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Returned Monkfish Tags Provide Invaluable Data

May 28, 2012
Spring 2012

Despite being ranked among the highest valued finfish fishery in the northeastern U.S., monkfish are considered a "data poor" species by NOAA Fisheries. In fact, relatively little is known about basic monkfish biology and behavior.

With funding from the Monkfish Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, scientists and fishermen have been steadily working towards closing this data gap and helping managers determine how best to manage the fishery. Since 2007, a team of scientists from the School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and GMRI have worked with fishermen to collect much needed baseline information.

This team launched a monkfish tagging study in 2007. In its first year the team tagged monkfish with conventional (t-bar) tags to collect data on migration patterns and speed. Two years into the study, the group added archival or data storage tags (DST) thanks to additional funds from a Northeast Consortium grant. These more sophisticated tags collect temperature, pressure, and time data at 10 to 15 minute intervals for up to five years. Using these data, scientists can investigate monkfish movement, stock structure, age, and growth at finer scale -- all essential for better management.

Preliminary findings show some level of monkfish movement and directionality from north to south. Because the fishery is currently managed geographically as two distinct management areas (the Northern and Southern Fishery Management Areas), these findings will be important for managers as they consider potential changes to the current system.

Looking forward, the research team plans to continue conventional and archival tagging work through the upcoming field season, specifically focusing tagging efforts on areas in the western Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and inshore New Jersey. The team hopes to further assess connectivity between the northern and southern management areas, and continue ageing and age validation work in the lab.

The success of these tagging studies relies heavily on how many tagged fish are returned. To encourage fishermen to participate, the project offers a $500 reward to anyone who returns a pink tagged monkfish. The fish must be returned intact and kept in good condition until a pick-up can be arranged. As of March 1, 2012, a total of 13 DST tags have been returned. The team plans to spread the word about the tagging program through an expanded outreach campaign across the region.

For more information or to report a tagged fish, call the toll-free hotline at 1-866-447-2111, or email monkfishtagging@gmri.org with subject: Monkfish.