Data helps scientists track fish

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VOLUNTEER fishers working as citizen scientists to tag, release and report the capture of King George whiting in Port Phillip and Western Port bays is helping improve our knowledge of their behaviour.

The fishers, working on a three-year Monash University research project funded by recreational fishing licence fees, are helping track the fish’s movement patterns.

“We know whiting enter our bays when they’re only a few months old and leave again at about four years of age to mature and begin spawning offshore,” Victorian Fisheries Authority CEO Travis Dowling said.

“What we don’t know is how juveniles move within and between our bays up until they depart.” 

Fishers have tagged nearly 700 whiting, the biggest 48cm, with 60 per cent in Port Phillip at Queenscliff, Geelong, St Leonards and Clifton Springs, and 40 per cent in Western Port at Somers, Tortoise Head and Middle Spit.

 Mr Dowling said 39 tagged whiting had been recaptured so far and none had moved between bays or offshore – yet.

“In Western Port, one tagged whiting moved 20km from Somers to Dickies Bay, at San Remo, over 11 months, growing 5cm from 35 to 40cm,” Mr Dowling said.

“Another showed the greatest short-term movement recorded so far in the study, swimming from Somers to Middle Spit in a bit over three weeks – that’s about 24km!

“In Port Phillip, one tagged whiting was recaptured near Queenscliff by the same angler who’d tagged it 45 minutes after it had been released.”

Mr Dowling said the longest period between tagging and recapture was 16 months. The fish had grown 11cm – from 33 to 44 cm. Like most recaptured fish, this whiting was caught close to where it was tagged.

“As fish get older and start to move out onto the coast, more recaptures from further afield are expected.”

Mr Dowling said it was hoped the project would reveal more secrets this summer. He said much of the credit could be attributed to just four keen fishers who have tagged and released 83 per cent of the whiting in the study.

“It’s great to see passionate fishers so involved in local research, on a species they really care about.”

Fishers catching a King George whiting carrying a yellow tag should report it to whitingtag@gmail.com or call 5258 3686.

They should record the tag number, fish length, date and location of capture, and release the fish so it can further contribute to the project’s database.

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 18 September 2019

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