Alabama Car Tags that Aid Saltwater Fish Conservation | Great Days Outdoors

Alabama Car Tags that Aid Saltwater Fish Conservation

For the past couple of years, I’ve been involved with an intense, high-quality university-level scientific study, and all I had to do was catch fish and do a little measuring and recording work when I caught something. Although a Mobile Bay area fishing guide might not seem to be a critical part of a major scientific study, people like me are helping Coastal Conservation Association and the University of South Alabama learn a great deal about the fish that live in our waters. Other local anglers can also become part of this study also. It’s easy, it’s fun, and above all it involves is going fishing and catching some fish.  And with the purchase of a custom, personalized car tag when it comes time for your Alabama tag renewal, anyone can lend their support to this valuable conservation effort.


How I Do the Tagging Thing

I’ve been tagging both redfish and speckled trout since this joint Coastal Conservation Association/ University of South Alabama program started, and I have tagged the largest number of fish in this program, 315 fish the first year and 410 fish the second.  I’ve learned a lot about the fish I catch from my tagging work and this knowledge helps me every day in my work as a fishing guide.



Basically when I catch a good tagging fish, I quickly measure and weigh the fish and then apply a small “spaghetti” tag with identification information and specific fish number to the upper back of the fish with a sharp needle, and then I release the fish and it goes its way. This operation is quick, and it doesn’t over-stress the fish at all.


Alabama personalized custom Car Tags and tag renewal

Quickly record the length, weight, and location of caught fish for entry in Tag Alabama database and later study.


After I have tagged the fish, I submit my catch log and data to the folks from South Alabama who manage the loading of data in the system. This is not an involved or difficult process.



It’s not a big deal to do, and what we are learning from this work and the work done by other taggers is crucial to help advise those who make fishing regulations and limits in their process.

Here’s what I do to make sure this tagging process is easy on all involved. First, I have my tag ready in the needle so I don’t have to scramble around to find the materials when I catch a good fish. I make sure that the number of the tag is recorded in the log along with the date. When I get a fish that I want to tag, I measure and weigh the fish and then quickly apply the tag and make sure that it’s properly applied so it will stay in place. Then the fish is released. The last step that I do is to reload the needle with another tag and record the number and date of it so I’m ready for the next fish to be tagged.

It’s easier to do the tagging thing than to explain it- it’s not hard at all.


How The Program is Funded: Alabama Personalized Custom Car Tags and Renewal

The Tag Alabama redfish and speckled trout program is sponsored by the Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama, and they provide funds for the materials and operation. This program receives much of its funding from the sales of CCA’s Alabama custom tags, and when a driver buys a CCA tag when renewal time comes around, their Alabama personalized tag fees really go a long way to support this vital program.


Alabama personalized custom Car Tags and tag renewal

The money generated from the sale of these specialized tags goes a long way in helping the conservation effort of specks and reds in our Gulf waters.


Anglers who are members of CCA are automatically eligible to take part in the Tag Alabama program, and there’s a training session- either in person or online- to demonstrate how fish can be safely tagged, how to keep and maintain data from the fish, and how to submit data to the folks from South Alabama so the information can be entered into the program’s data base. There are annual contests for anglers who have tagged the most fish, and there are categories and rewards for professional guides and for non-professional anglers.


And What I’ve Learned

Since I’ve been tagging reds and specks for the Tag Alabama program, I have learned a lot, both about fish and how they move and travel.

For instance, one redfish I caught up near the Causeway on Mobile Bay was recaptured later in the Biloxi, Mississippi area. That fish really travelled a long way in a short period of time. Other reds I have caught have been recaptured and they haven’t moved any at all.

I have even recaptured fish that I had tagged earlier. Several redfish that I caught and tagged were caught in the same area for the second round of tagging.

However, perhaps my coolest tagging experience came with a speckled trout I caught and tagged.

On a Tuesday I caught and tagged a nice speck. On the Friday of that week I had a guide trip that I took back to the location I tagged that speck, and we caught it again in the same area.  I had another guided trip the next day, and on Saturday, we caught that same speck less than 100 yards away from the initial location it was caught. The same fish was caught three times in the same location in a week. 


Alabama personalized custom Car Tags and tag renewal

Placing the tag properly in caught fish is not hard, and the fish don’t seem to mind…much.


What did I learn? 

First off, the tagging process doesn’t seem to bother the fish much at all. They still eat and they still can be caught. Secondly, I found that catch and release really does work. Fish that are handled properly and released quickly don’t suffer much damage, even when tagged. I also learned how important custom, personalized Alabama car tag renewal can be. 


From the Officials

Crystal Hightower, Lab Manager of the Dauphin Island Sealab, helps oversee the Tag Alabama program, and she offers us some general information about the program.

She says, “The Tag Alabama program started in 2018. We provide individual angler kits which allow the angler to enter data on the fish they catch.  From the data, we look at population size, growth of fish, mortality, and do we see any issues with overfishing.  Our goal is to help inform management with their decisions by looking at individual fish levels and in the future to look at community levels.”


Tag Alabama speckeld trout

The provided Tag Alabama tagging kit provides all needed materials and supplies.


At this point, redfish and speckled sea trout are the primary focus of the study, but tripletail can also be tagged for the study. Another tagging program looks at cobia and tarpon.

Hightower says that any angler who regularly fishes can become a tagger in the Tag Alabama program and immediately start placing and reporting tags in fish. She also says that one of their biggest concerns in the program has to do with “orphan tags” which are tags which are applied to fish but are never reported to be entered as data.  If the initial placement information can’t be found, then that’s just lost information. To help anglers with the process and steps in applying tags, recording information in the angler logs, and then reporting the log’s data for inclusion, anglers can call Tagging Hotline- 800-372-5950.

Anglers who are interested in becoming part of this world-class study to help determine the condition of our coastal fisheries can contact for more information about how to join CCA. Once an angler is a member of CCA, she or he can get on a list for workshops, and then receive tagging kits, and be ready to go have some fun catching some of Alabama’s great gamefish and also providing much needed information for the preservation of our fisheries in the future. And if you aren’t an angler but would like to contribute to the conservation effort in our Gulf waters,  remember, when it comes time for tag renewal, the purchase of a custom, personalized Alabama car tag provides funding that is much needed and greatly appreciated.


Important Contact Information:

Captain Richard Rutland

Cold Blooded Fishing



Coastal Conservation Association- Alabama

Blakeley Ellis- Director

Tag Alabama



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