Surprise recapture of tagged fish in deep water

[Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

By Erwin Bursik
ON 23 December 2019 the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) had the 372nd elf/shad tag recapture for the ORI Tagging Project. This shad was originally tagged on 21 February 2018 by a team of scientists from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries at Lekkerwater which is part of the De Hoop Marine Protected Area in the Western Cape. At the time it measured 51.1cm fork length.
It was recaptured 670 days later by Gary Heath in Richards Bay by which time it had grown to 72cm FL. It had travelled an impressive 1 496km north from the place it was first caught! Considering the time that had lapsed it’s even possible this was the shad’s second visit up the coast in those 670 days. Quite a feat for a small fish.
Adult and sub-adult shad generally undertake an annual northward seasonal migration between the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The arrival of shad in KZN coincides with the onset of spawning activity. These shad feed primarily on sardines, which also undergo a northward migration during winter. There is an annual, nationwide two-month closed season for this species, from 1 October to 30 November, to protect shad during their peak breeding season.
According to Bruce Mann, “The shad recapture was fairly typical of the annual spawning migration of this species. The quality of the tagging and recapture details was good and this type of recapture helps to emphasise why there are specific regulations in place.”
Gary Heath is the angler who caught the tagged shad after its incredibly long swim up the east coast of South Africa. A prominent competitive deep sea angler, Gary has spent his life fishing off the Zululand Coast and attained provincial and national colours for light tackle gamefishing.
After a slow day trolling for dorado deep off Richards Bay in December last year Gary decided to head for home, leaving the dorado lures out with the long lines on a bird. Approximately 4km out to sea in around 60m of water in “no man’s land”, he noticed the long line rod bending and something flapping on the water’s surface a good 25m behind the boat. Presuming he had hooked a bit of plastic or debris, Gary maintained his troll speed and retrieved the line with the object still flapping on the surface.
To his surprise, as it got closer he realised it was a small fish. When it was boated he was even more surprised to see it was a shad, and a tagged shad at that. The well dragged shad had been properly hooked through the roof of the mouth with the 9/0 and was unfortunately too badly damaged to be revived and released.
“This was a very unusual catch in deep water. In fact, in my 40 years of fishing this area I have never caught a shad on the surface in such deep water,” said Gary (pictured below).
This unusual catch reaffirms the scientific value of the entire tagging program as it makes one think about what this small fish has done to travel almost 1 500km up the coast.
The Oceanographic Research Institute’s Cooperative Fish Tagging Project (ORI-CFTP) has recently released 15 new instructional tagging videos. These videos provide the background to the ORI-CFTP and what they need from their members; they also offer some important tips on how to be a more aware and responsible angler.
The videos cover all aspects of the ORI-CFTP including: why you should tag and release fish; tagging kit contents; priority species they would like tagged; different hook types and preparation; how to measure different species; handling, landing and tagging various species from the shore and on a boat; recording and sending in tag release information; and most importantly reporting a recapture and filling in a tag recapture form. Viewers can also see how to handle a fish that may be suffering from barotrauma, a common occurrence in some species caught in deep water.
Included are videos on various hook types, knots and information on debarbing hooks that ensure quick and safe hook removal from your fish. For new and existing members there are tips on kit maintenance. All tagging members are encouraged to watch and share these useful videos.
The videos also provide all the information that you need to correctly report tag recapture information. Tag recaptures are one of the most important and exciting aspects of the ORI-CFTP. Recaptured fish allow them to investigate movement patterns, growth rates and population dynamics of the fish species tagged along the southern African coastline and ultimately contribute towards their conservation.
It is interesting and exciting to see where a recaptured fish was originally tagged, how far it has travelled, who originally tagged it and how much it has grown. As anyone who is fishing in the sea stands a chance of catching a tagged fish, it is very important to know exactly what information to record and how to send it to ORI.
For more information on the tagging project and to watch the tagging videos visit <>.

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