Talk to any of the five interns at Virginia Tech’s Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (VSAREC) in the days leading up to the cobia larval run, and the word that you’ll hear is intense. Or as Hannah Mark, a second-year student at Dalhousie University in Canada, puts it: “I’m equal parts excited and terrified.”
These cobia and spadefish hatched to help scientists refine the larvae production process and determine nutrition needs. As tagged fish, they will have one last opportunity to contribute to science as they live out their lives in the wild.
Volunteers in Virginia’s Game Fish Tagging Program tagged more than 19,000 fish in 2011, and on February 24, volunteer anglers who out-tagged their colleagues in any of 12 categories, including most tagged fish overall, most recaptured fish, and most tagged fish of a single species were recognized for their efforts. First place taggers in each category received a plaque, and runners-up received a tackle bucket with fishing gear provided by the Bass Pro Shop.
A cobia caught this June gives fisheries managers hope that the species could be a candidate for stock enhancement. Since its release, the hatchery-raised and tagged fish has three round-trips between the Chesapeake Bay and Florida Keys, doubled in size, and gotten caught at least twice.
“This is a very important recapture,” says Oesterling. “This one fish shows that cobia raised in a tank and fed pellet food will survive and behave as if they were wild fish when they’re released.”