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Data Collected by Fisher's Helps to Monitor Billfish in the Eastern Tropical Pacific

Along the coast of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, recreational fishing remains a popular activity for individuals who are looking to enjoy the thrill of the chase and the abundant marine life that live there. Recreational fishing is especially important in countries near the Tropical Pacific where the presence of popular recreational fish, like tunas, dorado, and the elusive billfish, attracts large numbers of tourists.

For almost 60 years, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has run the Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program, which asked anglers worldwide to share information about the billfish they caught. Anglers filled out surveys documenting the number of times they went fishing and how many of each billfish species were caught. Some anglers also tagged their fish with “spaghetti tags,” or simple identification markers, before releasing them so that their growth and location could be tracked. The Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program ended in 2021, but their work has accumulated over 26,000 survey responses and released over 62,000 tags.

Images of the tagging reports (left) and angler surveys (right) from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program.

Erika Gutierrez, now a MS student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was tasked with conducting an in-depth analysis of this dataset as part of her involvement with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates. This initiative was designed to enhance Project DynaMAR’s exploration of billfish occurrences and their distribution patterns in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Using the survey data, Erika’s research seeks to identify patterns in fisher effort (the number of times a fisher went out to fish billfish), billfish catch, and billfish size in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. While several billfish species can be found worldwide, her work focuses on sailfish and blue marlin found in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala. Erika shared, “As I looked through the data, I was excited to see that some of the angler surveys came from Manzanillo, Colima. My family is from Manzanillo and many of them are recreational fishers who often target billfish. Knowing that some of my family members could have contributed to this data set gave me a greater sense of connection to this project”. Hopefully, this project can help promote the use of angler surveys and tagging reports to learn more about elusive species.

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