Cheeky: Can you tell us a little bit about false albacore and why they are such a special fish?
Aside from those whose only fishing goal is the finest sea-to-table cuisine they can procure, false albacore check just about every box an angler could want from a dream fish. Depending on which dock you’re sitting at, you may hear them referred to as “albies”, “little tunny” or “bonita”. Their fusiform bodies are hydrodynamic, allowing them to swim at warp-speed. They’re incredibly strong. Few fish can match their instantaneous acceleration when hooked. Albies are pack feeders that instigate surface foams and firing squads that mow down bait in unison. It can be so visually compelling that many anglers forget to cast while watching in amazement. At the same time, they can be incredibly picky in certain conditions and challenge anglers to keep up and deliver delicate presentations that match their feeding habits while maintaining the strength to endure the battle. If you’re lucky enough to get one to hand, you are rewarded by experiencing their beautiful worm pattern of blended blues, teals, and greens first-hand. It’s hard to turn down that sales pitch as an angler.
If you’re a fish nerd like me and enjoy taking your angling passion deeper than just your experiences on the water, the fact that we have so little definitive, scientific research about false albacore is insanely intriguing as well. Why are they present where we fish for them? What makes them leave? Where do they go? Are they the same fish that we see caught in greater size further down the coast (like the Carolinas and Florida)? Why are northern fish largely green while their larger counterparts down south tout rich shades of blue? What about the fish we see across the pond landed in the Mediterranean Sea that are pushing 40-pounds?
Albies provide so much angling challenge and opportunity, enough to drive over 500,000 targeted trips along the east coast each year, while maintaining an intriguing persona of mystery and anonymity.
Cheeky: What is the Albie Project and what do we hope the scientific data from the project might help us understand?
The Albie Project exists to learn more about an underappreciated species and accumulate a strong base of scientific data and understanding that can drive future management conversations. ASGA has termed the project as “the intersection of passionate anglers, cutting-edge science and precautionary fisheries management”. Albies are a data-poor species. Data drives decision making for our fisheries. State agencies are already stretched thin on bandwidth and budgeting for research. ASGA recognized that our membership loves these fish and values them for their businesses and recreation, so we stepped onto the frontlines of Albie research with much-appreciated support from our community partners, our members and sponsor brands - like Cheeky. This campaign manifested into three distinct efforts: telemetry & tagging studies, genetics studies and a community campaign to educate and spark discussion with management bodies.
Cheeky: Can you tell us the difference between the tags, like what is a spaghetti tag versus an acoustic tag?
Our tagged albies are currently swimming around the Atlantic with one of two styles of tags. The first and most rudimentary are spaghetti tags. These are the traditional mark & recapture tags. No fancy technology included. If the fish is caught again in the future, the hope is that the second angler will call in the tag and we can garner some baseline data. There are still data gaps with this style of tagging, such as: where the heck did that thing go between its first human interaction and the second catch? And what did it do during that time span? Still, being able to confirm two data points between which these fish swim still provides much-needed insight for such a data poor fish. These are the tags that we deployed with the Cheeky crew when testing the new Spray reel before ICAST.
The second style of tags are acoustic tags. These were surgically implanted in 63 fish off the coast of Massachusetts in fall of 2022 and provide a more in-depth look into these albies lifecycles. The east coast is covered in an array of receivers that pick up these tags whenever the fish swim by. Using the pings from these receivers, we are able to map a more comprehensive view of where these fish go and how long they stay there. ASGA executed this portion of the tagging research in collaboration with scientists at the New England aquarium.
Cheeky: I know it is still early, but tell us about the tag recaptures and the acoustic pinging and why that is significant.
Last winter we received confirmation that 57 of the 63 (90%!) acoustic-tagged fish pinged across multiple receivers in the Nantucket Sound array close to where they were tagged. That data contained thousands of pings, which was already exciting enough, as we began to get insight into their behavior around New England during their peak fishing season. Earlier this month, we received word thatmultiple spaghetti-tagged albies that were tagged and released off Cape Cod, MA in Fall 2022 were recently recaptured off the coast of Jupiter, FL!Those tagged fish were recorded and released to swim another day. The ASGA team was ecstatic. We had only deployed around 200 total spaghetti tags to date, so having multiple recaptures from separate fish across the country was outstanding.I don’t think you could make the smiles on ASGA team member faces any bigger… until we just recently notified word that data downloads from arrays in the southeast have tracked these fish as far south as Key West, FL! ASGA firmly believes the story of the false albacore is still unwritten. We have merely scripted the first pages of the story and already a compelling plot is developing.We are building a story of a connected, dynamic coastline - and we couldn’t be happier to do it together with our community.
Cheeky: What can we expect ASGA to do once significant data is collected through the Albie project?
A more comprehensive understanding of false albacore movements and genetics research that further adds to the case of a connected singular stock has serious implications for the future of this fisheries management. When it comes to management discussions, we will have to begin looking at “New England’s fish” as “Florida’s fish”, as well as every state in between. We can’t afford to lose another fish. Especially in New England, where the other two members of the “big three” - stripers and bluefish - aren’t doing great either. Greater understanding and a little precautionary management will help ensure we have these fish available for the growing cult following of anglers who love targeting them (and the captains and anglers who do but don’t like to admit it!)
ASGA is going to continue our campaign to find the appropriate managing body to begin baseline management for this fishery. One of the common misconceptions around this campaign is that it is somehow a call for extreme restrictions or commercial moratoriums. That’s just not true. Right now, there aren’t many indications to say we need major changes - but that doesn’t mean we can't recognize the value of the species and begin to grow our baseline understanding of the fishery in case critical issues do develop in the future. There are boundless commercial fisheries for albies in the southeast. I’m not using “boundless” as an inflammatory term. There are literally zero regulations. On any given day, the waters around my backyard of Stuart, FL have 5-10 boats filling their boats with thousands of pounds of false albacore. We don’t need to shut down the “bonita bait” fishery - but we should probably have a good understanding of its scale and impact. These fish are too valuable in the water for fishing guides and ecotourism to just write them off.
Cheeky: As anglers, what can we do to support the Albie project?
There are a lot of ways to support The Albie Project. The first is rather obvious and that’s helping ASGA fundraise. These research campaigns are extremely expensive. Not a single penny of sponsor funds or donations through our first year of The Albie Project sat in our bank account. They were all passed through to the scientific institutions helping us execute the research and compensated the guides who took pay cuts and time out of their short fall season schedules to participate. Our treasurer isn’t very happy about that fact - but we’re invested in this campaign and we’re going to keep scrapping. That being said, ASGA tries to come up with creative campaigns that allow everyone to support at different levels. We try our best to provide unique and valuable products and experiences. Maybe you’ve got the opportunity to score a giant Cody Richardson collaboration license plate albie art for your tackle room or office. If you donate to cover the cost of an albie tag, you will be considered a member of the “Albie Tag Team” and receive a custom SIMMS performance shirt not available anywhere else - or maybe a custom albie hat is a better fit for your budget.
The best part about The Albie Project is you don’t have to donate a penny to be a valuable, engaged member of the community. All we need from you is your participation in the conversation. Follow ASGA on social media. Look for future call-to-actions that allow you to make your voice heard. Ask questions and let us know when you see notable things on the water. ASGA is a community-driven organization and we work tirelessly for those who believe in us. We want to provide the resources you need to learn more about your fisheries, elevate your angling experience and ensure your voice is heard by fisheries managers when it matters most. We’re only a quick email or message on all social platforms away - and we love to see videos of screaming drags and stakeholders of all ages enjoying the fisheries we’re fighting to protect.
Check out our previous Blitz Blog, "Little Tunny Trouble" for more information on #TheAlbieProject and what Cheeky Fishing has been doing to support this.