Welcome to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries tagging program. Division researchers are studying the migration, growth, habitat use and population status of striped bass, red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder, and cobia in North Carolina. Other recent division tagging studies include dolphin, yellow perch and white perch.
Fish tagging programs are a vital part of a fishery manager's tools for assessing fish populations. Conducted properly, tagging can yield a wealth of information about movement patterns, habitat utilization, population structure and mortality rates of fish.
All fishermen who encounter tagged fish should return the tag data. It is only through returned tag and species information that the division collects the data necessary for this tagging program to succeed.
When you encounter a tagged fish, please cut off the tag(s), then write down the tag number, catch date, location and total length of the fish. Save the tag and other information, and call the division at 800-682-2632 or report the tag online. Those who return red tags to the division with the catch information will receive a $100 reward. Those returning yellow tags will receive a hat, $5 or other reward. All tag returns are also entered into a division end-of-year drawing.
This study began on July 1, 2014. This project is funded through the Coastal Recreational Fishing License program.
For more information about the Tagging Program and tag returns, see the Frequently Asked Questions or contact Ami Staples at 252-948-3913 or Ami.Staples@ncdenr.gov.
Reporting the tagged fish you catch is one of the easiest and best ways to get involved in N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries' tagging programs. The success of this program depends on reports of tags and capture information. Also, when you report a tag, the division will send you a reward, a letter and a certificate that includes information about when and where your fish was tagged, days since tagging, distance traveled and how much the fish grew.
The division is tagging striped bass, red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder and cobia throughout the estuarine and ocean waters of North Carolina. Tags are only placed in healthy fish.
For striped bass, spotted seatrout, and smaller red drum, the division uses internal anchor tags, placed in the belly of the fish just behind the pelvic fin. The division uses cinch-up and spaghetti tags for southern flounder, placed through the the narrow part of the fish body in front of the tail fin. Dart tags are used for cobia and larger red drum, placed to the left of the dorsal fin. These tag types and locations allow for maximum retention and aim to remain unobtrusive over time. Two tag colors are used in this study: yellow and red. All tags are printed with a unique tag number, telephone number and a request to "cut off tag."
The division currently conducts stock assessments on many fish stocks, including striped bass, red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder and cobia. Collectively, these five species have an annual economic impact of greater than $100 million and are among the most recreationally and commercially important fisheries in North Carolina. The implementation of best management practices, contingent on timely, accurate and precise assessments of stock status, is a high priority for the division.
Currently spotted seatrout, red drum and striped bass are managed under the jurisdiction of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Interstate Fishery Management Plans. In North Carolina waters, management of all four species has been deferred to state fishery management plans, either under the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (spotted seatrout, red drum, southern flounder) or jointly under the division and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (striped bass). The current state fishery management plans for each species include research recommendations to estimate migration and mortality rates through tagging studies. Cobia are managed by the federal Atlantic States Marine Fishery Management Council, and the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review includes research recommendations to develop tagging studies for inshore and offshore South Atlantic cobia populations.
Statistical computer models, used for stock assessments, merge information about tag-returns and catch-at-age data (information on the age of a fish derived from the length of a fish) to more accurately estimate mortality and abundance or biomass, the two parameters required to assess stock status. Combining tag-return data with the type of catch-at-age data currently collected by the division is a powerful, cutting edge approach to improving estimates of mortality and population size compared to traditional age-structured computer models alone. Greater accuracy in estimates of stock status results in more informed and responsive management of fisheries.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ tags display the Tagging Program’s phone number, along with the tag number. You can report a tagged fish whether you keep it or release it alive. Remember, each reported tag receives a reward.
Be alert: Tags are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, so they don't change the fish's behavior. That means that you might not see one if you're not looking for it. Also, between 10 percent - 25 percent of the division’s yellow-tagged fish are double tagged. Please check both sides of the fish for tags.
Example: Striped Bass
Example: G12345. The tag is an alpha alpha-numeric code.
- Cut the tag(s) off (don't pull them out), and record the tag information (just in case you misplace the tag before reporting). Please cut off tag(s) even if fish is released to ensure accurate reporting of tag number. If the tag is red, it must be cut off and returned to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557 to receive the $100 reward. Please cut the tag off the fish as close to the body as possible. If you plan to release the fish, do not try to remove the tag by pulling it out of the fish.
- If the tag has algae growth, do not scrape the algae off. Let the tag soak in warm water and soap until the algae comes off. If unsure, please call us at 800-682-2632 for additional instructions, and mail tag to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, P.O. Box 769, Morehead City, N.C. 28557.
Location of capture (including water body and nearest landmark and Latitude/Longitude, if possible)
Example: The mouth of Goose Creek, near the no dumping sign. OR 35.339992, -76.618901
Length and type of measurement (total or fork length / measured or estimated)/ inches or millimeters)
Example: 12.5 inches
- A careful measurement is very useful to scientists. When you measure your fish, try to use one of the standard methods described below (fork length or total length). Don't pull a tape measure over the fish; instead lay the fish down on top of a ruler or tape measure. All total length measurements should start at the tip of the snout and end at the tip of the tail. (See diagram).
- You can measure the fish even if you're planning to release it alive. Just handle it gently, with wet hands or wet gloves, and get it back in the water as quickly as possible.
Fate of the fish (kept it, released it alive, etc.)
Gear used for capture
Example: Hook and line
If a yellow tag and species information is reported, individuals can choose either a hat, $5 or other rewards (subject to availability). A letter and personalized certificate will also be mailed stating where and when the tagged fish was released, days at large, distance traveled, length information and more. In addition, all tags reported will be entered in the division’s end-of-year drawing.
If a red tag is returned with the supplemental information, individuals are eligible for a $100 reward. The tag must be cut and returned to the division address below to receive the reward. In addition to the $100, a letter and personalized certificate will be mailed stating where and when the fish was tagged and released, days at large, distance traveled, length information and more.
Principal Investigator - Mike Loeffler
Principal Investigator - Lucas Pensinger
Principal Investigator - Nathaniel Hancock
Principal Investigator - Anne Markwith
Principal Investigater - Cara Kowalchyk
Spotted seatrout are captured using hook-and-line and electrofishing gear. Red drum are captured using gill nets, electrofishing and longlines. Southern flounder are captured by hook-and-line, gillnets, electrofishing and pound nets. Striped bass are captured by electrofishing and hook-and-line Cobia are captured using hook-and-line. To minimize post-release mortality, only healthy fish, captured with no bleeding, are tagged,.
Depending on the species, fish are tagged with either internal anchor tags (Floy FM-95W, FM-84), nylon dart tags (Floy FIM-96), steel dart tags (Hallprint FH-69), or spaghetti tags (Floy FT-4 Spaghetti). Internal anchor tags are inserted into a small incision made by a scalpel approximately 20 millimeters (about ¾ of an inch) behind the pectoral fin, dart tags are inserted near the dorsal fin, and spaghetti tags are inserted through the fish body, just forward of the tail fin. All attempts are made to tagfish throughout the state’s coastal areas. This gives individuals throughout the state an equal chance of catching tagged fish.
We'd love to see you with your tagged fish! To submit photos, email them to email@example.com.
All photos submitted to the division are public record and, thus, may be disclosed to third parties without your approval.
Please return tag and catch information to the correct program or tag owner. Written on the tag is the contact information for the correct program or tag owner. We only guarantee that N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries red tags receive a $100 reward. Other programs may also use red tags which associate with different or no reward.
For more information about other tagging programs or to report a tagged fish from another program, visit the links below.
Virginia - Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)
Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program
Virginia Online Tag Reporting Form
South Carolina - South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR)
South Carolina Game Fish Tagging Program
South Carolina Online Tag Reporting Form
Georgia - Georgia Coastal Resources Division (GACRD)
Georgia Cooperative Angler Tagging Project
Georgia Online Tag Reporting Form
Florida – Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC)
Florida Angler Tag Return Program