With the striped bass fishing just beginning to move into the famed spawning phase, a good number of anglers may be seeing some of the fish they’re catching with a distinctive yellow colored piece of plastic hanging from its side. What the angler who was lucky enough to catch one of these “tagged” fish does with the information that he can read from this tag may aid our fishery scientists as they work to better manage this resource to the benefit of both sport and commercial fishermen.
During the next few weeks anglers will probably be able to observe fisheries biologists with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) as they operate a boat rigged out with some weird looking implements hanging off the bow and a growling generator motor sounding from inside the boat. This is an “electrofishing boat” that enables the biologist to collect fish from the water in order to study these fish and, eventually, to better manage this resource to the benefit of fishermen.
The generator in the boat produces an electric current that is transmitted to electrodes that are hanging off that weird looking apparatus hanging off the boat’s bow. When the boat and electrodes come across nearby fish the electric current shocks (stuns) the fish and it rises toward the water’s surface where the biologist scoop up the fish that are being sought and transfer it into a holding tank filled with aerated water.
The fish are retained in this holding tank until the biologists remove the individual fish to have its weight, length, and observed condition recorded. After this information is recorded a scale may be removed from the fish in order to determine the fish’s age.
At this point the biologist usually use an implement called a “tagging gun” (similar to the ones used to insert plastic markers in clothing) to insert a numbered, yellow plastic “tag” in the fish’s side so that this individual fish can be identified at some future time. The tag insertion operation is relatively harmless to the fish and the small wound caused by the insertion of the tag quickly heals over. The fish is then returned, relatively unharmed, to the water to swim on its way.
The next stage in this fish tagging program will depend on the tagged fish being caught by either sport or commercial fishermen who record the numbers written on the yellow spaghetti tag, the date the tagged fish was caught and where the fish and tag was recovered. If the fish was legal to be taken (caught) and retained legally, the tag may be removed and returned to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).
If the fisherman chose to release the fish unharmed they are asked to please write the numbers found on the yellow tag down and report this to the NCDMF. When and where the fish was taken is also important to the tagging program.
As a reward to the fishermen who report the taking of a tagged fish and reporting this information to the NCDMF the fisherman will be able to choose one of several items such as $5, a fish towel or a hat embossed with the name of the type of fish that was taken. The participating fisherman will also be entered into a year-end drawing for a $100 prize.
Fishermen reporting this information to the NCDMF will, in return, be informed as to just where and when the fish was originally tagged and how far the fish traveled since it was tagged.
By using the information that is gathered from the numbered tag’s placing and recovery, fishery scientists can estimate how fast the fish are growing, how far the fish traveled since it was tagged and, possibly, an estimate of the fishes population density.
These tag and recovery operations take place not only with the populations of anadromous fishes such as our striped bass, hickory and white shad and sturgeon but with some inland populations of fish such as largemouth bass or channel catfish.
These fishery science studies are paid for through a combination of funds from both federal and state sources. For the most part these funds are generated from the sales of fishing licenses and an excise tax on all fishing equipment. In general the state supplies its 25% of the money for such projects while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts up the remaining 75% of the money. Basically, the nation’s sport fishermen put up their share of the funding from their purchasing of fishing licenses while the federal government gains their 75% matching money through the excise taxes paid on all fishing equipment that’s sold. Most of these fund sources are earmarked moneys that can only be used only for the restoration of our fishery resources.