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Lost is not Released

Fishing tournaments have become a huge industry! There are now more sailfish tournaments alone than anyone could have imagined only a few decades ago. There are also numerous “Billfish” tournaments with a mixed bag of species and sizes. In some of these tournaments, particularly in Australia, all the fish must be tagged to get release points. In others, merely touching the leader qualifies. I strongly disagree with this style of tournament. First, if a fish is "released" without being tagged, an opportunity to gather vital information that can help manage a stock of fish is lost.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Guy Harvey (thanks Guy)

The argument that tagging fish contributes to the mortality of the fish, and is bad for them, is false. With the original spaghetti tags, we got numerous returns even though the fish had to be caught again and the tag returned to the scientists for us to get any information. With the newer tags that detach automatically from the fish and transmit information to a satellite, we have proven that tagging fish does not significantly increase their mortality

In Australia, it is not uncommon for a boat in a tournament to catch, tag, and release a mixed bag of black marlin (sometimes juveniles under 20 pounds), sailfish (sometimes over 100 pounds), striped marlin, and blue marlin.

The line class limit on one tournament in Cairns was 6 kg, 12-pound class by the old standards. I won it a couple of times. Another time either Laurie Wright or Laurie Woodbridge (I forget which) was kicking my butt, and we were down several fish going into the last day. It was mostly a tag-and-release tournament but a fish over a certain size could be boated and would score a point a pound. I did not think we could get 4 or 5 before Laurie got a couple, so we left the inshore grounds and went outside the drop-off looking for a 300 or 400-pounder. If we CAUGHT and BOATED a fish that size, we would score enough points for us to win.

I made a big mistake! I used the lures on which we had already tagged and released multiple smaller billfish but did not change from 80-pound mono leaders to heavier leaders.

We hooked a full-grown black marlin on my little, homemade "Needle Fish" lure with a cylinder-shaped head, made of rolled up inner tube and a few strands of skirt tied on with waxed twine.

With 12 pound line and an 80 pound leader, I got the leader to wireman Doug Haig for the first time in about 20 minutes! The fish was a beauty, over 800 pounds and running and jumping all over the ocean, but we never had more than about 100 or, at most, 150 yards of line out. Doug, one of the world’s all-time great wiremen, dumped the leader.

We got it back in a few minutes, but Doug had to dump it again and again and again. We never got a tag in the fish with an 8-foot tag pole.

Had I switched to 150-pound mono leader, with a short piece of 150 nylon coated cable to avoid chaffing, we would have tagged it for sure and probably caught and boated the darn thing.

As I see it, if you cannot tag a fish, you for sure could not catch and boat it. Breaking the leader without having tagged the fish is NOT a release. It is a lost fish.

Somehow, just touching the leader has become an accepted practice with many fishing operators and fishing tournaments. It is my belief that as professionals in this industry, we need to be better leaders and participants when it comes to conservation. It is vitally important to our industry that fish stocks remain healthy, and we "fishermen" should do our part to help when given the opportunity.

If the Aussies can do it, it should be realistic to think that good crews anywhere in the world can do the same.

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