The world record mako shark
(1,221 lbs.) landed at Oak Bluffs.
The close proximity of Massachusetts to the cooler boreal
waters in the Gulf of Maine and the warmer temperate waters
south of Cape Cod attracts the seasonal feeding aggregations
of a variety of big game species. Extensive offshore fisheries
for tunas, sharks, and marlin occur off our coast from June
through October each year. Recreational anglers in private
and chartered vessels travel miles offshore to catch bluefin,
yellowfin, albacore, and bigeye tunas, blue, mako, and thresher
sharks, and blue and white marlin. The highly migratory nature,
large size, and long life span of these species render data
acquisition and biological studies expensive and difficult
Since 1987, Marine Fisheries biologists have harnessed the
efforts of tournament fishermen to learn about the species
and size composition, basic biology, and relative abundance
of big game fishes off our coast. Offshore fishing tournaments
not only provide catch data and biological samples but estimates
of effort, which are often lacking for offshore recreational
fisheries. Although the number of tournaments held in Massachusetts
fluctuates from year to year, there are generally eight to
eleven, with most located on the Cape and Islands. While some
target a single species or kind of fish, like sharks or giant
bluefin tuna, most tournaments offer prizes for a variety
of species. All the events self-impose minimum sizes and bag
limits while promoting tag and release, so points can be garnered
by not only weighing fish but by also releasing them.
Weighing in a bluefin tuna
Although tournament data are traditionally used by the federal
government to monitor landings in offshore recreational fisheries,
the Massachusetts Tournament Program is unique. The Marine
Fisheries program makes every effort to collect total catch
information, which includes not only fish that are landed
but also those that are tagged, released, or lost. By working
closely with tournament sponsors and tournament participants,
Marine Fisheries biologists not only assist in the development
of the event but also facilitate complete data collection.
This is particularly important when indices of abundance are
used to monitor annual changes in fishing success.
The fishing effort collected at each tournament can be used
to calculate estimates of relative abundance for each species.
In fisheries science, this is typically expressed as catch
per unit effort or CPUE, i.e. the number of fish caught for
each hour fished. Annual estimates of CPUE can be calculated
to show trends in fishing success. Dramatic fluctuations in
CPUE may be indicative of changes in regional fish abundance
caused by corresponding changes in prey availability, fish
population size, or the environment. Program personnel analyze
long-term trends in CPUE and summarize these findings in an
annual program report.
The Massachusetts Sportfishing Tournament Monitoring Program
also collects catch data at the month-long Martha's Vineyard
Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. These data allow for the
delineation of trends in the inshore abundance of striped
bass, bluefish, false albacore, and Atlantic bonito. The comprehensive
catch and effort data collected by the Tournament Program
are forwarded annually to the National Marine Fisheries Service
for inclusion in their national statistics. Well-founded fisheries
management decisions must be based on a thorough understanding
of the fisheries themselves. The Massachusetts Sportfishing
Tournament Monitoring Program provides valuable information
about our fisheries that contributes to such a foundation.
Tournament organizers and those interested in additional information
about the program should contact our Martha's Vineyard Office.