DNREC hooks Milford students on fish tagging

MILFORD — As potent-smelling fish were placed on desks in front of students, they exclaimed remarks like “Gross!” and “Eww!”

From their comments, the middle-school students seemed disgusted at the day’s lesson, but their faces illustrated a different story. Smiles stretched across their faces.

The task at hand: learning how to tag fish from the state’s professionals during a demonstration in their classroom at Milford Central Academy.

As part of an outreach program to encourage interest in fishing in general and seek volunteers for the state’s fish-tagging program, Marine Fisheries Technician Jake Mathews of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control visited the school in mid-April.

Milford Central Academy teacher Jack Rodgers is an avid fisherman, so he was reeled in by the demonstration opportunity and helping DNREC’s goal of involving the public in research to better understand some of Delaware’s fish species.

The field-based DNREC department took to the classroom for the “opportunity to show and get kids interested in the project we’re doing,” said Mr. Mathews.

The students were able to attempt the tagging process — under adult supervision — right in the classroom on real fish. Many of the students were eager to get near the slimy green creatures. The various fish the program is seeking to tag include flounder, black sea bass, tauk, cobia, black drum, red drum, triggerfish, and sheepshead.

“In the tagging project we’re looking at fish we don’t really catch in the other surveys — like things that can escape or avoid nets is what we’re looking for,” Mr. Mathews said. “These fish are caught more by hook and line so recreational anglers are going to have their most interaction with them. So that’s why we’re using this as another way to get more data.”

The tagging process for those catching fish by hook and line involves using a tool like a gun. The needle of the gun is directed toward the gill to ensure its puncture into the fish’s skin, then it hooks on the side of the fish to make the tag legible and distinguishable.

It is important for citizens interested to access DNREC’s training before tagging fish so that the correct kind of fish as well as the correct size of those fish are being tagged. Tagging fish that are too small might result in mortality, Mr. Mathews said.

“If you’re entering the data, we will give you the rundown on where to enter your data with your specific code,” said Mr. Mathews. “If you catch a tagged fish with one of these tags, the location where to enter all the information is right on this tag and it’s http://de.gov/tag. Then it will ask you your tag information and that information from the fish (species, date caught, tag number).”

The program’s biggest concern with having community involvement is their interaction with staff for follow up information after the tagging process is done.

For some entries, the state may want more data, so a survey crew member would contact the person reporting the tagged fish, but Mr. Mathews said sometimes there isn’t a response.

“You want to leave your email address because then I’ll contact you for different, other information and if you end up winning a drawing, for a prize or reward.”

A way the program keeps interest in the tagging project is by having a drawing of various prizes such as gift cards to Bass Pro or Cabelas, that one may be entered for by submitting the data online or through the DNREC application.

DNREC is currently looking for six more taggers to train and contribute to the survey.

For information, email Mr. Mathews at joseph.mathews@de.gov.

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