SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 87

Located on Gasparalla Island, off Florida's Gulf coast. Miles of natural shoreline, white sand and clear waters. On the island its old Florida charm. Easily accessible by car or boat, park dockside for lunch and explore the banyan tree covered roadways and boutiques. On the water, truly a fisherman's paradise. Inshore you have immense grass flats thriving with sea life. If you arrive just as the sun is coming over the horizon you might find a school of red drum feeding. Their tails glistening in the sunlight as they dig though the bottom muck for various crustacean Travel further out to Boca Grande Pass and witness the alluring sight of schooling tarpon, rolling along so close you could almost touch them.

In recent years, fishing in the area has turned towards conservation. Few species have greatly rebounded since being protected from harvest such as the goliath grouper. These fish have been protected since 1990. In late 2015 I was searching for a tagging program that I could get involved in as a captain. I discovered Grey Fishtag Research. They are an international multi species tagging program. One of the first to monitor all fish species in any ocean. Inshore and offshore. Their mission was clear, bridging the gap between science and fishermen. Tagging of various fish species provides scientists with valuable data such as migration patterns, fish stocks, growth rates, and more. They provide tags, data cards, tagging devices at no cost to professional anglers. As well as hands on training and support if needed. They provide tag updates and have a number of successful recaptures.

Anglers get a hands on experience. They get to collect data such as, measurements, fish condition, GPS location, and even name their catch. Later the Captain registers their catch using their online database. You can also register a recovered fish there also. In their "news" section on their website they list their recaptures to date. This ranges from billfish and sharks to snapper and snook. This is revolutionary, although monitored by scientists this greatly helps input data easier and faster. Making the database strong and up to date. Anglers and get a certificate of tagging OR recapture mailed to them with their name and species congratulating their catch. .

Exactly what I was looking for. I emailed them, expressed interest and noticed not many were tagging on the gulf coast of Florida. Our fishery is diverse, great opportunity to tag the fish my clients release. I quickly heard back from one of their dedicated science staff, Travis Moore. Within a week I was on the water tagging with clients. Grouper were some of our first tagged. When recaptured scientists can assess their growth rate. This is what determines fishing regulations and bag limits on certain species. Fish with slow growth and reproduction rates are highly susceptible to population decline due to over fishing. They also use this data to determine migration patterns. To date we have tagged sharks, amberjack and grouper.

Tagging captains take great care of their catches. Larger fish such as shark, grouper and bill fish are kept in the water next to the boat to prevent stress. Smaller fish are brought aboard and quickly tagged, measured and released. Our vessel is equipped with a "release well" A live well with extra pumps to provide oxygen rich water to revive a tired fish. Its exciting to release a fish you have caught, even more to see where your catch has traveled. A rewarding experience for any catch and release fishermen. We believe the more data collected, the better these fish can be protected for future generations. If you find yourself in Boca Grande, Florida and want to get involved, spend a day on the water with us.