In this week’s Scott’s Species, published exclusively on Recfishwest’s website, Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan takes an in-depth look at a revered game fishing species — black marlin.
Species: Black marlin, Makaira indica
Eating: 4 stars
ID: Rigid pectoral fins that cannot be folded against the body.
Found all around Australia, black marlin are a prized catch for game fishers, and with good reason.
Growing to 900kg globally but rarely encountered at more than 200kg in WA waters, they are as reasonable common bluewater catch in some areas, especially in small sizes.
The Great Barrier Reef is well-known for consistently producing 500kg-plus black marlin.
When it comes to fishing for them in WA it is hard to go past Exmouth, where the proximity of the Continental Shelf to the Ningaloo coast means they can regularly be caught from small trailer boats, including tinnies.
They are inshore in good numbers in the cooler months off Ningaloo and, as they are generally fish under 100kg, they can offer great fun on light gear rather than the traditional heavy trolling gear usually used for billfish.
I am usually not a keen marlin troller myself, but have enjoyed catching blacks on stand-up gear.
They are also taken regularly off Dampier, Broome and out behind the islands off Carnarvon, as well as west of the Abrolhos Islands.
In summer they also can show up off Perth, usually in years where there is a strong Leeuwin Current pushing them down south from the north.
Usually found in waters deeper than 50m, they will hit large trolled deadbaits and large skirted lures, and occasionally are caught by shore anglers using specialist gear and techniques to target them in spots where there is deep water close to shore, such as Quobba, Dirk Hartog Island and Steep Point.
Once hooked, they take off on fast runs and often jump high in the air.
Other than pending record fish, virtually all black marlin are released, often after being tagged for research purposes. They are one of the few recreational-only fish species in Australian waters, along with blue marlin.
The week long GAMEX competition held by the Exmouth Game Fishing Club’s (EGFC) from March 16-24 brought thousands of visitors once again to the regional town of Exmouth.
As one of the biggest fishing competitions in Australia, GAMEX provides significant benefits back to the local community, including in influx of visitors associated with the event.
The importance of events such as this to local communities can not be underestimated, with previous GAMEX events having injected more than $1 million into the local economy in just over a week that competitors and their families spend in town.
Opportunities for tourism and marketing around fishing events are enormous and can reap huge rewards for small coastal communities.
“We see people hiring a car, filling up at the petrol station, driving out to their accommodation, dining in local restaurants and heading out on the water, stocking up on their bait and tackle supply beforehand,” Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said.
“WA is renowned for quality recreational fishing experiences and with more than 266 fishers in this year’s event, it demonstrates once again the important contribution the EGFC provides to the Exmouth Community.”
Exmouth Tackle Word Owner Jeni Gates said that events such as GAMEX have highlighted the quality of fishing available in Exmouth to an international community.
“Some of the numbers of billfish we have seen caught and released during GAMEX over the past few years combined with the 1084lb blue marlin caught earlier this year has really put Exmouth on the map as a world class billfish destination,” Jeni said.
“Over the last 12 months we’ve seen an influx of anglers from all around the world. Earlier this year we had multiple families visit form South East Asia who all came with the intent of tangling with a big Marlin.”
GAMEX also highlights just how important fishing is to the social fabric of small coastal communities.
Fishing continues to provide significant health and wellbeing benefits in many small coastal communities in WA, and fishing events such as GAMEX continue to promote the quality of fishing experiences available on our doorstep.
Recfishwest looks forward to being a part of GAMEX 2019 and congratulates the EGFC and Exmouth community on pulling together such a beneficial event.
Two juvenile Black Marlin were kept during Gamex 2017, as part of a study looking at Black Marlin Biology in Australia, (as a contribution to a study by Sam Williams – a PhD student at the University of Queensland).
Sam aged these fish by extracting the fish’s ear bones called otoliths. Fish age is determined by counting the opaque zones, much like one would count rings on a tree to determine its age.
So How Old Were They?
When you think Exmouth, you think of Gamex. You may also think of it as your ultimate fishing destination; your opportunity to catch a big 1000lb Marlin or reel in big Sailfish or Dolphinfish.
So why and how is Exmouth such a coveted game fishing mecca?
“Is there just more big fish in the waters off Exmouth?” In short – yes.
“But surely with thousands of game fishers descending on Exmouth every year the fishing would decline?”
Answer: It’s because the community value game fish so much, they’ve shown a desire to understand more about the fish they catch and preserve the iconic status of gamefish in WA for biological, social and economic reasons.
In recent years there has been a number of ‘investments’ made to ensure the recreational fishing sector understand more about the fish we catch, and there’s no better example of this than Exmouth’s famous Gamex tournament!
Recfishwest’s Research Team are currently up at the 2018 Gamex Tournament collecting samples of game fish that come into the weigh station every night. It’s the 2nd consecutive year the team has headed up for the game fishing tournament to carry out this important work, with plenty of fish being submitted to allow for a solid set of fish data, potentially used for a variety of projects worldwide!
Tag a mate that…Tags fish?!
Fish tagging is another method used by game fishers to do their bit for ‘science.’ Tagging fish allows a percentage of the fish population to be monitored ‘in the wild’ with repeat catch records, giving insight into an individual fish’s movement and size over time.
Do you remember the 1000 pound Marlin caught off Exmouth earlier in 2018 by local skipper Eddy Lawler? You probably didn’t know Eddy has tagged over 1000 Marlin, many are recaptures of his previously tagged fish! That’s only one boat skipper providing over 1000 points of data for Marlin, making Eddy more of an advocate for fisheries research than most others worldwide! Read more about the 1000lb Marlin here.
So Why Aren’t All Fish Tagged and Released?
To understand more about the fish we catch at Statewide fishing tournaments, there are a number of different research techniques used to sample fish species that wouldn’t normally come into weigh stations at your local fishing club.
Fishing tournaments provide a great social and economic activity for regional towns in WA and is the fabric of a lot of communities, especially in fair weather months. So when hundreds of fishers descend on regional fishing clubs to go tournament fishing, a whole range of species are brought in to the weigh station, iced down and ready for the table. It’s at these times where the opportunity to collect samples from these species is at its’ greatest and goes a long way to helping researchers understand more about the fish we catch.
Researchers can quite quickly collect samples from species such as trevally, mackerel and cobia to help determine length, weight, age and diet from a few simple cuts – leaving the fish in high quality ready to for the fisher to take home and cook up!
Dietary data allows us to understand a species effects on the rest of their environment. It also allows the drawing of food webs and better grasp the entirety of the relationships between species – essentially ‘what eats what.’
If you’re lucky enough to be fishing at the 2018 Shark Bay Fishing Fiesta in May, the Recfishwest Research Team will again be on-hand to sample the fish the competitors bring in – to help us understand more about the fish we catch and do our bit as a sector for conservation!
The 2018 Gamex samples that will be collected will be kept on ice and made accessible to research providers, such as Universities) who run specific projects looking at topics such as fish biology, population dynamics and age and growth rates.
How Can You Help?
Recfishwest will be taking their Research Team to as many statewide fishing tournaments as possible and we’re always looking for Supporting Partners who can help us achieve this. Your brand will be directly associated with research activities as described in the article above and is great way to enhance your corporate social responsibility! This will ensure high-quality fishing experiences are maintained and enjoyed, as an integral part of the WA lifestyle. Want to know more, email email@example.com or check out our Partnerships and Sponsorship page here.
World-leading Australian marine biologist Dr Julian Pepperell will be a special guest at the popular GAMEX fishing tournament in Exmouth this month.
GAMEX organisers will be hoping for better luck this year after a looming cyclone forced the cancellation of last year’s event. Dr Pepperell will be at the competition as part of his project to use local fishing tournaments to monitor and research important recreational game fishing species.
This project, supported by Recfishwest and the Department of Fisheries, is funded by your licence money through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF).
His program encourages fishing clubs and recreational fishers to facilitate and conduct monitoring and biological research on billfish, tuna, sharks, mackerel and other fish captured during major game fishing tournaments throughout WA, as well as during normal game fishing club activities.
In New South Wales game fishing tournaments have facilitated more than 40 research projects from more than 20 scientific organisations. These include a range of projects that assist in the management and sustainability of these species through studies of their biology, ageing, genetics, ecology, reproduction and movement.
Dr Pepperell is trialling a new non-invasive genetic sampling technique, which basically involves collecting fish DNA from their external body mucous.
The new technique has been adapted by using ‘FTA Cards’ normally used in human forensic work. FTA Cards are used to store DNA after fish slime has been obtained from the fish and wiped on the cards, ready to be mailed to the lab for genetic analyses.
Marlin and sailfish are ideal subjects for this type of research, as they have been shown to handle catch and release fishing well.
Recfishwest believes that Dr Pepperell’s coordinated biological monitoring and sampling program for tournament and club-based fishing in WA will ultimately provide important data for the purposes of better understanding various species, particularly the movement and population genetics of billfish species inhabiting the Indian Ocean about which very little is currently known.
The program is also archiving tissue samples from all fish weighed at the tournaments for potential future use by researchers both locally and globally.
To date, Dr Pepperell has attended three tournaments in WA resulting in 172 fish being sampled and 747 fish being tagged.
This project is another example that demonstrates a high level of commitment by recreational fishers towards assisting research to improve our knowledge of the state’s fish stocks.
One of the biggest fishing competitions in Australia, the Exmouth Game Fishing Club’s (EGFC) annual GAMEX tournament was held in Exmouth from March 13 to March 18.
A total of 226 competitors from all Australian states and as far away as Japan, South Africa and New Zealand fished from 52 boats during the six-day tournament.
Unfortunately, the billfishing was unusually tough by Exmouth’s lofty standards throughout the week, but few would complain after last year’s event had to be cancelled at the last moment due to a looming cyclone.
The final billfish stats for the tournament were down on average, with 426 billfish raised, 285 hooked and 119 tagged. The total tag and release catch comprised of 69 black marlin, 34 blue marlin, 15 sailfish and one striped marlin.
Notable captures included an estimated 330kg blue on 37kg for Jarrod Wiggers fishing aboard Crakawoody and an estimated 275kg blue also on 37kg for Brad Greere fishing aboard Time Out.
All billfish were tagged and released, with none weighed in this year. Exmouth’s hugely diverse fishing means GAMEX is much more than just a billfish tournament.
Queenfish, mackerel (Spanish, school and shark), tuna (yellowfin, mack, striped and longtail), golden and gold-spot trevally, barracuda, spangled emperor, cobia, dolphin fish, wahoo and more appeared at the weigh station throughout the tournament for the point score and sub-15kg line class sections. There were a couple of line class records broken during GAMEX.
As always, GAMEX was a major community event and there were big crowds at the EGFC each evening. Highlights of the social calendar for the week included the Novotel Ningaloo Long Table Lunch with special guest chef, former Olympian Eamon Sullivan, and the Rockin’ the Boat live music night.
iFish’s Paul Worsteling helped MC the presentation night, with EGFC stalwart and club president Jeni Gates.
Recfishwest staff were also at the event doing presentations, assisting with research and conducting fishing clinics with over 60 local children, who got amongst longtom, fingermark, queenies and bluebone in the marina.
As reported in our last Broadcast, world renowned scientist Dr Julian Pepperell conducted numerous DNA sampling on Billfish and large pelagic fish. Read more about what research was being conducted, click here.
There were 226 fishers in this year’s event demonstrating once again the important contribution the EGFC provides to the Exmouth community.
Check out the Exmouth Game Fishing Club for more on Gamex, click here.