There are a million and one fish tagging programs out there performed by any number of research institutions, wildlife management organizations, and government entities. These programs are important for gathering information about fish stocks, catch rates, growth rates, and more. So, as anglers, we should be happy to participate in them and report any tagged fish we pull up, regardless of whether or not there’s a hat or a cash prize in the offing (and usually there is). And when you’re putting a fish in the cooler, this is no big deal. Just record the fish’s length (and weight if possible), clip off the tag, and deal with it when you get home. But if you’re going to release the fish, reporting that tag becomes a bit tougher.
Noting down the fish’s size and any distinguishing features (bite marks, evidence of disease, etc.) is the easy part. What’s tougher is gathering the info on the tag. Snapping off a cell phone pic is the best way to do so, but the numbers and letters are very small and easily obscured. Many tags will have growth on them, which you’ll need to rub off – but gently enough that you don’t break the tag, pull the anchor out of the fish, or injure the fish.
In the above picture, which is of a tag in an 11-inch flounder caught last summer, we rubbed away a lot of growth with a fingernail then took five or six pictures from different angles while rotating the tag a bit. As you can see, despite our efforts and the relative youth of the fish, it’s still extremely difficult to read. In fact, despite taking multiple pictures and trying our best to clean the tag off we still had to enlarge the pictures and study multiple ones in order to get the numbers right. Once we did, however, the agency that had tagged the fish was absolutely ecstatic. Having the fish’s size and location information, then having the fish swim off free to perhaps be caught another day – and provide a whole new set of data-points – was incredibly helpful to them.
If you happen to catch a tagged fish that’s going to be released, take the time and effort to make sure you gather the appropriate data and get pics of that tag. In the long run, we’ll all be better off for it and so will our fisheries.