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Playing Tag with Roosterfish for Science
Roosterfish– the hard-fighting, black-banded fish with the distinctive cock’s comb dorsal fin–is one of the most sought-after recreational species in the eastern Pacific. Anglers happily catch them in the surf, from kayaks and in sport fishing boats along the coast from Mexico’s Baja California to Peru using both live bait and artificial lures. They can grow to over 100 pounds, but they’re not much good to eat so they’ve been spared from overfishing so far. But almost nothing is known about their life history, reproduction, and movements.
However, that is about to change.
Marine scientist/artist/conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey and daughter Jessica, project manager for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, recently completed the first-ever roosterfish tagging program in Panama.
The Harveys, together with guides and anglers in the third annual Roosterfish Tournament at Tropic Star Lodge in Pinas Bay, Panama, stuck 80 roosterfish with external streamer tags in three days. The tags bear the foundation’s phone number and ask whoever recaptures the fish to report its GPS location and fork length. The crews also took some fin clips for DNA samples and sent them to the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University near Fort Lauderdale. And at the conclusion of the tournament, outdoors television host Mark Davis of “Big Water Adventures” and his team implanted Panama’s first roosterfish with a pop-off satellite tag that tracks its movements in near real-time for about three months.
The Harveys also distributed additional tags to the Tropic Star fleet to continue the program throughout the year.
“There were no recaptures during the tournament, indicating the fish move around a bit and the population is quite large,” Guy Harvey said. “This gives us a chance to study an animal that’s not commercially exploited but is a very important recreational fish.”
The Harveys and their fellow tournament participants caught the roosters by bottom fishing with live bait on downriggers or working poppers on the surface in depths of 30 to 170 feet. More than 100 fish were caught and released in three days of competition.
The Harveys said they plan to work in collaboration with the Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Gray FishTag research program which has tagged scores of roosterfish in Costa Rica and Mexico—including one satellite tag in Costa Rica that popped off after the fish travelled more than 37 miles in 16 days.
Jessica Harvey said the object is to establish a baseline so that fisheries managers can gauge changes in populations.
“These fish occupy the same territory of other jacks, snappers, and tuna,” she said. “In a world where overfishing continues, if we get to a point where there’s no more snappers and jacks for people to eat, they could turn to roosterfish. Guy Harvey Research Institute and Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation are always trying to fill in the knowledge gap, given it’s a high-demand recreational fishery and not much is known about it.
“We’ve generated a lot of interest in learning about these fish. The more people learn about them, the more they care and the more people will be sustainable in their fishing practices.”
To learn more about the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and its research please visit www.GuyHarvey.com/Ocean-Foundation.