Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Fifth HIBT Great Marlin Race Gets Under Way

The boats leave the starting line on the "Start fishing!" call
On Monday, August 5, 38 angling teams from around the world gathered just off the Kona Coast, awaiting the radio call to, “Start fishing, start fishing, start fishing!” in the 54th annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. This year’s HIBT also marked the fifth year of the Great Marlin Race, which was born there as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations. Now run in a unique collaboration among the HIBT tournament, Stanford University researchers and the International Game Fish Association, the IGFA Great Marlin Race (IGMR)  has grown into a program spanning the globe.

As the 2013 HIBT IGMR began, seven of the ten satellite tags had been sponsored or partially sponsored. For this year’s race, the IGMR organizers decided to pilot the use of Wildlife Computers’ new “miniPAT” pop-up satellite archival tags. Somewhat smaller than their predecessors, these tags offer more sophisticated data handling features in addition to creating less drag in the water.

Stanford University marine biologist Randy Kochevar said, “In bluefin tuna, we’ve found the miniPATs to stay attached longer, giving us more data and better tracks than we got using the older tags. We hope this will also be true with marlin.”

The first day of the tournament was full of action, with more than two dozen marlin tagged and released. One satellite tag, sponsored by the Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club #1 out of New Zealand, was deployed by Ihu Nui Captain McGrew Rice on a 200 lb. blue marlin caught by Janice Allan.

Stanford University marine biologist and IGMR Post Doc Aaron Carlisle chats with Captain Shane O'Brien of the Strong Persuader
The second satellite tag wasn’t placed until Friday, when tag sponsor Marty Firestein of the Balboa Angling Club from California tagged a 250 lb. blue marlin caught by his son Mitch on board Hooked Up.

By the end of fishing on Friday, a total of eight tags had been sponsored or partially sponsored:

Tag 1 – Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club, New Zealand (deployed)
Tag 2 – Balboa Fishing Club, California, USA (deployed)
Tag 3 – Teams – Olympia Dream Fishing Club, Japan; Kona Game Fishing Club Tayio, Japan; Hilton Grand Vacations Fishing Club Ohana, Japan; Kona Game Fish Club Kusatu, Japan
Tag 4 – Laguna Niguel Billfish Club #1, California, USA; Laguna Niguel Billfish Club #2, California, USA
Tag 5 – Mission Bay Marlin Club, California, USA
Tag 6 – Game Fishing Club of South Australia, Australia
Tag 7 – LAE Fishing Club, Papua New Guinea
Tag 8 – Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club, California USA (half-sponsorship, looking for a partner)

As has happened in the past, the remaining six tags will be deployed over the days and weeks following the tournament, as opportunities arise to tag and release marlin. Both the Mission Bay Marlin Club and the Laguna Niguel Billfish Club #1 are still fishing after the tournament, and we wish them luck in catching marlin and getting satellite tags on them!

Monday, August 5, 2013

On the Eve of the Fifth Annual HIBT Great Marlin Race

Tournament Founder and Director Peter Fithian has briefed all the teams, all of the national anthems have been sung, the taiko drummers have played, the Kona restaurants have feasted the anglers, and the Start Fishing call is just a short night sleep away. I am joined at this year's Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament by Aaron Carlisle - the new IGMR Post Doc, and a long-time member of the Block Lab. This will be Aaron'he s first marlin tournament - and it's almost impossible to believe that it will be my fifth HIBT - making it the Fifth Anniversary of the Great Marlin Race! Who knew, when Peter Fithian and Tournament Coordinator and IGFA Representative Bob Kurz called Dr. Block back in 2009, that the Great Marlin Race would even work once - let alone grow into an international research and conservation effort.

39 teams from 13 different countries attend the pre-tournament briefing
Yet here we are again - having deployed more than 100 tags, for 6,416 days of tracking, over more than 65,000 nautical miles, since we started five years ago. We have enjoyed incredible generosity from the tournament organizers with whom we've worked, as well as the anglers, captains and crews who have made it possible. As we begin our day tomorrow, we already have sponsors for 8 of the 10 tags, and we are grateful for everyone's willingness to get involved.

A local taiko drumming team wows the crowd
Aaron and I will be riding along with Mitch and Marty Firestein from the Balboa Angling Club tomorrow, on board the Humdinger. This will be a new boat for me, but I've heard nothing but good things. Here's hoping that we and all the anglers are successful in this year's event!