NOAA and fishermen cooperate on monkfish migration research

28 Jan 2010

Larry Alade of NEFSC prepares the conventional t-bar tags for insertion. Credit: NOAA

Researchers are working with commercial fishermen to put electronic tags on hundreds of monkfish in the waters of southern New England and the Gulf of Maine to track where the commercially important fish goes during its lifetime, and to answer other questions about its biology.

“Although monkfish is the highest valued finfish in the northeast US, aspects of the fish’s basic biology and behaviour are poorly understood, such as their migration patterns, what depths they live in and how they use habitat,” said Anne Richards, one of the study’s lead investigators and a monkfish expert at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Information from the tagged fish could also help determine whether there is one monkfish population throughout the northwestern Atlantic Ocean or distinct northern and southern stocks, she said. “This is a critical question that has proven very difficult to answer. It’s important not only for understanding the population’s biology, but also important for managing the fisheries that harvest monkfish.”

Ms Richards, NEFSC colleague Larry Alade, and researchers at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth began the tagging project last year. Two commercial gillnet boats, the F/V C.W. Griswold with Captain Tim Caldwell from Scituate, Mass. and the F/V Gertrude H with Captain Ted Platz from Newport, R.I., are collaborating to capture monkfish for the study.

The team has already tagged 150 monkfish and hopes to have the rest of the 190 available archival tags on fish in the near future.

The electronic tags, about the diameter of an AAA battery but half as long, are surgically implanted under the skin and record water temperature, depth and time every 10 minutes. The tags can record data for four to five years, and will work in water depths up to 2,000m. A pair of conventional plastic t-bar tags, like those used to attach the price tags on clothing, are also attached externally around the monkfish’s tail and carry instructions on how to report a tagged monkfish.

The scientists plan to expand the study to include monkfish in the mid-Atlantic region down to Cape Hatteras, considered the southernmost extent of their distribution in the Northwest Atlantic.

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