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Alex's Column 26/05/2022

Last weekend’s round 2 of the Top End Bill Fish Series might well go down as an historic occasion.

Co-ordinator Doug Saunders said: “In the 2.5 years of the series running, this is our highest number of billfish caught for a round with an amazing 53 billfish caught.

“Incredibly, 27 of those where black marlin but there were also 26 sailfish.

“This will go down as the round of the micro marlin for sure; it really is a unique fishery we have here. “Where there are little marlin, there are big marlin so who knows what is outside our closer grounds,” Doug said.

Skipper Brian Bates and Aaron “Rousey” Rouse in Team Anglerholics cleaned up this round with 12 billfish: 5 marlin and 7 sails.

Rousey was Champion Angler for the second time running.

“We mainly trolled skipping, skirted garfish,” Rousey said.

“We raised 24 billfish, hooked 14 and managed to land 12.

“At one point, a big school of micros turned up and we hooked three of them at the same time.

“I was holding two bent rods and Brian had one – we landed two of them which was our first double,” Rousey told me.

Isn’t it amazing that there are so many of these tiny marlin in the waters off Dundee?

Some of them are barely half a metre long.

The big breeders can’t be that far away as these fish are hardly weeks old.

“We have a few fisheries researchers doing a few studies on our billfishery up here at the moment,” Doug explained.

“As recreational fishers, we have been helping them acquire fin clips from sailfish and marlin caught during the comp and taking the occasional billfish for them to do their fishy stuff with.

“Taking these small fish will tell us more about our fishery than a 1000 tags in a shorter timeframe which is what we all want.

“We have previously taken a small black marlin for them that measured under 600mm and was aged at only 48 days.

“With the talk of satellite tags being deployed off our Darwin waters in the near future, it’s exciting times.

This new research project is being led by Charles Darwin University Lecturer in Qualitative Zoology, Doctor Keller Kopf, and CDU Australian Institute of Marine Science PhD student, Matt Hammond.

The goal is to learn more about how billfish move and why Northern Australia seems so abnormally productive for certain types of billfish.

According to information on the website, the CDU research team is hoping to attach tags and track 25 billfish in waters around Northern Territory and they’ve called on the Territory’s strong fishing community, with knowledge about billfish, to help catch and tag the fish.

“There’s juvenile billfish in these waters all year long, and that’s really unique. With some luck, we are hoping we can track up to 25 fish to see where they are going and what they’re getting up to,” Mr Hammond said.

“I have my work cut out for me because it means getting 25 of the ocean’s most powerful fish on the end of a line and back to the boat.

“They are notoriously difficult to catch; it’s considered an achievement just to get a marlin or a sailfish to take an interest in your bait.

“The billfish’s size and speed make them sought-after trophies for anglers, which means there is potential scope to develop sustainable fisheries tourism in the Top End,” Mr Hammond explained.

Mr Hammond will trial two types of tags: acoustic and satellite when tracking and tagging the fish.

The acoustic tags emit a signal which needs to be picked up by stationary buoys that are deployed in common billfish hotspots.

“The tags can last up to 10 years, so should provide some quality data on the effect of the catch, surgery, and release upon the target fish,” he said.

Mr Hammond said, while it was a trophy fish, there was not a great deal known about the movement and ecology of billfish in Northern Australia.

Along with the billfish movement and ecology, Mr Hammond hoped to learn more about how the tags work and the effect they have on the fish.

These tags store data on the fish’s location, depth and movement.

Within six to 12 months, the tags automatically release and float to the surface where they transmit the data to a satellite.

The project is a collaboration with citizen scientist recreational fishers, the Department of Industry Tourism and Trade, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the Northern Territory, and Fisheries Ecologists.

It is supported by funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on behalf of the Australian Government and by the Northern Territory Recreational Fishing Grants Scheme.

The team will start the tracking process this dry season.

Hot on the heels of Round 2, Round 3 of the Top End Billfish Series is on this weekend.

A sailfish takes to the air for Team Alcoholics which won Round 2 of the Top End Billfish Series.

Champion Angler, Aaron “Rousey” Rouse, prepares to release one of 12 billfish the team caught.


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