Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Global overview of the major constituent-based billfish tagging programs and their results since 1954

Mauricio Ortiz, Eric D. Prince, Joseph E. Serafy, David B. Holts, Kay B. Davy, Julian G. Pepperell, Michael B. Lowry and John C. Holdsworth

Marine and Freshwater Research 54(4) 489 - 507
Published: 26 August 2003


Release and recovery files from the world's five major constituent-based billfish (Istiophoridae) tagging programs were assembled into a single composite database. Data sources included the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) Cooperative Tagging Center (MIA) in the Atlantic Ocean, the NMFS's Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program (LJA) in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Australian Cooperative Tagging Program in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the New Zealand Cooperative Game Fish Tagging Program in the Pacific Ocean, and The Billfish Foundation's (TBF) tagging program in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Results for the main target species, including black marlin (Makaira indica), blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus), striped marlin (Tetrapturus audax) and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) were compared and contrasted based on species, ocean body and tagging program. A total of over 317 000 billfish have been tagged and released, and 4122 have been recovered since 1954. Tag recovery percentages were generally higher for a recently developed double-barb nylon anchor tag compared with the typically used stainless steel dart tag. Greatest distances moved were largest for blue marlin and black marlin, followed by striped marlin, white marlin and sailfish. The TBF program had the highest tag recovery percentages for white marlin (2.4%) and blue marlin (1.7%), whereas the MIA program had the highest percentage recovery for sailfish (1.8%). The LJA program had the highest recovery percentages for black marlin (1.9%) and striped marlin (1.4%). The annual number of releases and recoveries for each target species tended to increase over the time series, particularly during the last decade. Cyclic annual movement patterns and/or seasonal site fidelity were evident for black marlin and white marlin. The data suggest that tag recovery percentages can be affected by tag type, reporting rate, localized fishing activities, outreach activities, and a variety of logistical issues indirectly related to size of ocean body. The efficiencies of the tagging programs are compared and recommendations are made to improve the programs. The composite tagging database provides the opportunity for a more comprehensive evaluation of the data and tagging programs than has previously been possible by examining the individual programs in isolation. The main advantage of constituent-based tagging programs is that large numbers of billfish can be tagged at a minimum cost. The main drawbacks are a lack of control over the tagging event and return of recovery data. Constituent-based tagging programs provide essential data on billfish movement and biology, and should be expanded and improved to meet the increasing need for this information.

© CSIRO 2003

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