USM’s Fish Tag and Release program is growing in popularity


Thu, 05/18/2023 – 09:29 am | By: Gabriela Shinskie

The Cooperative Sport Fish Tag and Release program is one of the longest running continuous tag and release programs in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 54,000 fish are tagged where anglers and scientists gather.

The program was created in 1988 by Jim Franks, senior scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD), to initiate a fish tagging program for anger to participate in a research project focused on the popular Sportfish participate in cobia by providing tagging and clearance materials to volunteer anglers. The CFRD is located at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs.

Cobia is also known by the names crabeater, sergeantfish, ling, cabio, cubby yew, and lemonfish, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

“This was an opportunity for volunteer anglers to get involved as they were key to the success of the project,” said Franks.

The research project focused on the seasonal movement and migration patterns of Cobia. CFRD provided volunteer anglers with materials to tag and release Cobia. Four species of fish are now included in the tag and release program: Red drum, spotted sea trout, treble trout and cobia.

“This gave us some good information about the growth of the fish, its movements and migration patterns,” Franks said. “It became very popular and has grown to include two or three more species of fish over the years.”

The program has laid a foundation for further studies using satellite tagging technology. Dyan Gibson, research associate at CFRD, said anglers feel empowered by contributing to science that will inform managerial decisions about the species they target.

Franks said his team wasn’t sure how successful the program would be because it was primarily focused on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Because cobia is a migratory species, his group realized they needed to include other coastal regions. The program then grew in popularity, attracting anglers from across the Gulf Coast region, from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. Gibson said fish would be tagged as far away as the Carolina coast and Florida’s east coast.

Jill Hendon, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, has been following the development of this program for years.

“The CFRD Cooperative Sport Fish Tag and Release Program is one of GCRL’s oldest projects,” Hendon said. “The data collected has provided important insights into the movement of some of the most important recreational species in the Gulf of Mexico.” It is the anglers who make this project so successful and we are proud of the collaboration that has developed over the past 35 years. “

As of May 2023, the total number of tagged fish includes the following:

  • Red drum: 2,315 since joining the program in November 2019
  • Spotted sea trout: 19,347 from April 1995 to November 2015; 2,030 since marking resumed in November 2019
  • triple tail: 13,532 Since joining the program in April 1996
  • Cobia: 19,542 Since the program began in May 1988

As of May 2023, a growing number of volunteers are tagging the following fish:

  • About 5,700 (Cobia)
  • About 1,600 (triple tail)
  • 270 (Spotted sea trout (since 2019))
  • 565 (Red Drum)

People of all ages have participated in the tag and release program as volunteer anglers. It promotes catch and release and resource conservation and has seen
intergenerational Tagging efforts to include children and grandchildren of the original taggers.

Each volunteer angler receives a marker kit that includes a marker applicator, instruction booklet and five markers, and charts on which to record information about fish species.

“People who want to tag understand that they have a responsibility to provide them with that information as accurately as possible,” Franks said.

The program is funded by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources through the Fish and Wildlife Service-Sport Fish Restoration Program. To request a tagging kit, please visit the Cooperative Sport Fish Tag and Release website.

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