By John Burton
FAIR HAVEN – While John LoGioco has always loved fishing, he also has become equally passionate about conservation of tuna.
LoGioco, a borough resident is the founder of an organization called the Atlantic Tuna Project, which is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help ensure the future of yellowfin and bluefin tuna.
When LoGioco, some friends and others travel a fair distance into the Atlantic Ocean to fish for tuna, they take their catch but also work diligently to catch, tag and release for research purposes.
LoGioco and his project are collaborating with NOAA in the federal agency’s long-standing program to tag certain fish for long-range data collection and research.
“It added a new dimension to fishing,” he said. “It gave the fishing trip a sense of purpose.”
LoGioco, 43, has been doing this since 2009. He started by writing a blog about conservation efforts to sustain bluefin tuna when he became aware of the dangers faced from overharvesting by this and other types of fish, including sailfish and marlin.
As his interest was piqued, he started asking himself, “When one person goes fishing, do your really need 200 to 300 pounds of tuna?”
He noticed his blog, Save The Bluefin Tuna, “started to pick up steam.
“People started asking, what can you do about this?” he said.
What he found about the NOAA-sponsored project, is that recreational anglers, charter boat captains and even commercial fishermen have been participating in it for years, to the benefit of NOAA, its research and the fish.
The program dates back to 1954, with the agency starting it in Woods Hole, Mass., in the area of Martha’s Vineyard, said Eric Prince, a research fishery biologist, for NOAA’s southeast fishery, Miami, Fla.
The program, thanks to efforts of more than 10,000 fishermen over the decades, has tagged literally hundreds of thousands of fish during that period.
“A lot of what we know about bluefin, white marlin, blue marlin” and other types of fish “basically was initiated from this tagging program,” he said,
As part of the program, fishermen use a special, less harmful hook to catch the fish and haul them on the boat, LoGioco said. Then they use a short spear-like rod with a needle on the tip to attach a plastic tag to the fish’s shoulder muscles. Fishermen record some information about the fish – length, approximate weight, where it was caught – on an accompanying card with the tag. The fish is released back into the ocean and the tag is then forwarded to NOAA’s Miami facility to be recorded in a database. If the fish is caught at some point, the fisherman forwards the tag to NOAA.
With that information NOAA biologists can track the fish’s migrating patterns, longevity and mortality. There is “all kinds of information you can gather from that,” which gives researchers insight into that type of fish. In the long run that information helps sustains the species, Prince said.
“Hopefully, it’ll help in terms of understanding the fish,” said Jim Freda, a Manasquan charter boat skipper, who counts himself as a member of LoGioco’s Atlantic Tuna Project.
When Freda takes clients out for tuna fishing, there are limits to the size of the fish they can keep – no smaller than 27 inches and no larger than 73 inches. The others are to be returned to the sea. Freda asks his clients to help participate in tagging the fish for the program before releasing them.
“Clients like to do it,” he noted. “They’re educated; they understand about the decline of the species. They’re more than happy to participate in the program,” and get their photo taken with the fish and commemorative T-shirts.
“This is where the science starts,” Freda said. He called knowing that the program will have an impact on the future of the fish “a very good thing.”
The Atlantic Tuna Project has attracted members from around the Northeast – primarily in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island – but it has members as far away as Europe.
In 2011 members were responsible for tagging 416 fish, ranging from 20 to 200 pounds, LoGioco said. The organization has even begun attracting some corporate sponsorship, with Guy Harvey Sportswear and The American Fishing Tackle Company (AFTCO) offering support.
This spring, LoGioco, Christian Burns of Fair Haven and Geoff Taylor of Middletown were part of a six-member crew that fished off the coast of Panama tagging and releasing 75 yellowfin over a five-day period. It was a pretty good run for LoGioco.
LoGioco has fished his whole life – being brought to the sport by his father – and continues to love it, especially the thrill of the hunt. But there is a bigger picture here, one that surpasses the importance of the data collection.
“It’s more about changing the culture of fishing off the boat, than the biomass,” he said. It’s about preservation, conservation. It’s about, taking “what you can use and putting the rest back.”