Amberjack Count: $250 Tags for Fishermen in the Gulf, S Atlantic

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Scientists are trying to get a better estimate of the larger populations of amberjack in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, meaning fishermen’s chances of a $250 catch.

While the popular sport and table fish are not overfished in the South Atlantic, they are in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Understanding how these two separately managed stocks are interconnected is vital to establishing sound management guidelines,” according to a press release from the University of South Alabama.

Greater amberjack are large silver fish named for the long amber line along each side from the nose to the first dorsal fin. They can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in length and weigh 90 pounds, although 18 pounds are the most common, according to NOAA Fisheries.

As part of the Greater Amberjack Count, scientists led by Dr. Sean Powers of the University of South Alabama plans to label 750 larger amberjacks with yellow-red plastic tags.

Anglers who catch one can clip the tag or tags, call the phone number on one side of the tag to report the catch, size, location, and other details, and mail the tag or tags to the address on the other side to the reward. The tag number – AJ followed by five numbers – is on both sides.

The study is similar to the Great Red Snapper Count, which last year estimated that there appear to be about 110 million mature Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s about three times the previous federal estimate.

Some fish will have two external tags, to give scientists a better idea of ​​how many tags are falling off fish. And 450 of the externally tagged fish will also have surgically implanted acoustic tags. Those will be released from states from North Carolina to Texas to better understand movement patterns.

The recreational fishing season for the greater amberjack in the South Atlantic is currently open. The Gulf of Mexico season is currently closed, but anglers catching one will need to weigh and measure it and cut the tags before releasing it. The same procedure should be used for tagged fish that are too small to keep in both areas.

Congress provided $5 million each to NOAA Fisheries and the National Sea Grant College Program for the research. An additional $2.7 million in matching funds will come from the 13 institutions where the 18 scientists work, including Auburn University, Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University and the University of South Florida. Also involved are Sea Grant programs from various states ranging from North Carolina to Texas.

Previous work has involved combining existing greater amberjack sightings and catch data from different fisheries data sets. Tagging starts this summer.

“The success of the conventional tagging study depends to a large extent on the participation of fishermen from all sectors,” the press release said.

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