Recreational anglers seldom release keeper-sized swordfish, but for the 15 boats competing in the inaugural Gray Fishtag Research Swordquest, there was much more at stake than a bunch of grilled swordfish dinners.
Being able to catch a swordfish, attach a satellite tracking tag to its dorsal fin and then let the fish swim away was a much more meaningful accomplishment.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we got to put a satellite tag in a swordfish,” Barron Libasci said. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Libasci’s 33-foot center console Forever Dusky was one of three boats that released a swordfish in the May 1 tournament. All three fish were tagged with Gray Fishtag streamer tags, also known as spaghetti tags, which have numbers printed on them.
More than 10,000 boats around the world place the tags in all types of fish species. When a tagged fish is recaptured, anglers can report the catch and the numbers, allowing researchers to know how far and how long that fish traveled and how big it grew since it was tagged.
Swordquest tournament director Roxanne Willmer said tag returns have shown that amberjacks tagged off Miami have been caught off North Carolina. One amberjack tagged off Miami that was recaptured three years later was 17 inches longer and 55 pounds heavier.
Satellite tags were placed in two of the Swordquest swordfish. Mine’s Bigger, a 36-foot Twin Vee owned by Chris Koulouvaris, took the first-place prize money after putting a satellite tag in the first swordfish of the day, an 80-incher estimated at 240 pounds, at 9:02 a.m.
Kurt Bollmann’s Mako Minded tagged the tournament’s second fish, a 120-pound 62-incher, at 9:40. Libasci and his crew — his son Andrew, Oscar Torres, Capt. Bouncer Smith and Smith’s friend Capt. Chris Conklin — tagged and released their 72-inch, 125-pound swordfish at 11:08. Mike Lund’s Parts And Labor won the dolphin division with a 21.6-pounder.
The satellite tags will remain with the fish for four months before they detach and float to the surface, where they transmit data to a satellite. That information tells scientists at what water temperatures and at what depths the fish were swimming each and every day for that time period.
As Gray Fishtag Research president Bill Dobbelaer has noted, swordfish are usually caught near the bottom of the ocean during the day and near the surface at night. Satellite tags will provide information on where and when the fish spend time as they travel up and down.
Willmer said the satellite tags from Wildlife Computers have an overall cost of about $5,000. Tournament sponsors such as Suzuki Marine and Outboard Specialties helped cover the cost of the tags. Tournament prize money was based on the $300 entry fee and an optional $100 entry fee for the dolphin division.
She added that the data from the tags will be used to create maps of the swordfishes’ travels and it will be shared with the public through the website www.grayfishtagresearch.org and with state, regional and federal fishery managers.
“It was a unique event, the best of the best swordfish guys together to release fish,” she said. “It’s never been done before.”
Koulouvaris, who fished on Mine’s Bigger with his partner Michelle Milne and mate Nick Nafpliotis, said their fish ate a bonito taco in 1,740 feet at 8:35 a.m.
“It was a subtle bite, but we saw it, dropped back and loaded up,” Nafpliotis said.
It didn’t take long for things to get interesting.
“It was a runner, running on the surface left and right like crazy,” Koulouvaris said.
“Epic fish,” added Nafpliotis. “Every which way I’ve caught fish, besides a fish jumping out of the water, that was probably the most erratic fish I’ve ever caught. If there was a photographer in the water, he would’ve died. That was the fish that would’ve charged.”
Mine’s Bigger caught and kept a second swordfish because that 52-inch fish wasn’t hooked until 4:35 p.m., which was five minutes after lines out.
Fishing out of Haulover Inlet, Forever Dusky started off catching dolphin while Smith positioned the boat to drop swordfish baits to the bottom. The team’s swordfish bite came on a skirted squid at 10:41.
“It was tough letting the fish go,” Libasci said. “Putting the satellite tag in it made it worthwhile.”