Scientists look to track halibut with pop-up tags

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2001

SEWARD (AP) -- Ten tagged halibut in Resurrection Bay probably aren't aware of their notoriety, but scientists are hoping the flatfish will give them some idea of where they're going and what they're up to.

Scientists hope to learn if the heavy fish migrate during their lifetime or remain local, said Derek Wilson, fisheries biologist with the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wilson told the Seward Phoenix Log that it's the first project of its kind using halibut.

Since last fall, 10 halibut have been caught on board the chartered fishing vessel Rocinante near Bear Glacier and Granite Island, taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center and fitted with programmable satellite pop-up tags. The tags detach from the fish within six months and contain information such as depth, water temperature and light, all recorded at one-minute intervals.

Two of the tagged fish have been retained at the research center for use as a control in the $70,000 research project funded by the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council.

The first set of tags are scheduled to pop to the surface and transmit their data to a satellite in mid-June, Wilson said. Another set will repeat the process Nov. 15. The data will be downloaded from the satellite by USGS.

Scientists have already had a sneak preview of the antics of one tagged halibut, thanks to a commercial fisherman who caught the flatfish and turned the tag in to the SeaLife Center last month.

Data indicated that particular halibut ventured to the surface of the water once after his release last fall, probably looking for the feed he became accustomed to during his two-month stay at the center, said Dr. Jennifer Nielsen, principal investigator of the two-year project.

The halibut were held at the center for observation following implantation of the tag.

Finding no food, the tagged halibut did not stay long on the surface.

''The fish seemed to stay at depths for a period of time, make short, deep dives for food, and then stayed stable at between 150-270 meters,'' Nielsen said. The deepest dive recorded was 500 meters, or 1,640 feet, she said.

''This is the first data to show the fish move around significantly and make deep lateral dives almost daily,'' she said.

The SeaLife Center will not by analyzing the data, but will coordinate the return of tags, said Pam Parker, an ASLC research technician associated with the project.

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