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August 20, 2011

IGFA Great Marlin Race Combines Angling and Research to Learn more about Billfish

Marlin are some of the most magnificent fish in the ocean, but several species are sadly in serious decline. That’s why the International Game Fish Association has partnered with leading scientists from Stanford University to create the IGFA Great Marlin Race – a conservation research program which combines the excitement of tournament angling with cutting-edge marine bio-logging science. The part-competition, part-research Race has anglers and scientists alike excited for the launch at the 58th annual San Juan International Billfish Tournament on September 4 – 11, 2011. 
Here’s how it works: in the days leading up to a billfish tournament, angling teams are invited to sponsor pop-up archival satellite tags (PATs) to be placed on fish caught and released during the event.  One hundred and twenty days after each tag is deployed, it automatically releases itself from the fish – and its exact location is determined by earth-orbiting ARGOS satellites.  
In a given tournament, the tag that surfaces furthest from where it was initially deployed wins the race for that tournament. The IGFA Great Marlin Race will last 12 months, encompass several tournaments, and deploy at least 50 PATs on a variety of billfish species in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The marlin whose tag travels the furthest of all will be recognized at the IGFA annual International Auction and Banquet in January. 
“The goal of the program,” further explains IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser, “is to learn more about the migration patterns of these magnificent fishes, and how they utilize the open ocean habitat.  We also envision giving open access to the tagging data so that it can be utilized by scientists around the world.” 
“The IGFA Great Marlin Race is one of the most ambitious conservation projects we have ever undertaken,” said IGFA President Rob Kramer, “and their high regard for conservation and sportsmanship at the San Juan International Billfish Tournament makes it a perfect place to launch the effort.” 
Tags record information about depth, temperature and light levels – which can be used to study fish migrations and behaviors over the course of several months after they’ve been tagged.  These data, in turn, will help scientists to identify key habitat areas where large numbers of fish spend significant portions of time – as well as the migratory corridors they use when they travel from place to place. Data from the PATs will be processed and disseminated via Dr. Barbara Block’s lab at Stanford University in California, USA. 
Block pioneered the use of electronic tags on open ocean fishes in the early 1990’s. She was also one of the founders, along with IGFA Representative Bob Kurz, of the initial Great Marlin Race program – which was launched in 2009 in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kona, Hawaii run by IGFA Trustee Peter Fithian
“We are really excited about this new partnership between our organization and Stanford University,” explains Paxson Offield, chairman of the IGFA and long-term supporter of the Great Marlin Race. “By pairing top-notch science with tournament angling, we hope not only to learn more about the biology of the animals, but also to engage our constituents – billfish anglers around the world – in helping to conserve them for future generations.”

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