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Prolific Bluefin Tuna Tagger

Capt. Al Anderson has pursued, tagged fish for five decades

Prolific Bluefin Tuna Tagger
Capt. Al Anderson has spent a lifetime tagging fish, including bluefin tuna. (Courtesy IGFA)

IGFA Representative and IGFA Hall of Fame Inductee Capt. Al Anderson has probably tagged more Atlantic bluefin tuna than any other individual.

The NMFS Pelagic Game Fish Tagging Center in Miami has tracked his tagged bluefin tuna for well over five decades now, starting in the late 1960s.

At the present time, more than 4,700 plus Atlantic bluefin tuna have carried NMFS tags deployed from Anderson’s vessels. Recently, a 2-year old, 14-pound bluefin Anderson tagged and released on Oct. 9, 1997 was recaptured 711 nautical miles from the Northeastern edge of Nova Scotia.

At 5,855 days (16 years), this bluefin has the third longest time at liberty ever recorded. When it was recaptured, it weighed approximately 1,200 pounds.

When Anderson began tagging and releasing large portions of his catch, other skippers were baffled by the charter captain who was sacrificing economic gain for scientific data. But Anderson was convinced his practices would make a difference in the future of fisheries, especially of those species most desired by his own customers and other anglers in the Atlantic.

Anderson credits his mother with his love of the sport that’s remained a constant throughout his life. During school lunch break in Woodbridge, N.J., he and his mom would head to the river in the family’s 1938 Plymouth. It was there -- using a bent pin, string and a stick – that he caught his first pumpkinseed fish.

Anderson received his love of fishing from family, and enjoyed many outings like this. (Courtesy IGFA)

Anderson received his love of fishing from family, and enjoyed many outings like this. (Courtesy IGFA)

His Aunt Lillian and Uncle Harry also were big influences, providing their nephew with quality tackle from the custom shop they ran from their basement, and taking him striped bass fishing on northern New Jersey beaches.

At Fairleigh Dickinson University, Anderson’s fishing bug frequently interfered with his class schedule, and he often showed up for biology in his waders, carrying buckets of trout which he later filleted in the lab sink.

More than five decades ago, when he was a graduate student at Adelphi University, Anderson marked his first fish using a copper wire tag he devised, and he was fascinated when, over the next three years, he caught the same largemouth bass several times. While working on his doctorate at the University of Rhode Island, he began to fish saltwater.

In 1967, he marked his first striped bass for the American Littoral Society and has since become the ALS’s most prolific and successful tagger, with almost 51,000 game fish.

That same year he met Frank Mather, founder of the bluefin tagging program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and began tagging tuna for him. In the late 1960s, Anderson was charter fishing part-time aboard the Prowler out of Wakefield, R.I. in the early 1980s, after a 20-year teaching career, charter fishing became Anderson’s full-time vocation.

Through the years Anderson has faced critics of his conservation beliefs, but has remained resolute about tagging not only tuna and striped bass, but also marlin, sharks and bottom fish. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, he has tagged more Atlantic bluefin than anyone in the world.He also has more recaptures, critically important because recaptured tags provide valuable insight into migratory behavior, life spans, growth rates, and population dynamics, and lead to sound management decisions and regulations.

Anderson’s marked bluefin have been recaptured in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of France, in the Straits of Gibraltar, and off the shores of Corsica and Sicily, shattering what scientists once believed about the species’ range.

One of Anderson’s bluefin was recaptured 16 years after he tagged it. (Courtesy IGFA)
One of Anderson’s bluefin was recaptured 16 years after he tagged it. (Courtesy IGFA)

In 1977 he began working with Jack Casey’s NMFS Cooperative Shark Tagging Program, and later with additional agencies, tagging more than 57,000 blue and white marlin; yellowfin, longfin, albacore and bigeye tuna; mako, porbeagle, thresher and blue sharks; codfish; bluefish; haddock; sea bass; fluke and blackfish/tautog.

In 1989 Al won his first of 13 awards from AFTCO’s Tag a Tuna for Tomorrow Program (for bluefin, yellowfin and bigeye), and in 2011 was one of five selected from the U.S. to receive Sport Fishing magazine’s Making a Difference Award.

A member of the IGFA International Committee since 1989, Anderson received an IGFA Conservation Award in 1996. He has served as an advisor to the National Marine Fisheries Service and on committees of seven major fishing tournaments, is past president of the Rhode Island Marine Sportfishing Alliance, and was Sportfishing Chairman for the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association.

Anderson is always willing to share his knowledge, including details of where, when and how, and has done so in hundreds of articles and five books: The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, To Catch A Tuna, Game Fish Tag & Release, Over-Winter Striper Secrets and Island Stripers. He insists the credit for his tagging achievements belongs to his Prowler charter clients, who from the beginning understood and appreciated his commitment to quality angling, and supported his conservation ethic of “tag ‘em for science.”

Captain Al began doing things his way at a time when success was still being measured by how many dead fish were on the dock at day’s end. For five decades he has played a major role in the scientific understanding of migratory fishes, earning a reputation as one of the era’s greatest and most humble charter captains along the way.

For his invaluable efforts on behalf of our fisheries and their future, the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame salutes Al Anderson.

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