It was Aug. 11, 2015. Jason Clemente was fishing with Capt. Mike Rodriguez aboard the charter boat Therapy IV near North Miami Beach, Florida.
The fishing gods were smiling. Clemente soon hooked a bull shark that gave him quite a fight. More than half an hour passed before he brought the 81-inch-long, 175-pound fish beside the boat. After measuring it, Rodriguez and his first mate quickly tagged the shark with a green Gray FishTag Research (GFTR) fish tag, and then released it unharmed.
The green “Tag & Research Report Card” on which they recorded the fish’s vital statistics had a line where the angler was asked to “Name Your Fish.” Jason dubbed the big predator “Clemente the Shark.” The completed card was then sent to GFTR so information about the fish could be recorded.
Forty-one days later, on Sept. 20, Steve Johnson and his wife Paula decided to go out for some snapper and grouper fishing in the northern Gulf of Mexico, about 25 miles south of Pensacola, Florida. They motored to their favorite fishing spot but found it crowded with boats. So Steve took them to a new spot in deeper water. They’d been there just half an hour when Paula set her hook in the jaw of a big bull shark.
The shark fought hard, but Paula fought harder. Only 15 minutes passed before she reeled the fish to the boat, and when it was near, the husband and wife saw the green tag and knew immediately the bull shark had been tagged for scientific research. Steve took a quick measurement and removed the tag. They released the shark unharmed and later sent the tag to Gray FishTag Research in Pompano Beach, Florida.
The recovered tag showed this was Clemente the Shark. In the six weeks since the fish had first been tagged, it had traveled an astounding 650 miles through the Gulf of Mexico. The Therapy IV boat crew received some Gray FishTag gear for their tagging efforts, and Paula Johnson was given a pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses, a Tag & Recovery Certificate and Gray FishTag gear for reporting the tag recovery.
The story of Clemente the Shark is just one highlight of a unique new international research effort, Gray FishTag Research, started in January this year. The idea had its roots with the staff at Gray Taxidermy in Pompano Beach, the largest marine taxidermy company in the world.
“Gray Taxidermy already has a good platform with the charter industry, and we felt that we could take advantage of that,” said Jonas Masreliez, GFTR’s Interactive Marketing Director. “Other non-profits are involved with tagging, but very few conclusions or data have been made available to the public. We wanted to change that, and it has finally come to fruition through hard work and collaboration between professional anglers, marinas, official research centers and our sponsors.”
The way the program works is simple. Anglers catch fish, tag them and report their action, and this is information is then publicly available at no cost on the GFTR website, http://grayfishtagresearch.org/fish-tagging-blog. The organization is non-profit, and there is no membership fee to join. Tagging gear is provided free to professional anglers. Others may purchase a starter kit that includes a tag applicator, six tags and report cards for $119, which covers program costs.
GFTR collects information in real-time to produce valuable scientific data directly from fishermen in every part of the world. It offers a way for professional fishermen to provide relevant data to the scientific community. Results will provide biologists and scientists with valuable information on migration patterns, fish stocks, growth rates, habitat and much more.
“Our website is built in a blog format where the ‘Live TagFeed’ is constantly being populated by recent tagging activities,” said Masreliez. “More detailed data and conclusions will later be available at no cost to any interested party. The program has only been active since January 2015, so actual conclusions will be available once higher sample rates are recorded and our scientists have completed their research.”
At the time this was written, 802 fish of 44 species had been registered with GFTR. The Pacific sailfish is the most registered fish species, followed by the scalloped hammerhead, roosterfish, blue marlin and Pacific halibut. Twelve of the tagged fish have been recovered, providing interesting information, like the long distance traveled by Clemente the Shark between tag deployment and recapture.
“We started the program in Costa Rica, then South Florida, Mexico and Alaska,” said Masreliez. “The tagging rate and overall willingness to be involved has been overwhelmingly positive, and more importantly, the recapture rate has been unbelievable. Recently we have encountered weekly recaptures.”
The program gives anglers a chance to experience the fascinating world of fish tracking and was designed first and foremost to make conservation fun and interesting. The founders believe this is the only way to make the program work – by taking technology that often produces information of little use to the average angler and creating an exciting program on an interactive platform (mobile/web) for fishermen to use worldwide in the future.
Considering it’s powered by the world’s largest network of fishing professionals—approximately 10,000 charter boat captains and mates—and funded by sponsors that include AFTCO, AA Video, American Fishing Wire, FECOP, Blackfin Rods, Mold Craft, Costa Del Mar, CR Primo Fishing Tackle, Shadow Graphics, Grande Alaska Lodge, Marina Pez Vela, Los Suènos Marina and Resort, and The Zancudo Lodge, GFTR is sure to succeed. The group is also working directly with NOAA Fisheries, as well research professionals like Professor Arthur Mariano at the University of Miami, Professor David Kerstetter at Nova Southeastern University and Dr. Mitchell A. Roffer with Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service. For the first time ever, all fish species in every ocean will be monitored.
With this hands-on effort, scientists and fisherman alike can learn more about marine life and how best to conserve it. Participating in the program, whether directly or through sponsorship, is a great way to preserve our precious seas for future generations to enjoy. For more information on how you can participate, visit http://www.grayfishtagresearch.org.