Reporting the tagged fish you catch is one of the easiest and best ways to get involved in N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' tagging programs. The success of this program depends on reports of tags and capture information. Also, when you report a tag, the division will send you a reward, a letter and a certificate that includes information about when and where your fish was tagged, days since tagging, distance traveled and how much the fish grew.
The division is tagging striped bass, red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder and cobia throughout the estuarine and ocean waters of North Carolina. Tags are only placed in healthy fish.
For striped bass, spotted seatrout, and smaller red drum, the division uses internal anchor tags, placed in the belly of the fish just behind the pelvic fin. The division uses cinch-up and spaghetti tags for southern flounder, placed through the the narrow part of the fish body in front of the tail fin. Dart tags are used for cobia and larger red drum, placed to the left of the dorsal fin. These tag types and locations allow for maximum retention and aim to remain unobtrusive over time. Two tag colors are used in this study: yellow and red. All tags are printed with a unique tag number, telephone number and a request to "cut off tag."
The division currently conducts stock assessments on many fish stocks, including striped bass, red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder and cobia. Collectively, these five species have an annual economic impact of greater than $100 million and are among the most recreationally and commercially important fisheries in North Carolina. The implementation of best management practices, contingent on timely, accurate and precise assessments of stock status, is a high priority for the division.
Currently spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass are managed under the jurisdiction of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Interstate Fishery Management Plans. In North Carolina waters, management of all four species has been deferred to state fishery management plans, either under the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (spotted seatrout, red drum, southern flounder) or jointly under the division and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (striped bass). The current state fishery management plans for each species include research recommendations to estimate migration and mortality rates through tagging studies. Cobia are managed by the federal Atlantic States Marine Fishery Management Council, and the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review includes research recommendations to develop tagging studies for inshore and offshore South Atlantic cobia populations.
Statistical computer models, used for stock assessments, merge information about tag-returns and catch-at-age data (information on the age of a fish derived from the length of a fish) to more accurately estimate mortality and abundance or biomass, the two parameters required to assess stock status. Combining tag-return data with the type of catch-at-age data currently collected by the division is a powerful, cutting edge approach to improving estimates of mortality and population size compared to traditional age-structured computer models alone. Greater accuracy in estimates of stock status results in more informed and responsive management of fisheries.