Tagging Program and Pacific Angler Survey

For over 50 years, the SWFSC has provided conventional billfish tags to individual anglers, charter boats, and tournaments across the Pacific. Participating anglers also receive the International Billfish Angler Survey, which compiles information on recreational billfish catch and fishing effort by location. Trends in catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) tracked over a 46-year time period serves as an indicator of change in the health of billfish stocks and can provide a measure of relative abundance. Long-term trends in angler catch rates by specific area are also important in understanding the impact of fisheries on billfish resources. Species of interest are the Pacific blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), black marlin (Istiompax indica), striped marlin (Kajikia audax), Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), shortbill spearfish (Tetrapturus angustirostrus), and swordfish (Xiphias gladius). The results of the Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program can be found in our annual SWFSC Billfish Newsletter

Obtaining billfish tags

SWFSC will mail billfish tags upon request to individual anglers, charters, and tournaments. Contact Liana Heberer (liana.heberer@noaa.gov; 858-546-5626) or James Wraith (james.wraith@noaa.gov; 858-546-7087) with your name, street address, phone number and number of tags you wish to receive. 

Catching and tagging billfish:

We recommend anglers use circle hooks when intending to release fish, because they reduce deep or fouling hooking when bait fishing. Never attempt to tag a fish while it is jumping or thrashing, and bring your fish to leader as quickly as possible but wait until the fish is calm and swimming beside the boat before tagging. Insert the tag in the back muscle below the tallest part of the dorsal fin and avoid the gills, head, and stomach. 

When releasing the fish, slowly tow it through the water to allow water to flow over the gills until its normal color returns and it begins to swim on its own. Remove the hook with a good pair of pliers, or if deeply hooked in the throat or stomach, release it by cutting the leader as close to the hook as possible.

Downloadable Billfish Tagging Guide and Billfish Identification Guide

Reporting released billfish:

Fill out the Billfish Tagging Report card which corresponds to the released tag (this card applies to both billfish and sharks). Please include latitude and longitude, date of release, estimated length (lower jaw-to-fork length; LJFL) and estimated weight of the fish. Include name and mailing address of the angler and boat captain (to receive the Billfish Angler Survey) and other remarks as appropriate. Simply place card in mail, as postage is pre-paid, to return results to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. 

Need to report a recaptured tagged billfish? Click here.

Results of the Billfish Angler Survey 

An example of catch and effort reported for the International Billfish Angler Survey. Numbers indicate total days fished by location, number of billfish caught, and the catch-per-fishing day. The most predominate species caught by area is also listed: striped marlin (SM); blue marlin (BM); black marlin (BK); and sailfish (SF). The Billfish Angler Survey aims to describe fishing efforts around the Pacific based on the input provided by anglers and captains that tagged and released billfish throughout the year. Catch-per-unit effort (CPUE) is measured in catch per day fish and is calculated by area in each ocean (see right). Fishing efforts are primarily from Pacific locations although anglers also report some fishing activity in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Throughout the years, the three areas that consistently produce high fishing effort are Hawaii, Baja California (Mexico), and southern California. Major species caught in these areas include blue marlin, striped marlin, Pacific sailfish, and black marlin.

  • Blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) are distributed tropically and sub-tropically in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They generally prefer blue water and are typically found as scattered individuals rather than in schools. It is the most common species encountered by billfish anglers off Hawaii and other central and western Pacific island nations. Blue marlin are also reported from locations including Japan, Bermuda, Australia, Tonga, Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Florida, Panama, Cape Verde Island, and Brazil.

  • Striped marlin (Kajikia audax) is an oceanic species found in tropical, subtropical and temperate water of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It generally inhabits cooler water and is the most common billfish species encountered by anglers off southern California, northern Mexico, and New Zealand. In fact, over 90% of the striped marlin catch for 2013 occurred off southern California, Mexico, and Hawaii. 

  • Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) prefer tropical habitat and are abundant in eastern Pacific coastal and offshore waters from Mexico to Ecuador. Sailfish can be found in schools, often with others of similar size.  In addition to Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica, sailfish catch has also been reported from Malaysia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Japan.

  • Black marlin (Istiompax indica) are typically found in the tropical, subtropical and occasionally in temperate waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are often caught near land masses and coral reefs and feed on fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans and small tunas when abundant. 

Results of the Billfish Tagging Program

The SWFSC's angler-based Billfish Tagging Program began in 1963 and has provided tagging supplies to billfish anglers for over 50 continuous years. The program encourages the participation and cooperation of recreational anglers, sportfishing organizations, and commercial fishers and utilizes release and recapture data from tagged billfish to determine movement, distribution, and growth patterns of billfish. In collaboration with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), nearly 80,000 fish have been tagged and release.

Summary of billfish tagged during 2013, by region.

Each year, we send out and receive hundreds of billfish tags from anglers around the world describing information about a variety of tagged species. The blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) has been tagged more than any other billfish species for 13 consecutive years, however, striped marlin (Kajikia audax) have been tagged more than any other species throughout the entire time span. The shift in the major tagged species occurred during 2000 as a result of a change in location of the greatest tagging effort. The SWFSC Tagging Program started in southern California and the outreach effort in the early years was concentrated around southern California and Baja California, Mexico, where striped marlin are the dominant billfish species. However, in recent years the focal point of the tagging effort has moved to Hawaii where blue marlin is the billfish species that is most caught by recreational anglers.



Last modified: 11/16/2015