If you fish long enough, sooner or later you’ll catch a tagged fish. All kinds of different organizations, governmental agencies, and scientific outfits tag fish, and there are countless finned critters swimming around out there with a little bit of extra jewelry. But each of those entities, and each of the tagging goals, differ. And just what you’re supposed to do when you catch a tagged fish can be confusing.
You’ll usually see fish with an anchor tag (like the one pictured above), though there’s also a remote possibility of catching a fish with a satellite tag. (You may also catch a fish with a “PIT” tag, but these are detected by magnetic means, aren’t visible, and you’d have no way of knowing it). If you catch a fish with a satellite tag you’ll know it right off the bat, because these are large, clearly marked external tags. And, you should drop that fish right back into the water. Satellite tags are extremely expensive and limited in number, and taking one home with you is a great way to throw a monkey wrench into the scientific process.
In the case of anchor tags, there’s commonly a tag number and a phone number printed on the tag. If you’re keeping the fish it’s easy to clip off the tag when you get home, scrub it clean, and call the phone number – something you should definitely do as a conscientious angler. Plus, many tagging organizations give a reward to say “thanks,” sometimes cash, and sometimes a prize like a hat or T-shirt. Added bonus: most organizations will also tell you where, when, and at what size the fish was first tagged, which can be very interesting to learn. Just as an aside, I once tagged an 18-inch fish as part of a CCA program, and three years later learned it was recaptured four states away and had grown to 29 inches. Neat stuff!
If you’re planning to release the fish, it’s incredibly valuable to the scientists if you can record the tag info, first. This allows the fish to act as though double-tagged and gives another data point to work with. It’s also best to record information like your general location, water temperature, the depth the fish was caught at, and how healthy it appeared upon release. The easiest way to do this is to rub any dirt or growth off the tag with your fingers or a rag, then take a cell phone picture of it with all the numbers showing. You can record most of the other pertinent information by snapping off a picture of your chartplotter/fishfinder screen.
Those tags are out there because the more we can learn about the fish we’re chasing, the better we can keep their populations healthy. If you catch a tagged fish, be sure to do your part to help those scientists out!