Posts Tagged ‘Catch & Release’

Nov 20, 2012

You CAN Fish in Rough Water

The weather forecast was for 25 to 30 knot winds as a strong high pressure system south of the Australian continent built a strengthening ridge along Australia’s Queensland coast. Yesterday had dawned calm, but as the wind increased from a gentle breeze to a 15 to 20 knot trade wind a sea had started to build. Late in the afternoon, we saw the first of several black marlin surfing down the growing chop and rising swell. By evening, we had tagged and released 3 marlin, breaking a week long spell of slow fishing which had seen only an occasional marlin rising to our baits in the hot, calm, November weather.

Over breakfast that morning, our charter guest looked at the white caps on the sheltered water behind number 5 ribbon reef and watched the booming ocean swell outside the reef crash onto the reef front. “I don’t think I want to fish today.” he said. “I’d rather just lie around the mother boat and read.” “You don’t mind if we go, do you?” was my reply. “The boys and I have been waiting for this. Those tailers we saw yesterday should be just the start of it. Every black marlin in the Coral Sea will have tailed in against the reef overnight, and if they eat like the ones did yesterday it’ll be the best day all year!”

Our charter’s friend and fishing companion/guest said he would like to join us if we didn’t mind. After a relaxing morning on “mom” we set out just before noon. “As rough as it is, we won’t be in any hurry.” I told the crew. “If it’s as good as I think we’ll have all we need. If it’s slow, we’ll have more than we want—even with a late start.”

A "Good" Day on the GBR, Australia!

Overnight, the swell had built, but had time to get farther apart than the uncomfortable, short, steep, chop of the late afternoon of the day before. Duyfken could rise with the large (12 foot plus) seas instead of crashing against the steep faces of yesterday’s smaller, but far more nasty chop. By 1:30 PM, we were back at the motherboat having released 3 marlin and boated one well over 1,000 pounds. My mate had to lean out over our transom and knock vigorously on the motherboat’s wooden hull to roust the sleepers inside to weigh our guest’s fish of a lifetime. His richer, but less adventuresome, friend has still never caught a really big marlin, even though we went back out and released several more nice ones later that day.

If the fishing grounds are close enough to a safe harbor or anchorage, we can fish in some truly rough water. In areas where we have to travel long distances to and from the grounds, we usually stay in on days we would relish in a spot like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where yards, rather than miles, measure the distance to the fishing grounds.

Even so, on rough days, special tactics are often required. On really rough days, with heaving decks, stand up fishing is a BAD idea. Trying to maintain balance with both hands occupied is difficult and dangerous. It can be safe to fish even the heaviest tackle from a well-built fighting chair, but foolish to try to stand up against the transom of a wave-tossed sport fishing boat. Even with expert professional crew, it is the question of their safety while trying to stand up and handle a fish on the leader—that is often the main reason for my canceling a trip due to rough weather.

Trolling tactics also have to be modified to suit the conditions. Forget all the hokus pocus about trolling lures on exact positions on the wake. Climbing the face of big seas trolling speeds will drop and rise with the waves. Downsea speeds can jump from 6 or 7 to up to 12 or 14 knots as we surf down the wave fronts. Our wake is changing all over the place and complicated calm water lure shapes are useless in the rapidly changing conditions. (Don’t tell me to only quarter the sea – I AM going to get in front of that tailing marlin or tuna regardless of whether it is upsea, downsea or directly in the trough!!)

Forget staggered trolling patterns. On high wind days troll paired baits or lures of equal weight, equidistant behind the transom. They will be less prone to tangle each other when blown sideways. Trolling fewer baits in rough weather makes life easier and raises overall efficiency.

I always fight fish by chasing them in forward gear rather than reverse. This is especially important in big seas when backing up into breaking waves is down right dangerous — and STUPID. By motoring forward upsea and passing the fish, you reach a position where you can back up downsea in the final manuever of the fight.

In the end it is the safety of the boat and her crew that dictates whether we go or not and it is always better to err on the side of caution.

— Peter B Wright

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Oct 31, 2012

Tiger Beach October Shoot

It has been exactly two years since my last expedition to Tiger Beach. The goal then was to make the (award winning) documentary “This is your ocean; Sharks” with Jim Abernethy and Wyland. The timing was important as the documentary became a useful educational tool for the people of the Bahamas and specifically the Bahamas National Trust in helping have sharks in the Bahamas protected from commercial exploitation.

The main reason why the Bahamas has so many sharks compared to anywhere else in the western Atlantic is because long line fishing was banned from the Bahamas 200 mile EEZ twenty years ago.

Shark interactive programmes or shark ecotourism in the Bahamas currently generate eighty million dollars per year in revenue. This is a sustainable use of the resource that does not kill a single shark.

The dive team on this expedition was made up of Kent Ullberg NA, America’s most famous wildlife sculptor, my close friend and mentor. Jessica, my daughter, Chris Peterson owner of Hell’s Bay Boat Works and GHOF board member, 15 year old Madeleine Ryan and Andi Marcher, restauranteur from Grand Cayman. Shooting this follow up documentary was George Schellenger.

Jim Abernethy’s crew was captain Matt Heath, with Michele Heller and Chad Shagren. Michele had worked with us before on a bluefin tuna shoot in Nova Scotia last year where she was the assistant to Dr. Molly Lutcavage in tagging giant bluefin tuna.

Jessica Harvey about to release young green turtles as part of an FAU study

The first three days were very windy, with rough conditions and poor visibility generally over the area. The first morning we released several dozen juvenile green and ridley turtle for a study being conducted by Florida Atlantic University (FAU). We were limited to a couple of dives on an incoming tide with lots of reef sharks, lemon sharks and a few nurse sharks coming to the bait crates. It seemed the tiger sharks were not comfortable in the adverse conditions. By the afternoon of the third day, the wind switched to the east and the remaining four days were under ideal conditions, so we could go to work.

Kent has had limited exposure to large sharks, only completing one monumental piece, the mako shark at the Nova South Eastern University’s Taft Building. This expedition was important for him to get close to tiger sharks in their natural environment to better understand form and function, ecology and life history.

After a couple days of 25 knot winds which stirred up the water and limited our diving we got into the rhythm of multiple dives per day. We spent two days at a 60 foot deep site called “Hammertime”. Bait crates were deployed at the surface and on the sand near the reef. The results were good attracting several dozen Caribbean reef sharks, a dozen big lemon sharks and then the tiger sharks started coming in, one, then two, four and five. The well trained crew kept the tigers off the bait crates and we were afforded many great photographic opportunities. Jim or Matt would set up shots so Jessica could shoot the sharks with beautifully coloured sponges and corals in the fore ground and different species of sharks in the middle distance and the background.

One of the tiger sharks had a SPOT tag on its dorsal fin. Unfortunately, the tag was fouled by algae and it had rotated 90 degrees to the aft so the antenna was pointing at the tail. Jim was able to clean off the tag. He took a bunch of photos of the tag placement and we later identified this shark as Christina which we tagged at tiger beach on our December 2010 expedition. The close ups show that the fin had been damaged (in mating when the male holds on to the dorsal fin) and the healing process had caused the tag to rotate so it was no longer performing according to Dr. Mahmood Shivji of the GHRI.

The last two days were flat calm and we stayed at a site Jim calls “Crystal Beach”. This is the closest part of tiger beach to the drop off, so the water is clearest here particularly on an incoming tide. We left the crates soaking overnight and got going early, before breakfast with the first of five dive dives for the day. A couple of tigers were already on site. One had three long line hooks and leaders in its jaw. Jim hatched a plan to catch this shark and remove the hooks. Unfortunately the shark was too shy to come in as close as this project required.

The chum line attracted a large number of baitfish including yellowtail snappers, blue runners, horseye jacks, groupers, and ballyhoo. These species added lots of colour to the shots we were taking. Jim was coaching Jessica in her photography while Kent and Maddy were absorbing all the shapes, anatomy and postures of successive tiger sharks as they came and went. Their subtle skin colours and vivid stripes separate this species from all other large sharks. Andi and Chris got used to having tiger sharks all over them and took hours of great footage in pristine conditions. George kept all the cameras going and we loaded up on new footage.

Leave it to Guy Harvey to guide the crew to catch and release a blue marlin on the return trip from a shark filming expedition

For me it was particularly gratifying sitting on the bottom in 20 feet of water for hours and hours with unlimited visibility surrounded by four species of sharks now protected in law by the Bahamian government.

Matt Heath, our captain said it was wheels up at 4.30pm on the last day. We enjoyed the last dive, got squared away and you know me…. if the boat is going forward I am going to put out a couple of lines.

Andi and I put out a spread of four marlin lures, two short, one medium and one long. We were crossing the Gulf Stream with 82 degrees water temperature so there was chance of seeing a marlin or a wahoo.

Not 20 minutes later, a fine blue marlin crashed the stinger lure but did not hook up. It made two more attempts and I dropped the lure back as it ate. Hook up! From the bill thickness and height of the dorsal, I could see this was marlin around 250#. I passed the rod down to the main deck and under Andi’s critical eye Chad took the job of working on the fish. The marlin did not jump and the line kept peeling out and down until there was very little left on the reel. Oops! Finally the marlin stopped and there was 500 yards of line out and down. Chad had the daunting task of working the marlin back up from great depth, but he is young and strong and in the next 45 minutes did a great job.

Andi wired the marlin and we all took photos of it at the boat side, its vivid neon fins glowed in the dark evening conditions, before it was released. A good expedition just became a great expedition.

Thanks Jim and crew. Another great adventure! The close encounters were very inspirational for Kent and myself to say nothing of the thousands of images captured by all the photographers.

—Guy Harvey PhD.


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Jul 3, 2012

FWC Decides Not to Reopen September 1st Snook Season on Florida’s West Coast

Catch & release still permitted during closure

NOTE: This story was posted today on by Special Correspondent Frank Sergeant

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission ruled this week that the snook fishing season will remain closed on the state’s west coast, rather than reopening Sept. 1 as scheduled.

The season has been closed due to a 2010 cold-kill, which wiped out tens of thousands of fish from Clearwater to Naples.

“This is a wise move,” said snook guide Scott Moore of Holmes Beach. “I’m seeing big fish and a few slot (keeper-sized) fish, but no little fish — we’re missing whole-year classes due to the winter kill, and we need to get more in the pipeline before we start taking them again.”

The continued closure also was supported by the Coastal Conservation Association, which said that the number of adult snook on the west coast was down 20 percent after the freeze, and the numbers of juvenile fish killed was probably much greater.

The season will reopen Sept. 1, 2013, if the commission takes no further action.

Catch-and-release fishing for snook is permitted during the closure.


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Dec 17, 2010

Guy Harvey Marlin a Month | December

It was a frisky blue marlin like this one, creating a commotion alongside the boat, that completed Guy Harvey's quest to catch a blue marlin from Cayman Island waters during each month of the year

As December approached, I marveled at how fast 2008 had passed.  Though it was a year ago, it seemed like only yesterday that I had fancied my “pipe dream” of catching a blue marlin each month of the year from the waters around Grand Cayman Island.  Not that such an accomplishment wasn’t there to be done, because I was truly convinced that blue marlin could be caught year-round from my home waters.  It was just that for me to achieve such a feat, I would be bucking sizable odds, knowing that most of my fishing would be from my outboard-powered boat, and primarily confined to weekends only.  Right away, the new year began with such a busy schedule of various commitments that I barely made it out on the water at all in January, and when I finally did, I was fishing alone on my then 26-footer Makaira. It was really only after I had caught my first “solo” blue marlin on that late January day that I concluded all things were possible — and so began my quest in earnest to catch one of these magnificent fish during each and every month of 2008. Now, here it was, almost a year later, and I needed to catch just one more blue marlin to complete my lofty goal.

December arrived, and with it our typical western Caribbean winter weather of cold fronts and rough seas.  The day before a cold front moves in marks your best shot of getting out on the water to catch fish, so you must drop everything else you’re doing if you are to take advantage of the weather window.  That’s what my guest Dr. Colin Wakelin and I did on an early December day as we took my 28-foot Scout Makaira II out to do some trolling just outside Rum Point.  We didn’t have to wait long, as we got our first bite while I was putting out the third lure in my five-lure spread.  The hungry marlin actually snatched the line right from my fingers!  Wakelin is from New Zealand, but had been working on Grand Cayman for four years.  We had fished together before, and he’d hooked blues but had never converted.  On this day, however, he finally scored.

Wakelin brought the very active fish to the boat rather quickly, where it gave me a good blow to the right wrist (my painting hand) while I was leadering it — reminding me not to be in too big of a hurry to remove the hook from a green fish.  But the sting was short-lived because of the exhilaration that came over the two of us.  Wakelin had finally caught his first blue marlin, and his fish, the 17th blue that had been caught aboard my boat during the calendar year, completed my quest to catch a blue marlin during each month of the year.  In all, with an assist from family and friends who accompanied me, I managed a remarkable 24 hookups from a total of 26 bites.  Not bad for a weekend fisherman trolling from an outboard-powered boat.

Guy sets his trolling lines for a new year of fishing adventures

Of course, the personal challenge of my quest is what drove me, spurred on by each successive month of catching a fish. However, I was also pleased with having demonstrated that the Cayman Islands are host to a year-round blue marlin fishery, a fact that I hope will ultimately help in promoting increased interest in our local sport fishing.  What I hadn’t counted on was the number of incredible memories and milestones that would be associated with my pursuit. During 2008, I was able to, on more than a couple of occasions, assist friends in catching their first blue marlin; was witness to some memorable, if not amazing billfish battles while fishing from my own boat;  and shared some very special days on the water with my wife, Gillian, and our two teenagers, Jessica and Alex. I’ll never forget the rare juvenile blue marlin that Jessica caught during September.  Only days later, Alex was aboard and assisting me in catching the largest blue marlin I’ve ever fought from my boat.  Of course, the year began with my first “solo” catch of a blue marlin, and during April, I was part of a fishing team that accomplished a first — catching a blue marlin from a sailboat during a Cayman Islands tournament.  And most memorable of all was the amazing October day I spent fishing with young Evan Taylor and helping his “Make-A-Wish” come true.  It was a remarkable run in 2008, and I hope you derived as much pleasure in reading my monthly accounts as I did in reliving them.

To all of my friends, good health and good fishing in 2011.

— Guy Harvey

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Oct 7, 2010

Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge

The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge is shown here as seen on the NBC Nightly News with Kerry Sanders. This effort supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation encourages the release of all sharks and involves a satellite tagging component to help determine shark movements.

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Sep 24, 2010

Guy Harvey’s Marlin a Month | September

A DNA sample showed that what looked more like a spearfish was actually one of the smallest blue marlin ever caught on rod and reel

July and August were such busy months, filled with business and family commitments, that I felt blessed to have made the most of so little time on the water in continuing my streak of catching a blue marlin from Cayman Island waters each month of the year.  With the arrival of September, I could foresee more time to fish, but an urgency remained of catching a marlin this month because of the one element I had no control over — the weather.  It was the beginning of hurricane season in the Caribbean, and we had already been brushed by “Gustav” on August 28 and 29, a category 4 storm that inflicted serious damage to Jamaica and Cuba, but fortunately spared Grand Cayman from the fate it suffered four years earlier.  That September of 2004, we took a direct hit from “Ivan,” also a category 4 hurricane, and packing 155 mph winds during a 36-hour onslaught, it almost completely flooded the island with sea water and caused $2 billion in damage.  So when only six days after “Gustav” passed, another category 4 storm, Hurricane “Ike,” was forecast to be heading our way, I thought there might be no better time to catch my September blue marlin than right away.

On the morning of September 5th, I launched my 28-foot Scout Makaira II, and was joined by my daughter Jessica for a last fishing trip just before she would be leaving to begin college at Edinburgh University in Scotland.  We headed west to the pinnacle off North West Point, and it wasn’t long before we got bit far back on the shotgun lure.  That’s where I often put a smaller trolling lure to entice other species besides blue marlin.  I was busy clearing lines and looking the other way when Jessica saw the hooked fish jump, but she said the only distinguishing characteristic that caught her eye was a short bill.  As she reeled the fish closer, I thought she was mistaken or pulling my leg, as it looked like a wahoo with its dark body and vivid stripes.   When I grabbed the leader, I finally got a good look at the fish, and she was dead on.  It was indeed a small billfish, but one that was not easy to identify.  The fish jumped around frantically, exhibiting all of the anatomical characteristics of a longbill spearfish, except that the bill was very short.  My other thought was that it just might be a juvenile blue marlin of about 15 pounds, so before we let the small scrapper go, I took a small tissue sample.

Though Guy has no photos to commemorate the largest blue marlin he has caught in Cayman Island waters, his paintings like "Blue Rampage" serve as a tribute to such a great fish

I followed up by sending the sample to Dr. John Graves at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and when the DNA analysis came back, it confirmed the fish as a blue marlin, likely only six to eight months old.  I had seen 43- and 48-pound blues in Jamaica, but this was certainly the smallest blue marlin I had ever encountered.  Dr. Eric Prince later e-mailed me photos of two other blues of that size, one caught in Puerto Rico and the other at St.Thomas in the Virgin Islands.  These three fish stand as the only blue marlin specimens of this size known to science.  Rarely do researchers see blue marlin so small because most marlin anglers troll with lures that are too large for catching juvenile fish.  Blue marlin grow fast, reaching 60 pounds or more in their first year.

Three days later, Hurricane “Ike” was barreling across Cuba, but stayed far enough to the north as to not have much impact on the Cayman Islands.  The day following my birthday, on September 17, I was on the water again and fought the biggest blue marlin I’ve ever caught in the Caymans — a fish in excess of 400 pounds.  The big blue snatched the shotgun lure but did not jump, and because the bite was so solid and close to the wall off Papagallo, I first thought we snagged a dive mooring.  My son, Alex, was manning the wheel and did a great job while I fought the fish, but because the blue never did jump and ultimately broke the leader at the boat, we have no photo record of my biggest catch.  The upside, though, is I kept my goal intact to catch a blue marlin from Cayman Island waters during each month of the year.

Guy Harvey

Check this blog next month for my adventures in October, 2008, as I continue my quest to catch a blue marlin every month of the year.

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Aug 19, 2010

Grabbing Tigers By the Tail — A Return to Bermuda —Part II

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Expedition: Bermuda – Part II

The 2010 expedition to Challenger Bank began on July 24, just a couple of weeks earlier in the year than last year’s trip. Much of the crew from the 2009 expedition were on hand again: Neil and Choy – the “local boys” from Bermuda; Mahmood and Brad, our resident scientists; my children, Jessica and Alex; and Capt. James Robinson, whose boat Wound Up once again served the dual role of catch boat and support vessel.

Neil shows the attachment of a 3-year SPOT to the dorsal fin of a 12 foot tiger

For this year’s trip, the GHRI provided thirteen SPOT (Smart Position or Temperature Transmitting) tags and Neil purchased four three-year SPOTs with assistance from Bermudian sponsors, some of whom rode along with Capt. James on the Wound Up. Neil and Choy were doing a great job in Bermuda in getting local businesses involved in the tagging project and the production of a documentary that was created to educate the public about the success of their work.

The expedition’s plan called for Neil and Choy to take us to Challenger Bank to tag as many tiger sharks as possible over the course of six days. The week started fairly slow, with just one shark caught on each of the first three days. However, things heated up in the second half of the week as we caught and tagged 9 more sharks over the three remaining days.

Chumming was the key to catching the sharks. Luckily, we had ample supplies of fish heads, and we added to the chum mix by catching bonitos, ocean robins (local name for an abundant mackerel scad), blackfins, wahoos and barracudas while we were on the Bank. While the sharks were definitely attracted to all of the fish we served up, they seemed to have a preference for one in particular – fresh barracuda, which proved to be irresistible to the tigers.

We fished for the tigers primarily from the Wound Up. When a shark was hooked, Capt. James would transfer it to the Bones and then return to the mooring to continue fishing. Meanwhile, Neil and crew would safely secure the caught shark, apply a tag to the its dorsal fin, and then release the shark unharmed. Our crew was very experienced at tagging sharks and had gained a lot of knowledge during last year’s expedition, so the entire process – from the initial hook up to the final step of releasing the shark – was well planned and executed, which resulted in all of the sharks being released without harm.

While James was fishing with 130s we put out a quarter inch rope line cable leader and 20/0 circle hook, which was baited with barracuda and suspended from a large buoy. We caught four sharks using this method. One of these was pulled in by Alex, and at 8 feet long, it was the smallest shark we had caught so far.

Brad and Neil decided this shark was small enough to pull into the boat for tagging, so the crew hauled the shark on board, then covered its eyes with a wet towel and ran two deck hoses through its gills for ventilation. With the smaller shark secured in the boat, Neil was able to deploy a 3-year SPOT tag on this young male in just a few minutes.

Alex Harvey works hard on a tiger on the rope line

Interestingly, while on board, this small tiger shark regurgitated several squid beaks, and the horn of the foot from a benthic gastropod (like a conch). This indicates opportunistic bottom feeding and mid-water feeding on pelagic squid (one of the big 12 footers regurgitated the remains of a seabird and lots of feathers).

Unfortunately, we didn’t catch any of the sharks that we tagged last year, nor did we catch any tigers that had been tagged previously by Mahmood and Brad in the U.S.Virgin Islands over the past two years. A somewhat disappointing result, but it suggests that the tiger shark population around Bermuda is comparatively healthy. Of course, we do not know what the population numbers were before the commercial fishing industry exploited this and other species over the last three decades, so it’s difficult to determine just how stable the population has been over time.

Impact of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Expedition: Bermuda

Earlier in July, Brad presented our most up-to-date results at the annual conference of the American Elasmobranch Society, and the results of our comprehensive study amazed the scientific community. The tags applied in 2009 have lasted and stayed attached much longer than expected, and the regular reporting by the sharks (over a year now) is shedding new light on their behavior and migration in the Atlantic. Perhaps the biggest finding so far is that tigers are not the coastal dwellers that they were believed to be. Instead, they appear to make extensive oceanic journeys, and have an oceanic existence for much of the year.

It appears that the majestic tiger shark, which can grow to eighteen feet long, seems just as content in six feet of water chasing stingrays on the Bahamian sand flats as it is lurking near an oceanic bank 2000 miles offshore, hoping to detect and zero in on a dead floating sea bird or loggerhead turtle. This knowledge has serious management implications: since the sharks have been shown to make extensive migrations – passing through the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones of several countries in a given year – no country can consider these animals “their resource”.

The GHRI left several SPOT tags in Bermuda with Neil and Choy in the hope that some female tiger sharks would show up later in the year. Oddly, of all the animals tagged so far, only one has been female. This leads us to another question: “Why are there so many males at Challenger Bank at this time of year?” A question perhaps best answered by making another expedition.


I wish to thank Rehanna Palumbo and the staff at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda for her assistance with accommodation. This is a beautifully appointed 5-star hotel in a wonderful setting on the Hamilton waterfront close to great shopping and restaurants. Well worth the visit.

Thanks to Neil and Choy for getting us together in the collaborative research effort, and for the chance to swim with these magnificent animals. Thanks to James Robinson and his family for his commitment to the project.

It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet. Fish responsibly, dive safely.

Cheers….Guy Harvey PhD.

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Aug 13, 2010

Grabbing Tigers By the Tail — A Return to Bermuda —Part I

With the dramatic declines in shark populations caused by shark-finning and other forms of commercial fishing, the need for protection of shark species worldwide has reached a critical point.  To this point, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is aggressively supporting several fisheries management studies that are gathering crucial data that can be used to design and implement protective measures.

One of these studies is an ongoing project to track tiger shark migratory patterns in the western Atlantic.  For the past two summers, representatives from the GHOF and the Guy Harvey Research Institute have helped tag and track almost twenty tiger sharks off the coast of Bermuda.  The expeditions have produced previously unknown data about the tiger sharks in that region, information which may very well lead to new fisheries management practices in the western Atlantic and Caribbean.

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Expedition: Bermuda – Part I

Mahmood Shivji and Brad Wetherbee measuring a tiger shark on Challenger Bank, Bermuda

Mahmood Shivji and Brand Wetherbee measuring a tiger shark on Challenger Bank, Bermuda

In August of 2009, the staff of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Guy Harvey Research Institute collaborated with the Bermuda Shark Project on an expedition to tag and track adult tiger sharks a few miles southwest of Bermuda.  We concentrated our efforts in a location known as Challenger Bank, which is a known as a hot spot for tiger shark activity.  The area certainly lived up to its reputation – by the end of the week, we had caught, tagged and safely released seven adult tiger sharks with PSAT and SPOT electronic tags.

The tagging project was being led by two Bermudians, Dr. Neil Burnie and Choy Aming, with the representatives of the GHOF and GHRI providing assistance in the form of tag provision and deployment, as well as follow-up analysis of the sharks’ migration patterns through the western region of the north Atlantic.  Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Director of the GHRI, and Dr. Brad Wetherbee of the University of Rhode Island – both of whom have extensive experience working with tiger sharks in the Bahamas and the USVI – were on hand to calibrate the tags and assist with deployment.  And, my children Jessica and Alex – both of whom are world-class fishermen with several IGFA records between them – rounded out the team as our expert tiger shark wranglers.

We used Neil’s 34’ Prowler, Bones, as the expedition’s work boat while Captain James Robinson’s Wound Up served as the catch boat.  The sharks were caught on 20/0 circle hooks with no barb and130# gear, then tail roped and restrained by a harness that kept them snug to the boat while Neil drilled small holes in the shark’s dorsal fin to attach the SPOT tags.  On average, the process was usually completed in about 15 minutes, during which time the shark’s head remained submerged in the water so it could ventilate normally.

Once the tag had been securely fastened, the tail rope and harness were released and the sharks would swim away at a rapid clip.  I was in the water to film the hook removal and rope/harness release, while my professional camera team of Rick Westphal and Dee Gele filmed all the action for a tiger shark documentary I am producing.

The results of last year’s expedition were successful beyond our expectations. Using the tags, we were able to track the sharks’ migration as they moved away from Bermuda when seawater temperatures dropped in October, during which time they migrated south towards the Bahamas, Turk and Caicos Islands, and the Virgin Islands.  The tracks showed the sharks were not wandering aimlessly but were actually headed in a more-or-less straight line, as if they knew where they were going.  Based on their amazingly direct movements, it’s highly likely the individual animals have taken this migratory path before.

Guy Harvey catching a tiger shark to tag

For the rest of the winter months, the tiger sharks behaved like reef sharks, tracking the edges of deep island drop-offs.  Presumably, they were feeding opportunistically along the way.  As they searched for food at or near the surface, their dorsal fins would be exposed above the water line, which would allow the Argos satellites to pick up the signal from the tags and pinpoint the shark’s location (NOTE: The SPOT tag technology is more suited for attachment on air-breathing mammals and reptiles that constantly interact with the surface. Only a few ocean-going sharks exhibit the necessary type of behavior needed to use the SPOT tag for tracking. For example, my friend Dr. Michael Domeier uses the same equipment in his ongoing research of white shark populations in the Pacific).

As the seawater temperatures started to rise in April and May, the tiger sharks began a northward migration, with some aiming directly for Bermuda.  As they approached the island, they began to veer off on an easterly track that led them well north of Bermuda and into the north Atlantic, where some have stayed for most of the summer (Katrin, the only female tagged last year, is currently on a latitude adjacent to New York!).

This pattern of migration away from the island and in to open water raises some big questions: “What are they doing out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?”, “Are they feeding, and if so, on what – turtles, dead sea birds, squid?”, “Or, are they perhaps breeding?” These are serious questions that need to be answered in order for our research to have any practical or meaningful conclusions. So, we decided to once again mount an expedition to Bermuda to see exactly what is going on with these perplexing tiger sharks.

See our next week’s blog for Part II

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Apr 15, 2010

The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament Series

The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament Series
Catch and Release Shark Tournament Hailed as a Model for Sport Fishing Enthusiasts and Marine Conservationists

c2action2The Tournament Series will be an all-release shark fishing tournament off the Southwest Florida coast, beginning with a qualifying round April 30 – May 2 at Burnt Store Marina in Lee County and concluding with a Grand Championship Finale May 21-23 at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota County. The grand prize, based on fifteen, two-man team entries, is $10,000 with additional payouts through fifth place. Incentives will also be offered for a variety of bonuses, including largest shark and recaptured tags. The entire competition will be filmed for network broadcast.

To reduce landing times, innovative competitive guidelines require the use of heavy conventional tackle (no spinning reels), an 80 pound minimum line class and inline, non-stainless steel circle hooks. There is a five-foot minimum length for all qualifying species, which include: shortfin mako, tiger, great hammer, scalloped hammer, dusky, sand tiger, bull, lemon, sandbar, spinner, blacktip and nurse sharks. All animals will be measured in the water and identified by anglers at boat side before being tagged, either conventionally or with satellite tracking tags. Tail snares and other special equipment will be used for angler and animal safety, as well as for the expedient handling and release of sharks.

“For the first time, what we call a ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’ shark tournament will be transformed into a true spectator sport,” said Sean Paxton. He and his brother, Brooks, known as the Shark Brothers, are tournament directors and architects of the event’s unique format. Along with Co-Director and Associate Producer, Captain Robert Moore, they state, “Our shared vision for this tournament is to effectively combine the goals of sport, science and conservation, while giving participants and spectators the most exciting, entertaining and educational shark-infested, multimedia spectacle found anywhere on the planet.”

lemon1In 2009, the Paxtons, and Robert E. Hueter, Ph D., Director of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research (CSR), teamed up with renowned marine wildlife artist, scientist and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey to present this innovative competitive event designed to serve as a model for responsible sport fishing and conservation.

“The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge Tournament Series will be a uniquely exciting event for participants, spectators and everyone who cares about the future of our oceans,” Guy Harvey said.

Joining tournament directors, Mote and Guy Harvey in this ambitious effort are partners and supporters: Ray Judah, Lee County Commissioner; Luke Tipple, Director of Shark-Free Marinas Initiative; Florida Gulf Coast University and other advocates of effective environmental stewardship.

Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, will oversee the scientific aspects of the tournament. In addition to using standard tagging methods, some of the sharks will be outfitted with satellite tags in a cooperative effort with Lee County and the Florida Gulf Coast University so researchers and the general public can track their movements immediately after release.

Hueter has built specific scientific objectives into the tournament and collaborative research project. Anticipated results include:

– Documentation of shark species composition, relative abundance and size/sex data

– Migratory behavior and stock identification data from conventional tagging studies

– Post-release survivorship estimates

– Identification of shark critical habitats, including nursery ground

Teams participating in the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge will be trained to conventionally tag all qualifying sharks over 5 feet in length to earn points.

makotag2One priority in this project will be to satellite-tag certain candidate species including large female great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) which are found in the tournament region in April-May, often pregnant. The pupping grounds for this species in the eastern Gulf of Mexico are relatively unknown, and satellite tags on these large sharks will help to elucidate the location of these critical habitats.  Once the shark is measured and scored by the competing anglers, it will be handed off to the research team who will place a satellite tag and release the fish.

For all event details and contact information, visit:

Additional info:

Photos provided by: The Shark Brothers & Captain Robert Moore

Apr 9, 2010

Guy Harvey’s Marlin a Month | April 2010

His quick-dry Performance fishing shirt, new to the Guy Harvey Sportswear line, gets a good soaking from Guy's release of another blue marlin at boat-side

His quick-dry Performance fishing shirt, new to the Guy Harvey Sportswear line, gets a good soaking from Guy's release of another blue marlin at boat-side

April through June is generally considered the best time of the year to catch blue marlin in the waters around Grand Cayman.  This is tournament season, and April of 2008 offered a measure of added intrigue because new blue marlin records had been set early in the month at nearby Barbados (505 pounds) and Trinidad (824 pounds).  That had me eager with anticipation that big fish might move through our area, and a feeling that this could prove to be the opportune time for someone to break the Cayman Island blue marlin record of 584 pounds set back in 1984.  That fish serves as a benchmark for establishing the minimum qualifying weight for those who participate each April in the annual Cayman Islands International Tournament.  During the competition, any marlin caught that’s under 584 pounds must be released.  I’m proud to say that catch-and-release is alive and well in the Cayman Islands.

My opportunity to fish the four-day tournament, which took place from April 17 to 20, was at the invite of owner Fu Liem and Capt. David Carmichael aboard their 50-foot “sailboat” Java Knight.  It was a bit of an unconventional approach, but nevertheless, on April 19, our team made history by becoming the first to catch a blue marlin from a sailboat while fishing in a Cayman Islands tournament.  While under sail, we caught and released a 140-pound blue at the south end of Twelve Mile Bank, plus managed two other bites that day, one of which I estimated to be a marlin of about 350 pounds.

One of a number of Guy Harvey's paintings of a blue marlin intending to feed on dolphin fish, the same species Guy caught in April just prior to a marlin hookup

One of a number of Guy Harvey's paintings of a blue marlin intending to feed on dolphin fish, the same species Guy caught in April just prior to a marlin hookup

On the Thursday following the tournament, I boarded Makaira II after a day’s work to see if I could once again catch a marlin by myself.  With just a couple hours of fishing time to work with, I trolled up a big dolphinfish off Papagallo, then after a few circles in the same area, had a fine blue marlin inhale my shotgun. The fish pulled hard then jumped where I could see it was bigger than the usual.  It was a 45-minute battle of maneuvering the boat and fighting the fish before I could get the marlin close enough to grab the leader.  As I tried to hold her close and reach for my camera, the 300-pound class fish made a quick move and broke the leader.  Not bad, though, for a two-hour jaunt.  I had left at 3 p.m. and returned home by 5 — and I had extended my streak of catching a blue marlin from my boat for each of the first four months of the year.

A couple of days later, the really big blues that I was hoping, if not expecting to see migrate through Cayman waters finally did arrive.  During a charter trip aboard Hit ‘N’ Run, captained by Derrin Ebanks, the crew teamed up to catch a monster blue marlin that weighed 610 pounds, making it the largest fish of the species ever caught on rod and reel in the Cayman Islands.  It was an epic five-hour battle to subdue the record-size blue, but because several anglers took turns fighting the fish, it did not qualify as an official Cayman Islands line-class record.

Guy Harvey

Check this blog next month for my adventures in May, 2008, as I continue my quest to catch a blue marlin every month of the year