Pelagic Fisheries Conservation Program (PFCP)

The main focus of the Foundation’s research grant program is elucidating the biology and life history of billfishes in the Gulf of Mexico with special emphasis on the blue marlin. The long term goal of the program is to encourage research that will allow for successful management and the development of sustainable populations of pelagic fishes in the Gulf of Mexico. To that end, MCF has both contributed to and participated in the activities undertaken by Dr. Jay Rooker’s Pelagic Fisheries Conservation Program (PFCP) at TAMUG. Since its inception in 2003, the research grant program has supported two main programs: adult blue marlin satellite tagging and larval billfish neuston-net survey.

In order to understand the behavior of adult blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico, tagging of adult blue marlin with pop-up satellite archival tags (PSATs) began in 2003. Since then, sixty-six blue marlin have been fitted with these tags in the Gulf. Data from these tags have been used to address several questions about these highly migratory, over-exploited and economically valuable apex predators. Fore more information about the results of these studies, visit Dr. Rooker’s Pelagic Fisheries Ecology homepage.

As partners with NOAA in 2005 and 2006 and as full sponsors from 2007-2013, MCF has strongly supported investigations into the distribution and ecology of larval billfishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Larval catches and adult tag tracks are used together to backtrack to potential spawning sites and to describe the essential fish habitat of these important pelagic predators. While the focus of these surveys has been billfishes, billfishes themselves account for a small percentage of the total catch from the larval cruises. This collection as a whole should be a great resource for studies of larval ecology in the future.

When MCF began funding billfish research at TAMUG in 2003, the Gulf of Mexico was not believed to be an important spawning site for billfish populations in the Atlantic basin. Furthermore, blue marlin were thought to leave the Gulf every winter. As a direct result of the research conducted in Dr. Rooker’s lab with the support of MCF, a paradigm shift has occurred in just the last few years in terms of understanding the ecology and behavior of billfishes in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico is now recognized as important billfish spawning and nursery habitat. Also, tagging data suggests that a subpopulation of blue marlin may remain in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the year. Current and future projects seek to further refine the habitat preferences, reproductive biology, and migratory behavior of billfishes in the Gulf of Mexico.

This 500+ pound blue marlin has just been fitted with a PSAT. You can see the Billfish Foundation streamer tag located just behind the hard-to-see PSAT.

Larval net being pulled behind a shrimp boat during a larval billfish cruise.

Juvenile billfishes, like this sailfish, can sometimes be dip-netted at night.