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Billfish competition injected with new science

A couple of months back, the Club Amateur de Pesca held their 31st Annual International Sailfish Tournament. Teams from the U.S., Panama, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica competed, and all together they released 155 sailfish. Top team honors went to Nick Carullo and Tim and Stephanie Choate from Miami, while Ernesto Vasquez from Puerto Rico was named top individual angler. My favorite woman angler from Costa Rica, Tia Nora Schofield, who at 80-something is still fighting marlin and sails standing up, also competed this year and finished well ahead of many other anglers.

What made this year’s event different was that the Club de Pesca sponsored the attendance of the Central America Billfish Association (CABA) and Dr. Nelson Ehrhardt from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. CABA and Ehrhardt introduced new tools for studying billfish. Ehrhardt has been studying billfish populations in Central America for many years and his science was a key factor in convincing the Costa Rican government to stop exporting sailfish in December of 2009.

The crowd listened intently as Ehrhardt, who was assisted by a couple of technicians from CLS America (a company that specializes in satellite based environmental data collection and location), introduced the “Satellite Logbook.” The system collects information logged by the crew during the course of a day’s fishing and sends it in real time to a database at the University of Miami.

Using a smartphone touch-screen device, information such as billfish seen, fish raised, bites felt and fish landed are passed via Bluetooth to an antenna installed on the boat. Other information such as porpoise school locations, the position of longline gear and tuna and dorado catches are also recorded. The information is then laid over a map of other satellite-collected data such as currents, temperature, oxygen levels and chlorophyll production. Users are then given a personal password to access a website to see how the route they fished compared to ocean conditions. Boat owners are able to track movements of their vessels 24 hours a day and also see a history of routes traveled. A general map is also produced to show where the largest concentration of fish has been reported, but only with a password can you see data collected from a particular vessel.

The program has been in use for some time in Guatemala, and those that utilize it have reported increased productivity as well as fuel savings. The CLS team installed three units on Crocodile Bay boats and two on private boats while they were here. They are available to interested boaters.

The other part of the study will be a satellite tagging study. Advances in technology have brought the price of a tag down from around $4,000 to about $1,500, and the performance has improved considerably. The lifespan of the tag has also been increased to one year more than the older tags, which only lasted 30 days. This phase of the study will be implemented by CABA and Costa Rica Federation of Responsible Fishing, who helped raise half the money for the project.

A minimum of 60 tags will be placed on billfish in various locations in Costa Rica. Using the same technology implemented in submarines, the scientists will get a much more accurate report of the fish’s movements. The tags will send data including location, water temperature, depth, acceleration and angular velocities of the fish. The latter will help scientists better understand feeding and breeding habits. The tags will also be able to record ambient oxygen levels. Oxygen-deprived water to the north is what drives large numbers of sailfish into Costa Rica during the months of January through April. The information gathered from these studies will help determine migration patterns that one day could be used in management plans to better protect the species.

Jaimie Walker from Frenzy Sport Fishing in Quepos has also put together a group called The Billfish Research Project and started a tagging program in the Quepos area. More information on Walker’s project can be found at

The CABA-University of Miami research team is open to all cooperative efforts involving other research institutions and individuals interested in billfish conservation in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Information on joining the effort or obtaining a satellite logbook can be obtained by contacting Dr. Nelson Ehrhardt, University of Miami Billfish Science Research Initiative. Phone: (305) 421-4741, email: More information about CABA projects can be obtained at


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