A status report on satellite tagging efforts through the end of summer.
In 2019 and 2020, The Fisherman Magazine and Gray FishTag Research collectively deployed five high-tech MiniPSAT devices into five different striped bass from the lower Hudson River out to Montauk, NY during the late spring and early summer as part of our ongoing Northeast Striped Bass Study.
Built by Wildlife Computers exclusively for bigger fish, these MiniPSAT units are designed to track the large-scale movements and behavior of marine animals that do not spend enough time at the surface to continually “ping” an overhead satellite. As such, hourly temperature, pressure, and light data is stored inside each tag; after coming undone from the fish, the MiniPSAT device will float to the surface and begin feeding the collected information to an Argos satellite for the duration of battery life (typically two weeks).
Of course, when we’re able to actually find one of these needles in the proverbial haystack, researchers can crack open that mini-processor to retrieve all of the valuable data contained inside.
As most of The Fisherman readers know by now, the results were pretty shocking as all five tagged fish spent an inordinate amount of their summer travels well offshore of the coast. Perhaps most surprising of all is that three of the five tags were actually found and returned to Gray FishTag, one coming from Massachusetts, the second along the Jersey Coast, and a third in 2020 from Lewes, DE (go to TheFisherman.com and see Striped Bass Study under the Topics tab for more).
For 2021, our third season of the Northeast Striped Bass Study, our team deployed another five MiniPSAT devices into five different striped bass, again from Raritan Bay out to Montauk in late spring and early summer. A sixth tag was delivered to Dave Anderson, managing editor of the New England edition of The Fisherman Magazine in mid-August in hopes of getting our first satellite tracking device into a New England striper in late summer, but Hurricane Henri followed by tropical system Ida threw another monkey wrench into our plans.
On the Friday heading into the Labor Day weekend, I got a call from Roxanne Willmer of Gray FishTag Research with the latest tag return updates. As shared in the August, 2021 edition of The Fisherman, we’d already known that the very first tag of the year came free prematurely. That MiniPSAT device affixed to a 42-inch striper caught aboard Fin Chasers Charters off Sandy Hook on May 24 began to uplink to the Argos satellite on June 4. Several days later, a wildlife photographer on Staten Island found the device on the beach near Great Kills Beach. By June 14, the tag was returned to Gray FishTag Research.
The second of two May 24th tagged fish – a 44-inch candidate aboard Chuck Many’s Tyman off Sandy Hook – would carry the tag three of the four months programmed for full-term, beginning its transmission uplink on August 23. In fact, while getting ready for the three-day weekend that unofficially brings summer to a close, Roxanne’s phone call was to inform me that MiniPSAT had also uplinked to Argos somewhere near Westerly, RI along the Pawcatuck River. Regrettably, the tag only fed information to the overhead satellite for one cycle of the satellite orbit; it wasn’t actually near the river when it did upload either.
It’s worth noting that Tropical Storm Henri made direct landfall along the coast of Rhode Island near Westerly at approximately 12:15 p.m. on the afternoon of August 22 as per the National Weather Service (NWS). That MiniPSAT device has not been heard from since.
On June 30, our tagging team returned to the waters off Montauk for an expedition similar to what was coordinated in 2020. On July 25 of this year, one of those MiniPSAT devices was found along the East Hampton beaches. The folks who found the tag dialed the number on the device, reaching Gray FishTag Research in their Florida headquarters to notify Roxanne and crew of their discovery. “We knew what street it was on,” Roxanne laughed as she told me of the conversation. “Yes, we live on that exact street,” Roxanne said the surprised voice on the other side of the phone 1,300 miles away replied. Like I said, high tech stuff.
And then there was the second MiniPSAT device implanted in a 44-inch striper (the first one being a 46-incher) on June 30. On August 24, that tag began to transmit approximately 17 miles south Fire Island, NY along the south shore of Long Island. That was just 2 days after Hurricane Henri barreled through as a tropical storm. Then the remnants of Hurricane Ida tore through the region on September 2, leaving a wake of destruction in its path through Pennsylvania, parts of New Jersey and into New York and Connecticut. Twenty-four hours later, that second Montauk tag uplinked again from approximately 10 miles off Townsend Inlet along the Jersey Shore, followed by a final “ping” on September 4 roughly 11 miles off of Stone Harbor before the battery went dead.
Which leaves us with a fifth deployed tag still in play, and one more in the possession of Dave Anderson who still hopes to be the first surfcaster that we’re aware of to ever deploy a MiniPSAT device into a marine fish. As it stands now, we hope to find one, possibly two more candidates this fall in an effort to begin accumulating new datasets for this unique and one-of-a-kind striped bass study using high-tech tracking devices developed by Wildlife Computers, one of the leading providers of advanced wildlife telemetry solutions in the world today.
In our July edition update (2021 SAT Tags Deployed: Gray FishTag Research Returns), we prompted readers to suggest a few names for this year’s tagging candidates. In 2019 the names of Liberty and Freedom were rather easy to offer up while fishing in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline. Of course, Cora and Rona provided a somewhat satirical response to fish-tagging during the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, followed by Independence which was tagged over the Fourth of July weekend off Long Island – a no-brainer.
Several readers suggested naming our stripers after the incredible sponsors who’ve helped launch and continue this exciting work; we thought that was rather well said, and have decided to follow that course of action, except for one, very special fish. You see we have deployed five MiniPSAT devices in 2021, with four tags now having been either retrieved or having connected to the Argos satellite. So after that tag showed up prematurely along the Staten Island shoreline, we quickly deployed the Tyman team again on June 17 in hopes of securing one more NY Bight striped bass. Heading out that particular morning, I posted a short video to Instagram under the tag line, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
With that, here’s we stand thus far in 2021 in terms of striped bass, their names, the date and location of the deployment and the status of the tag information.
Tag #1 named Navionics
Tagged aboard Fin Chasers on May 24 off Sandy Hook, NJ. Begins uploading on June 6 along Staten Island shoreline; tag found and returned to Gray FishTag Research on June 14.
Tag #2 named AFW
Tagged aboard Tyman on May 24 off Sandy Hook, NJ. Begins uploading on August 23 on land near Westerly, RI (41° 20.880 N / 71° 49.140 W) on the day after Tropical Storm Henri made its official NWS landfall at that location. Tag whereabouts are unknown.
Tag #3 named Hail Mary
Tagged on June 17 aboard Tyman off Romer Shoal in Raritan Bay. As of September 7 there has been no upload information as yet from this fish.
Tag #4 named Seaguar
Tagged on June 30 aboard Al Steiger’s 31-foot Steiger Craft DV Miami off Montauk, NY. Tag began its upload on July 25 near East Hampton, NY; tag found and returned to Gray FishTag Research.
Tag #5 named PENN
Tagged on June 30 aboard Al Steiger’s 31-foot Steiger Craft DV Miami off Montauk, NY, began transmitting on August 24 off Fire Island (40° 20.400 N / 73° 10.140 W); last upload connection was made on September 4 off Stone Harbor, NJ (38° 59.880 N / 74° 30.480 W).
Five tags off, two physically retrieved, our Hail Mary still in play, and surfcaster Dave Anderson hoping to find a worthy candidate in Rhode Island or Massachusetts capable of carrying tag number six which we hope to name Van Staal. As for future tagging efforts this fall, we have one final tag (#7) that we were able to purchase for 2021 thanks to the incredible efforts of sponsors and supporters. We hope to deploy it in late October off the Jersey Shore, or possibly even off of Cape Charles, VA where Chuck Many will bring his Tyman in search of winter jumbos. That is, barring more monkey wrenches, which as I’ve learned is simply part and parcel of such tagging efforts around the globe.
What We’ve Learned
In other satellite tagging studies some researchers may consider a 50-percent success rate on tag returns; for those who see the glass as half-full that also means there is a 50-percent failure rate. Whether you see things in scientific terms or even financial, that risk vs. reward ratio is what drives our investment.
“We were really, really blessed in year one with absolute success on these tags,” said Gray FishTag Research president Bill Dobbelaer of the Northeast Striped Bass Study, adding “But the more we do this, the more we realize just how risky and challenging this work can be.”
Dobbelaer pointed out that having both tags physically returned in 2019 was practically unheard of in satellite tagging efforts in the marine environment, as was the duration of tagging in striped bass through 2020, something that’s never really been done in the past other than small-scale, short timeframe work to study catch and release mortality.
“We hope the discoveries we’re making about striped bass will help us all understand the life cycles further and perhaps even lead to improved management of this critically important species,” said Mike Caruso, owner/publisher of The Fisherman. “Honestly, this has the potential to really benefit recreational fishermen in the future.”
“I’m really excited this year,” Dobbelaer noted. While striped bass monitored in 2019 and 2020 through MiniPSAT devices showed a rather startling track to the offshore grounds, even the shorter returns from Seaguar and PENN (25 days and 55 days respectively) may provide incredible information. “Our team is eager to comb through this data to see what the tracking actually reveal,” Dobbelaer added.
There’s still a chance that PENN’s tag washes ashore sometime in September where the hope is that it will be found and returned for a reward. And with Hail Mary expected to release her tag sometime in October, the team is hoping to present a full-scale tracking analysis with Navionics charts in time for the November edition of The Fisherman.
In addition to the MiniPSAT devices, each fish is also tagged with a green, Gray FishTag Research streamer tag; so even as the satellite device detaches, we hope to someday learn more from each of the 10 fish already tagged, along with the stripers tagged down the road.
“Next year, we want to expand the range of study from Virginia up into New England,” Dobbelaer said, adding “It’s not like a one-time thing, we have more work to do, more tags to deploy, and hopefully our research goes on forever.”
While data compiled through Gray FishTag Research is left “open source” for use by any and all researchers interesting in the information, one major benefit of the tagging work has been adoption of the streamer tags by for-hire captains throughout the region. Where many folks felt that the regulatory change from minimum-size lengths for stripers to a slot limit to protect the larger breeders would seriously impact the for-hire captains in a negative way, the naming and tagging of jumbo stripers has been extremely popular for local charters.
“We’ve gone from zero stripers tagged with Gray streamers to 1,500 tags deployed in striped bass in 2021,” said Dobbelaer, explaining how the Northeast Striped Bass Study with The Fisherman has quickly become one of their more popular projects at Gray FishTag Research. To build upon that success, and to provide more open source data for future researchers to collect invaluable information on striped bass migrations, the program needs support.
From two stripers in 2019, to five in 2020 and what appears to be another seven in 2021, the Northeast Striped Bass Study team has set a goal of a dozen MiniPSAT devices for deployment in 2022 throughout the Northeast. But at roughly $5,000 a tag, that’s going to need another investment infusion. With help from sponsors listed above, as well as the Many Family, the Glassberg Family, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Berkeley Striper Club and the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association who all contributed $500 or more to the 2021 efforts, the rewards have far outweighed the risks thus far.
Keep in mind that Gray FishTag Research is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, so all contributions are tax-deductible; which your accountant will appreciate! Find information at grayfishtagresearch.org; when you donate, you will receive a receipt by email which you can keep for your records come tax time.