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Offshore angling a futile exercise

Well moving into the early winter doldrums; well, doldrums of spirit and activity because the offshore is likely to be anything other than calm with downright rough a distinct possibility.

Add in to the less than encouraging weather, the seasonal distractions are upon us and will keep us land-bound for various festivities and the carrying out of necessary preparations. All told, it is safe to say that the amateurs will be taking much more of a spectator's role for the next few weeks.

Not that there is a whole lot to head offshore for at the moment. The rather lacklustre weather is enough to discourage most fishermen but the lure of lobsters keeps the commercial man operational and if going offshore is on the cards, then it is worth putting a line out.

The upshot if this is that although lines got put out, there wasn't much in the way of fish caught. A few wahoo remain on the Edge and there are probably some on the Banks but no one is too keen on burning a whole lot of fuel and going out looking for something that may be pretty thin on the ground. A falling barometer might bring about a sudden burst of activity from the fish but all too often is a good indicator that things are going to be really quiet. Inclement tides and rather poor drifting conditions also have fishermen minimising their bottom fishing effort, preferring to work the lobster gear at a time of year when that product enjoys a particularly healthy market.

Those insatiable boaters can find the best of both worlds by concentrating on working the inner bottom over the deeper reefs where coneys, barbers and the occasional hind or porgy will provide enough fresh fish to justify the effort.

And all that is a lot better than what happened to the unfortunate commercial fisherman who, although a net dragger, went to the problem of paying for a bluefin tuna licence each year. Lo and behold, everything comes good and an 881-pound bluefin gets itself snagged in the fisherman's net. Eager to comply with the law and probably mentally spending some of the lucre that the fish will bring, the fisherman contacts the government bluefin hot line to report his catch only to have it confiscated. The reason for this, the regulations only permit the taking of bluefin tuna by rod and reel. Anyone wanting chapter and verse on this story can try looking up the details of this offbeat story on the internet at http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2011/1½⅜81-pound-bluefin-tuna-confiscated/UPI-13921322038800/.

Returning to the other game fish that keep us involved in the great sport of angling, the IGFA Great Marlin Race which consisted of a number of marlin being tagged with pop-up electronic tags and released during this year's San Juan (Puerto Rico) International Billfish Tournament, got its first return when one of the tags popped up off the coast of Venezuela some 419 miles from the release site.

The organisers were indeed pleased with this and all the more so because the reports form the tagging team were that the fish, a blue marlin in the 250-pound class, had come to the boat tail-wrapped and showing that bright brown colour that most anglers associate with dead or dying fish. In fact, the captain of the boat is said to have remarked that the fish in question was “a dead fish”.

In the old days when billfish battles were lengthy affairs, skippers and anglers knew that they were getting the upper hand when a leaping fish appeared dark in colouration. Much the same way as a lit-up fish is called green and likely to be righteously feisty at boat side, if it ever gets there.

Despite this particular skipper's rather pessimistic judgment, a lot of effort was put into resuscitating the fish by dragging it behind the boat until some of its swimming ability was restored. The way that this works is quite simple: marlin breathe by taking oxygen from the water that passes over their complex gill structure. Not unlike the functioning of a ramjet engine which increases power by having more air pushed into it; the more water that is forced over the gill surface area, the more oxygen become available to the fish's bloodstream, and in turn that is transported to the fish's muscles and other organs.

Now for a bit of a more cynical approach to this matter. There always has to be a naysayer in every crowd, regardless of how positive an outcome might prove to be. Without doubt there will be those who focus on the negatives and there are plenty of those when it comes to tagging fish, period.

First off, considering that the tags each cost something in the thousands of dollars wasn't it a bit rash to stick it in a fish that many would have thought of as unlikely to survive? Swimming off and then sinking to the bottom several hours after release wouldn't be achieving much in the way of scientific research and would pretty much represent a waste of money. And until the data is all analysed who is to say that the fish did not do just that? In due course the release mechanism kicked in and the pop-up tag did exactly that and spent some time drifting in the currents bringing it to its final location.

Happily, the way things are set to work avoid such quandaries. The pop-up does that and proceeds to download its data to a satellite in pretty short order, so for the distance to have been covered, it had to be moved that way before popping off. The simplest and best explanation is that it was the movements of the fish that took it from the drop off Puerto Rico almost due south across some very deep water to a small archipelago off the coast of Venezuela. If the fish had died fairly shortly after being released, it would have sunk; the tag would have eventually released, floated up to the surface and downloaded its data to the satellite giving its location as not very far from the recorded point of release. Thus the evidence strongly suggests that the fish did survive to swim south and, with any luck, is still roaming around at large. Mind you, the blue marlin fishing in Venezuelan waters is pretty hot at this time of the year, so there is probably a fair amount of effort being put into marlin fishing, so maybe there is a good chance that the fish will again make the mistake of inhaling something that is enriched with stainless steel.

Who knows, maybe it will survive the winter in the Caribbean and work its way north past Puerto Rico (a place that it does not have good memories of) and, having put on several hundred pounds, make its way to the glorious deep blue briny that surrounds our Island. Just maybe, that fish will make for some of next summer's Tight lines!!!

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Published November 26, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 26, 2011 at 7:06 am)

Offshore angling a futile exercise

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