(c) Cory Fults

HAWAI'I COMMUNITY TAGGING PROGRAM

The Hawai’i Community Tagging Program was born in 2015 when Dr. Melanie Hutchinson and students from the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology Shark Research Lab started ika-shibi fishing with Geoff Walker in search of bigeye thresher sharks. During these long, over-night trips with Geoff and his friends off the West Coast of Hawai’i island there was a lot of ‘down-time’ to talk-story, discuss the industry, fisher perspectives, attitudes towards sharks, handling practices, and to exchange knowledge about the biology of the species encountered.


All the while only two bigeye threshers were tagged, but other pelagic sharks including oceanic whitetip, blue, mako, and silky sharks were frequently encountered. The exchange of information between the scientists and the fishers during these trips was transformational for both parties, changing the way that some fishers handled sharks as scientists garnered valuable local ecological knowledge, information about interaction rates, and a keen understanding of the need for a stronger relationship between the fishing community, scientists, and managers. 


Coincidentally, oceanic whitetip sharks were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) because populations decreased to a point where they could not replenish themselves under current fishing mortality rates. The species was deemed to be overfished throughout their range. 


This determination was made partly due to major gaps in basic biological and ecological information about the species, and almost nothing was known about the population found around Hawaii. Are they residents or merely passing through? Is this a mating or possibly a nursery area? This presented an excellent opportunity for scientists to enlist the assistance of the fishing community that interacts with them regularly to help gather empirical data about interactions, put out electronic tags to gather details on habitat use, and start thinking about strategies to reduce depredation rates and mortality. With this collaborative effort, members of the fishing community have become citizen scientists working together to identify ways to reduce mortality to the population and to get in front of any potential management actions that may result from the listing of the species under the ESA. 


Initially, the tagging-trained fishers, or ‘Shark Taggers’ were tagging only oceanic whitetip (and more recently silky) sharks with acoustic and satellite tags. However, since learning that shark presence and depredation has become a major issue for fishers with significant economic and ecological impacts, we have expanded the program scope to include a broad ‘interaction’ data gathering effort using identification tags. 


If you are interested in participating in the program, please request a tagging packet (under the ‘Get Involved’ tab on our website) or send us an email at pacificsharktagger@gmail.com including your contact details and mailing address. 


The Shark Tagger program was created to facilitate outreach and education to resource users and to bridge the gaps between scientists, fishers, and managers. Together we can effectively conserve our marine resources.