) and had an approximate weight of 50-pounds. After tagging the fish, Mr. DiMare registered the swordfish using the Gray FishTag Research website (GrayFishTag.org) and decided to name it “Little A.”
On August 11, 2018, 238 days later, the Swordfish was recaptured by NOAA observer McKenzie O’Connor while aboard PLL Vessel “Ellen Jean.”
The tag recapture location was approximately 475 miles (764 km) straight line distance north from where the swordfish was originally tagged, in the waters 90 miles ESE of Savannah, Georgia. The measured length of the fish was 55-inches (139 cm) and a weight of 96-pounds (43.5 kg).
Recaptures are important and events such as this one are truly amazing! Not only do recaptures make valuable data available about each species that cannot be learned any other way, but they also provide encouraging incentives to continue tagging fish. The Gray FishTag Research program has been able to exceed their original expectations for fish recapture rates thanks to the hard-working professional fishermen who are on the water day in and day out.
GFR’s multi-species tagging program’s growth is remarkable with new species being tagged in new regions daily. Tags are provided free-of-charge to the collaborating professional fishermen, and the tag data is available to the public at www.GrayFishTagResearch.org.
After hearing the results of 2018, the entire group endorsed the plans on the horizon for the 2019 fiscal year research.
Those plans include:
1. Continuing satellite tagging work on striped marlin in Cabo San Lucas, with funding generously provided by Pisces Sportfishing.
2. Continuing satellite tagging work on roosterfish in Quepos, Costa Rica; funding proposed by Ramiro Ortiz.
3. Beginning a vertical habitat study of swordfish in Florida; Seaguar provided funding for one satellite tag.
4. Beginning a striped bass movement study in the northeastern United States; Navionics has committed to two satellite tags.
5. Beginning a blue marlin FAD/seamount study in Costa Rica out of Los Sueños Research Center. Maverick, Will Drost, and CR Primo Fishing Tackle have committed to supporting this research.
It’s Not Always About the Fish
Special Holiday Fishing Feature by Todd Staley, Communications Director FECOP
One of the most exciting days fishing I ever had was in a lagoon in Nicaragua accessible by passing through myriad of rivers and creeks on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Mike Holliday and I hooked over 60 tarpon on casting plugs. We tired of tarpon and went to the beach to cast for snook. The tarpon wouldn’t leave us alone. We were hooking them from shore. I watched as Holliday played and eventually landed a respectable tarpon from the beach with a fly rod. That was nearly 28 years ago.
What did I see that day? Fish, fish, and more fish.
I fished the same lagoon many times over the next several years and although I never matched that one fantastic day, I always had good fishing. Then one day I went and the tropical rains had the lagoon all muddied up. I cast furiously for hours with memories of that fantastic day playing like a movie in my head. I had not one bite. My arm tired of casting and I sat down to rest. I looked over towards the shoreline. Then it jumped out at me. A beautiful flaming orange wild heleconia. I scanned the bank. One after another they rose from the jungle.
On the long fishless ride back into Costa Rica I started to notice things I never saw before even though I had crossed this path many times. Wild orchids hang over the creeks, some of them humongous and all of them spectacular. There were so many different kinds. I had made this trek many times and only saw water and fish. The normal trip back took one and a half hours. This day it took almost four hours. That was the day I learned it is not always about the fish.
The ocean off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica drops off fast. A couple hundred yards off the beach you’ll find a couple hundred feet of, and by the time you reach twenty miles there is more than a mile of water below your boat. Most of the Costa Rica big game fishing is rarely done beyond twenty miles unless green water forces the fleet further out. Fishing the Pacific can be like living the Discovery Channel.
The humpback whales come twice a year. Once from the North and once from the South and enter the near shore waters with their calves. I’ve seen killer whales eat a sailfish. I’ve also had them come and surf the wake of the boat. Dolphins pass by in schools of thousands. Both spotted and spinner dolphins put on a show that is just as exciting to watch as the 200 lb tuna that swims below them puts on a show while testing your back. Pilot whales group up in pods or by the hundreds and cruise right next to the boat to check things out.
While fishing roosterfish in the Golfo Dulce, I’ve stopped fishing to watch six whale sharks feed on plankton. Another time I saw a leatherback turtle as big as a pool table patiently waiting for the sun to go down so she could go to the beach and lay eggs in the volcanic sand. What’s funny about every one of those experiences is I don’t remember what I caught that day, but I will always remember what I saw.
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The Fish That Turned Me Into a Conservationist
By Todd Staley – Communications Director
A long, long time ago when I was in my early twenties I lived on the west coast of Florida and fished every minute I could. Blue water action was not much of an option.
A 30 mile trip offshore only got you to 90 feet of water, but there were plenty of snook, tarpon and grouper to keep a young man off the streets and out of serious trouble. Around the same time a group of County Commissioners came up with an artificial reef program that was either an extremely misguided effort or a well disguised plan to rid the counties landfills of it’s surplus of old cars, tires, and concrete culverts.
What seemed like an excellent plan for some turned out to be a disaster. It didn’t take long to discover that the lifespan of an old Chevy rusting in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t very long and that hurricanes and tropical storms can separate and scatter well tied together tires for miles across the sea bottom.
For a short time though, they seemed to function as designed. Barnacles started to grow on the junk pile. Baitfish found the structure and moved in. Pelagic fish would stop and feed during their migration routes and snapper and grouper began to call these reefs home.
The exact position of each of these artificial reefs were published in a big publicity push and anyone with navigational device on their boat could easily find them because they were marked with buoys as well. Both fishermen and divers alike began using these reefs regularly. The closet was only 3 miles off the beach and the farthest was only 20 miles out.
Most anglers would camp right over the top of them and have a field day reeling in grunts but every time they hooked a decent fish like a grouper they quickly lost it to the jagged terrain below.
We were smarter than that, we fished with grenades. Not literally of course, but that’s what we called them.
“We would mix sand with cat food and shape them into balls with a rock in the middle so they would sink fast.”
Then we would anchor up current of the structure and drop our grenades to the bottom. Our concoction had a sweet enough smell to draw decent fish away from the cover of the reef. Remember this was long before conservation was in fashion and if you caught more than you could use you could always give it to friends or sell it at the backdoor of a seafood restaurant for some extra beer money. One day our grenade technique was extremely effective. We had a cooler full of 8 to 10 lb grouper and lots of 5 lb mangrove snapper.
Then the monster took my bait and nearly yanked my rod out of my hands. It didn’t take off with burning speed, it was more like being on the losing end of a tug-of-war as line slowly peeled off my reel and there was nothing I could do about it. Then it stopped. I knew it had taken enough line to bury itself well into the reef and I could feel every breath it took as water rushing through its gills vibrated up my line. Then I got an idea.
Earlier I noticed a boat with a dive flag up on the other end of the reef so I raised the observer on the radio and explained I had a giant fish on my line and they would cover over and “shoot the thing,” I would split it with them. He said when the divers surfaced he would ask them. Soon a dive boat was tied up alongside us and a diver was preparing to descend with a triple banded spear gun unlike anything I had seen before. He disappeared below the surface following my line towards the bottom. Twenty minutes passed and nothing. Finally after thirty minutes he surfaced and his eyes were as big as saucers. “ You’re not kidding you’ve got a monster,” he exclaimed. “You have a 400 lb Goliath grouper,” (actually we called them by a different name back them, one that had been used over a hundred years, but the name was changed to Goliath grouper a few years back in the spirit of political correctness) “The stupid fish has swam inside a 61’ Mercury Monterey!” he went on to explain. “ Well just plug him between the eyes,” I said, “ and we will drag him out with the boat.” “What the heck you think I’ve been trying to do for the last half hour,” he answered. “Every time I get close to him he rolls the window up!”
Note: This was the day I learned that a fish was not only something to be used as sport and food, but that every fish has it’s own personality and is something to be used but not abused. It was that day I started thinking about tomorrow and not just living for today. It was that day I became a conservationist.
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Costa Rica Indo-Pacific Sailfish
Shaw & Nodder, 1791); ISTIOPHORIDAE FAMILY; also called spindlebeack, bayonetfish
An Excerpt from Costa Rica Sailfish for Dummies by Todd Staley Communications Director, FECOP
The lifetime of a sailfish varies from 4 to 10 years. Most of the juveniles spend their first few years off the coast of Mexico. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were born there. For example, a west coast Florida tarpon starts its life 100 miles or so off the beach, but spends its early years in the estuaries. The largest sailfish and the long-standing world record of 222 pounds came from their farthest range to the south in Ecuador.
The tropical Pacific is really not a very inviting place for sailfish. The low oxygen content in the water will not support them, but two famous currents bring in healthy water. The Humboldt Current flows north from Chile and Peru and collides with the California Current flowing south from the U.S. and Mexico off the coast of Central America, forming a “tongue” of current that supports sailfish, though to a depth of only 100 meters or less. Unlike the striped marlin that is caught off Mexico but might spawn off Australia, the eastern tropical sailfish’s range is limited to the coastal waters of the two currents and the tongue formed off Central America.
Another phenomenon happens each year: Three distinct and powerful winds blow from land offshore. They start in December or January and blow until March or April. In Mexico, winds that start in the Gulf of Mexico push across the Tehuantepec lowlands offshore into the Pacific. Likewise, the Papagayo winds from Lake Nicaragua push offshore across Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border. Also, a Caribbean wind current crosses Panama heading into the Pacific near the Panama Canal.
As the Pacific surface water is pushed offshore, the upwelling sends to the surface oxygen-depleted water that cannot support sailfish. The entire population is forced into pockets of healthy water, which happen to lie in front of windless parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and parts of Panama. During this period, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other parts of Panama are nearly devoid of sailfish. This is the equivalent of taking the entire population of San José and moving everybody to the Pacific coast for four months out of the year, with no one living in between. Fortunately for the sailfish, their main food source, squid and sardines, follow the same pattern.
The reality is that these areas do not have a tremendous abundance of fish, but the whole population is forced to share these pockets. When there is a strong El Niño, the winds do not blow, so the population is not condensed into oxygen-healthy pockets caused by the normal upwelling. The surface waters also warm, and peak-season fishing results in Guatemala and Costa Rica drop dramatically.
Costa Rica has the benefit of two peak sailfish seasons. From the Gulf of Nicoya south, the peak is January through April. The Guanacaste region to the north begins to peak in May after the winds die and the fish begin to move freely out of prisons formed in Guatemala and southern Costa Rica.
Dr. Ehrhardt’s studies have shown that a strong management plan is needed with all Central American countries working together. The Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation (FECOPT) is working with sport and commercial fishermen and the government on management plans within Costa Rica. In addition, CABA, The Billfish Foundation and local groups are working with Central American governments to form a united effort to conserve the region’s sailfish populations.
Inhabits tropical and subtropical waters near land masses, usually in depths over 6 fathoms, but occasionally caught in lesser depths and from ocean piers. Pelagic and migratory, sailfish usually travel alone or in small groups. They appear to feed mostly in midwater along the edges of reefs or current eddies.
Its outstanding feature is the long, high first dorsal which is slate or cobalt blue with a scattering of black spots. The second dorsal fin is very small. The bill is longer than that of the spearfish, usually a little more than twice the length of the elongated lower jaw. The vent is just forward of the first anal fin. The sides often have pale, bluish gray vertical bars or rows of spots.
More on the Saifish from the IGFA.org Fish Database
Its fighting ability and spectacular aerial acrobatics endear the sailfish to the saltwater angler, but it tires quickly and is considered a light tackle species. Fishing methods include trolling with strip baits, plures, feathers or spoons, as well as live bait fishing and kite fishing. The most action is found where sailfish are located on or near the surface where they feed.
Recent acoustical tagging and tracking experiments suggest that this species is quite hardy and that survival of released specimens is good
FECOP Fish Facts: Pacific Sailfish
Fastest Fish in the Sea at up to 70mph
World Record 222 lbs (Ecuador)
Common Name: Sailfish
Scientific Name: Istiophorus
Group Name: School
Average life span in The Wild: 4 years
Feeding Tactics: Uses its bill to stun individual fish or slash groups of fish
Size: 5.7 to 11 ft
Weight: 120 to 220 lbs
Size relative to a 6-ft man:
Related Sailfish Articles
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Dorado, Mahi or Dolphinfish, are some of the fastest growing and swimming fish in the oceans.
Dorado can spawn every two to three days at the early age of four to five months old. A female releases an average of 50,000 eggs each time they spawn. dordado can grow to an estimated 0.5 to 1.0 inch in length per week while gaining two to three pounds per month.
Aftco (aftco.com) has sited a case of a big bull dorado that lived for 18 months and when it died, there was no guessing of its weight, as it was immediately taken from the tank to a scale. In 18 months the 1.5 lb dorado grew to an amazing 68 lbs.
The females and the younger Dorado generally live among floating grass and floating debris while the larger males tend to roam free in the open ocean. A large male dorado can weigh up to 85 pounds in their short five-year lifespan.
When to Catch Dorado in Costa Rica – November through January and occasionally in February – averaging 20 to 40 lbs. Dorado can be taken year round but not in the same numbers as the months listed above.
Dorado is low in saturated fat and is a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorus, and potassium and a very good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, and selenium
Nutrition Table Via: fishwatch.gov
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Costa Rica Chosen to Host International Roosterfish Tournament
The PanAmerican Delegation recently sent representatives from the USA Angling team and the Mexican Sport Fishing Federation to choose a location for the First International Roosterfish Tournament. They scouted out several locations in Costa Rica and decided Crocodile Bay Resort, Costa Rica would be the best venue to hold the event. (www.crocodilebay.com)
The PanAmerican Delegation is made up of fishing organizations from Canada, United States, Mexico, Central and South America. They hold tournaments in various countries promoting the sport as well as conservation with the goal to one day place sport fishing in the Pan-American games and eventually in the Olympics. FECOP, the sport fishing advocacy group is the Costa Rican representative of the PanAmerican Delegation and will co-host the event.
“First we picked the area of Costa Rica which we felt had the most productive inshore fishery with more available area to fish,” said Ben Blegen captain of the USA Predator Fishing Team. “We decided Southern Costa Rica had more to offer.”
Next, they had to find a location that could easily house a big group and move them around with ease once they arrived in the country. “Crocodile Bay’s close proximity to the regional airport, the ability to house everyone in one location and the on premise private pier were all a big plus in making our decision,” explained Blegen.
The event will be held November 16 until 19, 2018 with open ceremony dinner on the 16th, tournament fishing on the 17th and 18th. Blegen went on to explain the it is not a money tournament put rather anglers will compete for bronze, silver and gold medals and fish for their country of residence. For example if you live in the USA and enter the tournament you will be assigned to fish on the USA team.
This will be PanAmerican’s first roosterfish tournament and first tournament the organization has held in Costa Rica. They are planning to add a tarpon tournament in Costa Rica to the agenda in 2019 as well.
“People’s first comments were, how do we fish a roosterfish tournament when we don’t know how to fish roosterfish,” explained Blegen. “I tell them the Costa Rica team took the bronze medal in the Black Bass tournament last February on Lake Okeechobee, Florida competing against some professional bass anglers, and there is no bass fishery in Costa Rica.”
The tournament will be a catch and release format with each team consisting of 4 anglers. The cost includes one-night lodging in San Jose, in country air transportation to Crocodile Bay and airport transfers, 3 nights at the resort will all meals, two days of tournament fishing, and fishing license. Price is $1250 per angler quad. $1300 triple in room and $1375 double in room.
November is historically a great month for large roosterfish. The tournament is open to all anglers. Costa del Mar sun glasses has already committed to enter two women’s teams from the US. Individual anglers who do not have a full team can participate and will be placed on a team by drawing at the opening dinner. All Penn tackle provided, or you can bring your own.
More information at firstname.lastname@example.org on BenBlegen@USAPedatorTeam.org or www.crocodilebay.com
Sign-up Below to Learn More about this Event!
Costa Rica Fishing Conservation: Why is the Costa Rica Tuna Decree so Important?
There is nothing like enjoying a fresh yellowfin tuna sushi, sashimi, or even a big fat juicy fresh tuna steak when your arms are almost too tired to lift the chopsticks. Recreational anglers are catching more tuna than ever all along the Costa Rican Pacific seaboard. Fighting a tuna on rod and reel is like having your line attached to a freight train. The increased availability of tuna has been a saving grace for many a charter captain in the off season for billfish.
People are asking: Why so many tuna?
In 2012 FECOP (Federacion Costarricense de Pesca), a non-governmental group made up of different sport fishing associations around the country began researching the tuna purse industry in Costa Rican waters. Territorial waters are 11 times greater than Costa Rica’s terrestrial area. Costa Rica does not have any national flagged tuna vessels and purse licenses are sold to and operated by foreign flagged vessels in Costa Rican waters. FECOP approached then President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla explaining a problem existed and she advised them to submit a project supporting their claim.
FECOP then discovered that over the 2008-2011 period, 193 purse vessels operated in Costa Rican waters while INCOPESCA the governing body of fishing in Costa Rica reported only 81 licensed vessels sold for the same period. Apparently 114 or 58% of the vessels were operating illegally. Much of the tuna never made it to port in the country. Costa Rica benefited a mere $37 a ton for tuna stored.
Knowing the government would be slow to react to just a group of sport fishers’ complaints, FECOP held meetings with the longline fleet. After decades of throwing stones at each other the two groups decided to present the project to the government together. The longline fleet expressed if there were a steady supply of tuna available they would have no interest in sailfish which are a major bycatch problem in Costa Rica with non-selective types of fishing gear.
President Chinchilla signed the “tuna decree,” as it is known near the end of her term and newly elected President Luis Guillermo Solis delayed the publication of the decree, but it eventually passed in October of 2014. The decree protects over 200,000 square kilometers of territorial water (44%) from purse sein operations, (see map). The most important area to recreational anglers is the first 45 miles from the coastline in which sein operations are now prohibited.
In March of 2017, using data supplied by FECOP’s Director of Science Moises Mug, INCOPESCA reduced tune purse sein licenses sold to foreign fleets from 43 vessels down to 9 for the rest of the year. The government amended the agreement and sold 13 licenses. A new decree is waiting to be signed that would only permit 8 licenses permanently. It is estimated 25 tons of what would have been marlin bycatch in purse sein operations were saved in Costa Rican waters in 2017 alone.
According to agreements in the Tuna Decree there are a few provisions that have yet to be implemented. A management plan for the coastal and special polygons. Polygons A and D on map. An onboard observer program must be created for longline fleets, and a research program including horizontal and vertical migration using archival tags. The management workshops have already begun with sport and commercial fisherman, government agencies and NGO’s all participating.
INCOPESCA, INA the governmental technical institute that trains for many occupations including different types of fishing, and FECOP have all teamed up for a year- long “greenstick” and vertical line study which started with the first voyage in October. Greenstick is a method of fishing tuna with almost zero bycatch that is common in the Atlantic side of the United States but INCOPESCA requires technical support studies done in Costa Rica before they will give licenses for fish them here. With more tuna available and a growing demand for sustainably caught tuna on the International market with a higher value at the dock, hopes are one day a portion of the longline fleet will convert to greenstick fishing. This would decrease the amount of billfish bycatch tremendously.
FECOP was formed in 2008 by a small group of anglers who discovered 480,000 kilos of sailfish were being exported annually into the United States. Much of this was served in seafood restaurants as smoked seafood spread and people had no idea they were eating sailfish. FECOP convinced the government to stop the exportation of sailfish but it can still be sold on the National market as a low-cost supplement to the Costa Rican diet.
The first major conservation project FECOP tackled was the creation of the largest Marine Area of Responsible Fishing in Central America. Sport fishing is allowed and small scale artisanal fishing is permitted in the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula, but shrimp trawlers and gill nets are no longer allowed. A Golfo Dulce Commission was formed with representatives of all the users of the gulf as well as governmental agencies and NGO’s who meet monthly to manager the area.
FECOP has not existed without controversy. While the whole Costa Rican sport fishing community should have been celebrating the Tuna Decree when it passed, they were distracted by a campaign from The Billfish Foundation labeling FECOP as “quasi-green environmentalists” and a threat to sport fishing in Costa Rica. The controversy started when a FECOP member voiced his opinion at a public forum on regulating more the organized billfish tournaments in Costa Rica. TBF ran with it claiming it was FECOP’s stance to discredit the organization.
A blessing in disguise, the incident prompted FECOP to re-evaluate itself. The staff was reduced and Moises Mug, one of the most respected marine scientists in the country was hired full time. Today their agenda is quite simple. Promoting sport fishing in Costa Rica both recreationally and professionally with a focus on bycatch, research and communication. The staff is supported by a board of directors from both the recreational and professional fishing sector including sportsman and Hall of Fame baseball player Wade Boggs who is an avid fisherman and conservationist.
Continuous maintenance of the Tuna Decree will be needed in 2018 which Dr. Mug will oversee. Henry Marin will head up a socio-economic study concentrating on coastal communities individually, demonstrating the importance of sport fishing.
One study FECOP will be doing that will be especially exciting is Pacific Tarpon. Not indigenous to Pacific waters the numbers caught on the Pacific coastline has been increasing annually. It is suspected they have come through the Panama Canal and are breeding in Pacific waters. Fish will be captured, tagged, a tissue sample taken and then released. Genetics and feeding habits can be determined by a tissue sample. The study will be done in the southern zone where more fish have been taken, but tarpon have been caught up on the Nicoya Peninsula and one was caught recently as far north as El Salvador.
More information can be found about FECOP at www.fishcostarica.org