OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — The Gulf Coast Research Lab began its Tripletail Tagging Program in 2001.
The focus was to gather information on migrational and feeding habits of one of the more intriguing species found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now in its 11th year, the program continues to be a success.
The tagging program has helped biologists determine tripletail do not migrate along the coastline from Florida to Louisiana like cobia during their extended migrations.
Instead, tripletail tend to take a seasonal offshore migration. During the summer migration, fish are common around crab pots and buoys in waters as shallow as five feet. Further offshore, tripletail can be found under weed lines in 1,500 feet of water.
Jim Franks of the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs said more than 100 anglers from the Gulf of Mexico states currently take part in the tagging project. Of that number, Franks said Mississippi has the most anglers participating.
"We do need more information," Franks said. "We would like to increase the numbers of taggers we have in Mississippi. It has been a great success and we have learned a lot. But we also still have much more to learn in regards to their seasonal movements in the wintertime.
"They (tripletail) do seem to behave differently than cobia, and we will build on that. We will learn more about that as time goes on. We would like to thank the taggers that we have and appreciate them."
Coming off a mild winter throughout the northern Gulf of Mexico, tripletail fishing off the immediate beachfront in Mississippi started in late March instead of the traditional month of May.
Based on the early arrival, the program is off to its fastest start since it originated.
Read Hendon of the Gulf Coast Research Lab said the 2011 year saw anglers tag and release 121 tripletail.
That number has already been surpassed this year with three to four months still left before the fish begin their winter migration.
"So far in 2012, we've had 150 tripletail tagged and released," Hendon said, "the majority of which have been tagged in Mississippi and Alabama waters.
"Given how early we are in the season here locally, those are excellent numbers. Particularly compared to 2011 when we had a total of 121 tripletail tagged for the entire year. So, we've already exceeded last year's total with the prime tripletail fishing months just ahead of us."
Through the years, the program has produced some interesting movement patterns, not just from the offshore waters to the inshore waters.
The largest distance traveled by a recaptured tripletail in Mississippi was 50 miles. That fish was at liberty for 125 days.
In comparison, the average distance traveled is generally less than 25 miles from the area in which it was tagged.
In Florida, a tripletail was tagged on March 11, 2006, and recaptured 510 miles away in North Carolina on June 22, 2006.
That fish was at liberty for three months.
But the longest time recorded at liberty after being tagged is 561 days. Although that fish only moved 55 miles, it had grown from 10.5 inches to nearly 21 inches.
"We see relatively high recapture rates for this species compared to cobia and spotted seatrout (speckled trout)," Hendon said. "For those fish recaptured locally, we saw relatively limited movement in most cases. However, one recaptured tripletail had moved 50 miles in 125 days from Deer Island in June to Lake Borgne (Louisiana) in October.
"Overall, I think the implementation of size and bag limits on tripletail is not only helping to safeguard the fishery but is also benefiting the tagging program since anglers are increasingly tagging those sub legal fish that they must release."
In Mississippi, the minimum length is 18 inches and the bag limit is three per person.
"Little if any data were available on movement patterns and migratory trends of the species, and knowing the migratory pattern of a species is important for being able to assign the management jurisdiction of the species," Hendon said.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com