Atlantic Tuna Project

When it comes to tuna fishing, most people here in the northeast kill tuna to put meat in the cooler or money in their pocket and once their legal limit is met, they begin to release fish. This is certainly the case when targeting yellowfin and inshore bluefin.

However, the tables are turning thanks to some premier offshore charter outfits and some dedicated anglers.

Several tuna tagging projects have sprouted up along our coast in recent years with The Atlantic Tuna Project and Tag A Tiny, most recognizable among the lot. Project members are authorized to catch, tag and release tuna. In the case of The Atlantic Tuna Project, all tagging data is sent and stored securely by NOAA's Cooperative Tagging Center located at the South East Fisheries Science Center.

The Atlantic Tuna Project began as a vehicle to promote a culture of catching, tagging and releasing Atlantic bluefin, yellowfin and big-eye tuna. The goal is to further promote a catch and release culture within the offshore sector while contributing scientific data to further understand the behaviors of the Northern Atlantic bluefin, yellowfin and big-eye tunas. The practice of catch, tag and release is something new for many offshore anglers -- charter and private alike -- with a long tradition of mostly catch and kill.

Atlantic Tuna Projects founder, John LoGioco, said, "A general sense of care is beginning to spread as guys are now going as far as making their own tag sticks and placing raw water wash down hoses in the fish's mouth during the tagging process to help keep large tuna resuscitated. Overall, much more care is being taken at boat-side as tuna are being handled with kid gloves in an effort to ensure a quality release."

LoGioco's plan is to use technology as the centerpiece of the project with a social Web site for anglers to share their tagging stories. The Web site, www.savethebluefin.com, along with a Facebook and Twitter account allows the "tagging" message to be spread throughout the industry.

"I knew I was on to something," LoGioco said. "When well known industry manufacturers began supporting The Atlantic Tuna Project. Companies such as Guy Harvey Sportswear, West Marine, AFTCO, Pure Fishing and Hogy Lures have all donated items that make up "Tagging Member" care packages. When an angler aboard a participating charter boat makes a smart choice and agrees to tag a tuna, they are rewarded with a "Tagging Member" care package right there on the water."

In its first year, The Atlantic Tuna Project quickly attracted attention as popular charter outfits including the Canyon Runner Sportfishing, Shore Catch Guide Service and Andreas Toy all jumped on board in New Jersey, ready to tag tuna. As word spread, Destiny Charters in Connecticut, Capt. Al Andersen's 'Prowler' in Rhode Island and North Shore Charters in Massachusetts equipped their vessels with the appropriate tagging gear in an all out effort for science, research and to better understand and protect our resource.

The 2010 offshore tuna season is well under way in respect to tagging tuna. Canyon Runner Sportfishing in New Jersey has already released 250 yellowfin tuna this year alone. Plus, they tagged a few white marlin and a bunch of big bluefin tuna.

"This program is great across so many levels," said Adam LaRosa of Canyon Runner Sportfishing. "We are seeing customers opting not to kill their allotment of tuna. This tag symbolizes a trophy in the eyes of our customers and they often say it's great to catch, tag and watch our trophy swim away."

Each year, the Canyon Runner crew releases more tuna than they keep.

"My crew has always pushed our charters to release fish for years," LaRosa said. "The deck can be a hectic place during the bite. As conservationists, we were always looking to get the fish back into the ocean as fast as possible to increase the survival rate. Tagging fish meant extra time was required.

"Our second captain, Mike Zajac, was instrumental in convincing our entire company, crew and customer base on the importance of the tagging program and long term benefits. We are all glad Zajac was so convincing. We have never looked back on that decision and our customers are releasing more fish with tags than without."

The Large Pelagics Research Center at University of New Hampshire asks anglers to join Tag A Tiny. Dr. Molly Lutcavage initiated the Tag A Tiny program during the summer of 2005 to study migration paths and habitat use of juvenile bluefin tuna.

Tag A Tiny consists of three facets to their growing program: conventional tagging, internal archival tagging and pop-up satellite tagging.

Since the program's inception, there have been over 900 conventional tags released by recreational anglers in their public outreach program. A total of 130 juvenile bluefin have been implanted with either Lotek or Wildlife Computer implantable archival tags since 2005. These tags allow depth, temperature and location data to be collected, but they need to be recovered to obtain their valuable information. Last season, three satellite pop-up tags were implanted on giant tuna.

"The weather got the better of us last October and we could only tag three tuna in the 700+ pound range," Lutcavage said.

Tag A Tiny tagged tuna are identified by a bright green "spaghetti tag" indicating the presence of an archival tag within the fish. Fishermen who catch a tuna with this bright green spaghetti tag are encouraged to retain the whole fish if caught and immediately contact Large Pelagics Research Center Director, Dr. Molly Lutcavage (603-862-2891). Fishermen are eligible for a $500 reward once the whole fish is received and the tag returned.

Tagging organizations are picking up steam through effective grass roots marketing efforts from charter captains looking for business as well as the overall need to learn more. Most fear that the end is near when it comes to bluefin tuna fishing. Without proper science and additional data, our resource, heritage and source of inshore recreation very well may be gone.

How to join The Atlantic Tuna Project:

1.) Register for your free account here on www.savethebluefin.com.

2.) Request your free tags from NOAA's Cooperative Tagging Center by email (tagging@noaa.gov) or phone (1-800-437-3936).

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).