Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Friday, November 29, 2019
It Took a Village
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Looking Back

Gray FishTag Research (GFR) Breakout Year
Throughout 2019, reports of satellite tags deployed on a variety of inshore and offshore species throughout the world by members of Gray FishTag Research (GFR) captured my interest.

Satellite tags are engineered to precisely track the movement of fish — spawning, the depth of travel, their feeding habits, and more — invaluable information for anglers and marine biologists alike. The tags are precision instruments costing some $5,000 each.

Everywhere I looked, I found articles in newsletters, magazines, and social media that were intriguing and aroused my interest enough that I felt compelled to fly across the United States on Dec. 5 to attend the annual Gray FishTag Research Symposium at Lighthouse Point Yacht Club, Lighthouse Point, Fla., on Dec. 6, returning to the West Coast the following day — not an easy trip.

Roxanne Willmar, GFR Program Director, met me at the airport, full of enthusiasm. “Forty people are attending from Costa Rica, Mexico, and Baja, as well as from the United States,” she blurted out as I climbed into her car. “Participants include the members of the Advisory Board, sponsors, marine biologists, fleet owners, and even a few sportfishing captains,” she continued as she filled in the still-growing guest list.

We met up with Samantha Mumford, a GFR advisor from Quepos, Costa Rica, for dinner. Samantha and her husband founded Premium Marine; she is also the founder of the Pescadora Fishing Billfish Championship Tournament — the first of which was held at Marina Pez Vela, Costa Rica, MX last Feb.

Her “Women’s Only” event took Quepos by storm with 22 teams of serious-minded women from seven countries competing. The two-day tournament produced 512 sailfish released, and 187 sailfish tagged. “This year, we will limit the tournament to 50 teams,” she added.

The following morning, the symposium was crowded well before Ian Hall, owner of Gray Taxidermy opened the meeting by thanking the 40 individuals and members of the scientific community who had taken time to attend the 4th Annual Gray FishTag Symposium.

“Many of you may not realize that it was four short years ago that GFR was merely a concept of Bill Dobbelear, general manager of Gray Taxidermy, based in Pompano Beach, Florida. Dobbelear is an avid offshore angler and one of the pioneers of deep-drop swordfishing off the Florida Coast. It was only a handful of years before that he began sharing his idea with others,”

Dobbelear guided GFR through its development with the assistance of most of those present in the room, Hall explained before turning the meeting over to him.

Dobbelaer began, “This is our annual meeting for GFR, but it is way more than that. We still have so much to learn this is GFR’s breakout year.”

Then Dobbelaer asked for brief verbal reports:

• 2019 Collaborative Swordfish Satellite Tagging Expedition, South Florida

The South Florida teams were armed with four satellite tags, one from a partnership with the Joshua Tree Foundation's Barry Shevlin and three from a joint venture with NOAA. Advisory board member Eric Leech on F/V Reel Excuse with owner RJ Bergeron had a tag.

Research's Leah Baumwell and Shevlin were on their boat, while Dobbelaer was on his, the Bill Collector, with Gray Taxidermy's Mike Johnson, Accurate Fishing Reel's southeast Rep. Austin and Travis Moore.

Both boats hooked uptheir only opportunities for the day, but only Bill Collector brought up a sword. Around 9:30 a.m., the satellite tag was deployed on an estimated 45-pound healthy swordfish.

• 2019 Collaborative Striped Bass Satellite Tagging Expedition, New York

Advisor Mike Caruso, The Fisherman Magazine, deployed two sat. tags during this year’s striper pre-spawn to determine where they travel. Both devices were recovered, and the data confirmed that both had gone offshore to the outer banks and canyons. This was the first time a sat. tag had been deployed on striped bass.

• 2019 Collaborative Blue Marlin Satellite Tagging Expedition, Costa Rica

The following question prompted the study are the blue marlin found in quantity at the 80-mile seamount offshore in the rainy season the same body of fish caught inshore during Dec. and Jan.?

The GFR team aboard two Maverick boats provided by Will Drost, Maverick Fishing, out of Los Suenos Marina, found what he called “Blue Marlin Mayhem” on their one-day trip and managed to deploy three satellite tags. They are awaiting the data.

• 2019 Collaborative Roosterfish Satellite Tagging Expeditions, Marina Pez Vela, Costa Rica.

Over the past three years, the GFR team has been working on a collaborative research project to evaluate the behavior and migration patterns of roosterfish along the Pacific Coast of Central America.

During their most recent roosterfish research expedition, GFR team members, alongside Ramiro Ortiz Group and representatives from Marina Pez Vela deployed two satellite tags. The tags were sponsored by the Ortiz family and Marina Pez Vela.

The morning of the last day started to be promising as the Chole Frijole with Captain Rudy, and Mate Christian along with Dobbelear, Samantha Mumford, “Mike,” and Pete Marino caught and released the first and second roosterfish of the day before catching and satellite-tagging the chosen roosterfish named "Mango" all before 9:00 a.m. "Mango" weighed an estimated 30 pounds and measured 44 inches long. It was brought onboard by Mumford.

The rest of the day was not as eventful, with five of the six boats leaving local original fishing grounds to see if they could locate roosterfish elsewhere. However, the Los Gatos, owned by Ramiro Ortiz and captained by Moncho, continued to troll the area, waiting for the afternoon bite. Fortunately, Ramiro's determination paid off, and around 2:30 young Sebastian Ortiz caught and satellite-tagged a roosterfish they named "The Wizard," weighing an estimated 25 pounds with a measured length of 36 inches. Sebastian had the distinction of being the first junior to satellite tag a roosterfish.

Sebastian Ortiz Roosterfish Expeditions shattered beliefs in the accepted behavior of roosterfish. One expedition was covered by the Costa Rican version of CBS’s 60 Minutes: “Siete Dias!”

• 2019 Collaborative Striped Marlin Satellite Tagging Expeditions, Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico

Once again, with the commitment from Advisory Board Member Tracy Ehrenberg and the Pisces Sportfishing Group, the striped marlin expedition study was a success.

Ehrenberg and the Pisces Sportfishing Group realize the importance of the striped marlin in Cabo and, as she has done so in years past, she "put her money where her mouth is," by sponsoring the purchase of a MiniPat satellite tag as well as coordinated four boats along with their crews to be donated. As she was speaking with John Sercu, owner of the Tag Team, for his boat donation, John took his commitment to the work one step further and sponsored the purchase of another MiniPat satellite tag.

The Tag Team, Reel Machine, Caliente, and Chasin Tails welcomed over 30 sponsors, contributors, scientists, and GFR team members traveling in from Costa Rica, Florida, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and as far as New Papua Guinea to take part in this study.

As luck would have it, the fish were a few miles up the Pacific side near Cabo Falso, where they satellite-tagged three striped marlin and placed conventional spaghetti tags in 36 more.

Over the past four years, GFR has grown exponentially. More sat tags and spaghetti tags were deployed on species beyond billfish while open-sourcing all the data to the public as well as the scientific community. After the explosive growth in 2019, it should be interesting to see what occurs in 2020. Many of the collaborative trips mentioned above are open to the public as well as some new exciting ones, which are being added.

• • • • •

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