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September 4, 2013

Cove-based study eyes 'juvenile' bluefin tuna

Next week, weather permitting, scientists from the University of Massachusetts’ Gloucester-based marine research center will head motor out to sea from Cape Cod in search of bluefin tuna.

They won’t be looking for the giant bluefin or the babies. They’ll be searching for the juvenile bluefins. For those juveniles, swimming in their middle schools, tagging season is about to begin.

The project, being coordinated by researchers and scientists at UMass’ Large Pelagics Research Center based in Gloucester’s Hodgkins Cove, will use the latest in electronic pop-up satellite tags to help develop enough data about these teenage tuna to potentially answer questions about migratory patterns, swimming depth, growth rate, breeding and the mixing of tuna from the western and eastern fishing grounds.

“We see this project having extraordinary value in terms of providing long-term data that could help us better understand these fish,” said Molly Lutcavage, the director and research professor at the local UMass facility. “It’s immensely important.”

The project is valuable on several fronts. While it is chiefly a data-gathering scientific enterprise, it also is a prime — and still rare — example of the scientific community and commercial fishermen working together.

“We have long-standing working relationships with a variety of captains and they’ve been invaluable,” Lutcavage said. “They helped develop the methods for landing and handling the fish. Throughout our history, we have a continuing record of working with the fishermen.”

The plan calls for the UMass scientists to leave Chatham on the Tammy Rose, captained by Eric Stewart at 4 a.m. Tuesday, with an expected return around 3 p.m. that day. The same schedule would apply for the following two days, as well.

The tagging process works like this: The tuna, generally 44-46 inches, is captured by rod and reel and brought aboard the boat. As soon as the fish hits the deck, the blur of activity ensues.

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