Caught a Tagged Fish?
So, you caught a tagged fish. What do you do? Should you immediately release it? Does anyone want to know about it? Is it even legal to keep the fish?
The answers are simple. Yes, it's perfectly fine to keep a tagged fish, as long as it meets the normal size and creel limit regulations. Yes, scientists really want to know about it. Landing a tagged fish is not wrong - it's a very good thing. The most difficult part of a scientific tagging study is recapturing the tagged fish. You've done the hard part. Now, take the next step and report your catch. The information you provide will be very valuable to scientists and much appreciated. Scientists want only the information about your catch - you can keep the filets.
Scientific teams around the country conduct tag-and-release projects on many fish species to gain information on habits, movements, and growth rates. The information helps further our understanding of the fish and provides information to support good resource management decisions. In Mississippi waters, GCRL scientists currently study cobia, tripletail, sharks, striped bass, Gulf sturgeon, red drum, and inshore reef fish. The various aspects of the work are supported by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resource and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sport Fish Restoration Program.
From March through October, GCRL researchers catch sharks using long-line gear, gill nets, and hand lines in Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico near the barrier islands. Sharks in good condition are externally tagged before being released. 800 to 1000 sharks are tagged and released every year. The fact that only about ten tagged sharks are recovered each year indicates the high value of any recapture information you can provide.
For tagging and releasing cobia and tripletail, GCRL researchers rely on the assistance of volunteer anglers. Tagging kits and instructions are provided free of charge. Look here for details on how you can participate. Although spotted seatrout (speckled trout) are not being tagged now, you may encounter a speck tagged in past years. Additionally, GCRL and MDMR scientists tag and release red drum (redfish) collected in their routine sampling, so be on the lookout for tagged redfish, too. If you fish in the upper bays and rivers, you might also catch a tagged striped bass. A joint program between GCRL and MDMR introduces thousands of hatchery-raised juvenile striped bass into Mississippi waters each year; many are tagged.
Additional information on GCRL tagging programs is available in the resource links at the end of this article.
Recognizing a Tag
Two types of external tags are used by GCRL programs. The most common is a yellow thread-like plastic streamer which is attached just below the dorsal fin of a fish. Sharks may be tagged with a yellow, red, or purple plastic dorsal fin tag. Both types of tags are imprinted with a unique identifier number and contact information. Algae may cover the lettering after long exposures, but it can usually be wiped off easily to reveal the printing.
GCRL researchers also use acoustic tracking devices to track the movements of spotted sea trout, striped bass, gag grouper, grey snapper, sturgeon, and sharks (bonnethead, sharpnose, and blacktip). The devices are implanted in the belly of the fish and emit a coded “ping” at regular intervals that is detected by a network of acoustic listening receivers marked by buoys around the barrier islands and inshore waters. A datalogger in the receiver records the fish's id code and the date and time the fish swam into the detection range.
The implanted tracking devices are small black cylinders with white labels in two sizes: approximately 1/4” in diameter x 1” long and 1/2” diameter x 1-1/2” long. The fish are also fitted with an external dart tag. Since external tags may become unattached and the surgical sutures heal well, you might not know you've caught a fish with an acoustic transmitter until you clean it. If you recover an acoustic device when cleaning a fish, please contact GCRL.
Handling and Reporting Your Catch
If you catch a tagged fish, you should record and report the basic information listed below. If you keep the fish, it's easy to inspect the tag and the fish when you return home. If you elect to release the fish, write down the tag number, phone number, and the length and weight of the fish before releasing it. It's best to leave the tag intact in the fish, but if the lettering on the tag is difficult to read, you can simply clip the tag off the fish and retain it. Streamer tags usually have the tag number printed at each end of the tag. If that's the case for your tagged fish, you can clip and keep the upper portion of the tag, leaving the rest of the tag in the fish for a future recapture. In any case, be sure to get the complete number.
- Tag number (tag numbers are usually a one- or two-letter prefix followed by four or five digits, such as SH1470 or T140057.)
- Location (GPS coordinates if possible.)
- Date of capture
- Length of the fish (total and/or fork length)
- Weight of the fish (if possible to obtain without harming the fish)
- Disposition of the fish: released or kept. If released, what was its condition?
- Sex of the fish, if identifiable
- Your name and contact information (phone number, email address, mailing address)
Your personal information will not be published or shared without your specific permission.
Groups in other states also tag and release fish that may migrate or wander into our local waters. Be alert for other types of tags and tags on other species of fish.
You may report any tagged fish catch to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, even those that are obviously part of another institution's tagging program. If the tagged fish is not part of a GCRL program, the information will be forwarded to the appropriate group. If possible, please record the phone number on the tag if the area code is not 228.
GCRL Tagged Fish Contacts
Cobia, Tripletail, Red Drum, & Others
When you report a tagged fish from a GCRL project you will receive a printed report describing your fish and where and when it was tagged. (Sample report) The data obtained from your fish will be used to monitor the habits of our fish stocks and provide a sound scientific basis for future management decisions.
Privacy – Your contact information will be kept private and will not be shared or published without your specific permission.
Your help in reported tagged fish catches is extremely valuable.
Please get in touch and tell us your tagged fish story.