A fish tagging legend whose career spanned more than 50 years.
I got to know Captain Al (Cap’y) Anderson when I was around the age of 13. Eventually he took me aboard as a mate, and after two years of working for him fulltime I periodically filled in over the next 30 years when he had mates that needed a break – or who broke. You see, Capt. Al had an unbelievable passion around fishing that many people could simply not keep up with, and this included many of his mates. His drive and schedules were relentless. He fished every day and emphasized the need to spend time on the water and take notes of your observations. This was the scientist in him, and he had logs for it all.
Al went to Farleigh Dickenson University and received his degree in biology and later received his masters from Adelphi University in Fisheries Parasitology. Capt. Al began his fishing in Rhode Island waters while attending the University of Rhode Island’s post-graduate program on Zoology. In 1981 he retired from teaching and began chartering full-time in conjunction with the construction of his new 35-foot Legnos center console.
Anyone who fished with, around, or had any conversations with Capt. Al might have considered him a bit “salty” because he had a tendency to yell. I must admit that the first season I worked on the Prowler I thought that maybe the boat was really the Growler based on how much I got yelled at. It took me a little while, but like many who fished with him regularly and got to know him, I learned it was simply the passion coming through.
One of the coolest parts of working for Cap’y was listening to him answer questions from the customers on the way back to the dock each day. They covered subjects ranging from our success on the day to what things were impacting the fisheries. And of course, whenever someone asked a completely stupid question you could count on that long stare with wide open eyes to be followed by an “Oh Dear.”
Capt. Al is most remembered for his contribution to the conservation side of fishing, most specifically the promotion of Tag and Release, especially in the Northeast where it has traditionally been a meat fishery. In 1967, under the push from Bob Pond at Atom Lures, he started tagging striped bass for the American Littoral Society. Later, after getting the opportunity to do some work with Frank Mather III from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, he began tagging bluefin tuna as well. He wrote a book on gamefish tag and release and became one of, if not THE most prolific tagger ever. Not everyone believed in tag and release, especially those within his industry or those running local fishing clubs. Despite some criticism he continued to pursue his belief and passion in tagging. Capt. Al was eventually recognized by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) in 2015 with their Legendary Captains and Crew Award (LCCA). In addition, he was honored with winning the AFTCO tuna tagging award 14 times for tagging the most tuna. He won an award by Sportfishing Magazine for ‘Making A Difference,’ and a place in The Fisherman Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Movers and Shakers.’ He was also featured in Saltwater Sportsman’s ‘50 Top Charter Captains’ list in 2013.
Capt. Al has, on at least 29 occasions, tagged school bluefin tuna off the coast of Rhode Island only to have the fish subsequently recaptured in Europe or the Mediterranean. The information generated from these fish helped to show that western Atlantic bluefin tuna mingle with European fish, and that tuna need to be managed on a worldwide basis not just on individual national levels. He tagged over 65,000 gamefish in his career and was inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2012.
Unfortunately on January 17, 2018, Cap’y passed away. As he had always wanted, his ashes were spread at the North Rip of Block Island with the assistance of Capt. Charlie Donilon of the Snappa. In his honor, a tag flag was fittingly flown at half-rigger. He will forever be ‘prowling’ the rip and smiling down at those opting to tag and release their catch.