Fishing for Supper, Fun and Sometimes for Information
It’s another wonderful morning as Capt. Yano Serra steers his boat out of Bayou La Batre and into the Mississippi Sound just north of Dauphin Island. Most fishing days, Yano and I go fishing for fun and excitement – and a good supper.
On this day, however, we’re after something other than a good fight and good meal. Along with us on this fishing trip are Dr. Meagan Schrandt and Dr. John Dindo, both marine biologists with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Dr. Sean Powers is also part of the research team looking at the population and movements of tripletail along the Alabama coast.
We’re fishing for information on this trip. Although we’re here to catch fish, none of our targeted species will go home to provide another great meal. When we catch tripletail on this day, they’ll be weighed, measured, tagged and released. Scientists hope that someone else down the line will catch the tagged fish again and report the time, place and other information about it.
How Is This Study Done?
Before scientists can gather information on tripletail, someone needs to locate and catch them. The best way to catch tripletail is by hook and line. They are not schooling open water fish that can be easily netted or captured by other means. We’re going up and down the many crab trap lines, navigational markers and buoys looking for tripletail. These dark, stealthy fish frequently hover under floating cover where they can ambush prey as it floats by in the current.
“We’re hoping folks will catch this tagged fish, weigh it, measure it and keep the head for us to study the otolith bones so we can age the fish.” – Dr. John Dindo, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
In typical tripletail fashion, the fish didn’t cooperate with us very much in the early hours of this day. As the sun rose and the light grew stronger, we begin to see dark shadowy shapes of tripletail holding under the floating crab trap markers.
Dr. Meagan Schrandt made the first capture, a nice 5-pound tripletail that could not resist a live shrimp that she pulled into its sight zone. After a spirited fight with several jumps and short, powerful runs, the hooked tripletail was netted and brought into the boat.
Then, the quick work begins. Captain Yano unhooked the fish, weighed it and transferred it to Dr. Meagan. She measured its length and then tagged the fish. She is remarkably quick and skillful as she applies the small, slender plastic tag with a needle-like tag application device before giving the fish’s numbers to Dr. John Dindo who records the data along with the tag number.
The time of capture is recorded. Captain Yano also gives catch location latitude and longitude coordinates, which the researchers record. The fish is then officially a part of the study.
At this point, Dr. Meagan puts the fish over the side to make sure it is in good shape. From netting to release, the process takes perhaps two minutes. All captured tripletail are in perfect shape when they go back to their homes.
Dr. John Dindo tells me, “We’re hoping folks will catch this tagged fish, weigh it, measure it and keep the head for us to study the otolith bones so we can age the fish. The longer it stays in the water, the more data it will provide.”
In fact, during the short time of the study so far this year, a tagged tripletail has been re-caught and its size, weight, and other information recorded. The process works.
In the course of this day of fishing for science, we see 11 tripletail. Dr. Dindo and Dr. Schrandt catch and record five for a pretty productive day. The biologists catch and record fish ranging from solid 10-pound fish to little 1-pound juveniles, a good range for study purposes.
Why Study Tripletail?
Although tripletail are not as well known or highly sought by anglers as red snapper, speckled trout or redfish, they are a wonderful fish to catch. Many anglers enjoy fishing for tripletail and I’m one of those folks. They are a special kind of fish worthy of protecting and promoting.
“There’s limited information on tripletail on their age and growth patterns. This is an initial study and it will continue into the fall of this year.” – Dr. John Dindo, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
“We were approached by White Martin, a local avid fisherman, and conservationist because he was very concerned about the tripletail,” explained Dr. Dindo, an associate director and senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “He noticed that the number of fish and the size of fish were going down. We’ve observed this, too. We postulate this effect is the direct result of offshore red snapper fishing. Because of the two fish red snapper limit, anglers come inshore after they catch their quick limits of snapper and then work the tripletail.”
Dr. Dindo continues, “There’s limited information on tripletail on their age and growth patterns. White Martin located funding, Meagan wrote the grant and we’re applying her research techniques.”
Anglers Can Help
So what can anglers do to help? Well, they can catch fish, for a start.
Anyone who catches a tripletail, whether a year or five years from now, should look for a slender, white plastic tag with black markings printed on it. If they find such a tag, anglers should measure the fish, weigh it and record the place of capture. Keep the tag and the fish’s head. Bag and freeze it and then contact the Sea Lab. The phone number is on the tag.
This research is not limited to just Alabama waters. Dr. Dindo says that it would be very good if the Alabama tags show up in Louisiana or Texas waters. The information generated by these recaptures is crucial for the collection of information about these fine fish.
Other Projects Conducted by the Sea Lab
As our day of research moved on to a very hot afternoon, Dr. Dindo told me that the Sea Lab has a number of other ongoing research projects. One long-term project is an extensive red snapper study that has been in progress for more than 10 years. This project uses underwater video, reef studies, and site movement studies to gather information about red snapper in Alabama waters.
Redfish are being studied also. In this project, juvenile redfish are surgically implanted with acoustic tags. These internal transponders indicate the locations and movements of the fish. Listening stations track the movements of the tagged fish and tell researchers where the redfish go. Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly movements can be recorded for research purposes.
Coastal sharks are being studied in a long-term project that has been ongoing for more than six years. In this study, researchers fit a wide range of shark species with satellite tags, each costing $5,000. These tags track shark movements and activities. This project is generating good data on this important part of the Alabama marine ecosystem.
The Sea Lab – a Busy Place
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my fishing trip into marine research, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab has a lot more activities going on than just catching fish. The Sea Lab university programs offer summer courses and graduate programs at colleges and universities across the state. The Discovery Hall Programs offer field activities, teacher training and public engagements to schools across Alabama.
Of course, the Estuarium is very popular among visitors to the area. It offers a variety of hands-on activities for kids of all ages to learn about the ecology of the Mobile-Tensaw Estuary system.
The research programs conducted by the Sea Lab range from biogeochemistry and oceanography to ecosystem ecology. Much of the Sea Lab research focuses on the nearshore and estuarine areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Sea Lab is the wealth of information the research conducted by the staff provides to government, industry, and agency decision makers. By providing officials good, scientifically sound information, the Sea Lab and the projects it conducts, such as the Tripletail Study in which I was lucky enough to participate, help our leaders make good decisions when it comes to rules, regulations, and limits on coastal related subjects.
For More Information Contact:
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
101 Bienville Boulevard
Dauphin Island, AL 36528