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GONE TAGGIN' : Marine Institute Excursion Schools Potential Sportfishermen on Importance of Conservation

August 20, 1992|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Although there are some people who view "tagging" as a nuisance and an eyesore, the folks at the Orange County Marine Institute are so much in favor of it they'd like to see it become a family affair.

But instead of leaving their marks on freeway sound walls, the institute's taggers are making an impression on the county's coastal waters through the Environmental Fishing Program.

The program, open to children ages 6 and older and their parents, will have its next session on Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.

On a ship anchored half a mile from the institute's facility at Dana Point Harbor, participants are taught how to use fishing methods to capture pelagic, or deep water dwelling fish, then measure and tag them before gently returning them to their environment.

The measuring and tagging are done under the direction of two of the institute's staff biologists. The program is one of 42 hands-on classes, trips and workshops coordinated by the nonprofit institute each year.

According to institute Floating Lab director Julie Smith, the Environmental Fishing Program was designed as an educational outing that offers families the excitement and challenge of sportfishing while letting them take an active role in marine conservation.

"We're trying to show that sportfishing can be fun, but there's no need to take everything you catch," Smith said.

"People who come to this are not interested in taking home dinner. They're out to learn something with their child."

At the beginning of the trip, while motoring to their destination aboard the 55-foot Reel Fun, students are given an overview of pelagic fish species through an informal discussion and a mackerel dissection by staff members. For the rest of the evening, participants use the conventional fishing rods supplied to catch a variety of fish, including mackerel, rock wrass, barred sand bass and California halibut.

Only the halibut and sand bass will be measured and tagged, and the data will be turned over to the California Department of Fish and Game's Catch and Release project to help researchers learn about these species' growth rates and movement patterns. Although these two species are not in immediate danger of being overfished, the study does help guarantee against a future decline in the population, Smith said. As a remembrance of their trip, participants will also receive a written summary of their catches after the session.

To reduce stress and possible injury (to the fish, not the humans), participants use barbless hooks, or traditional hooks with the barbs bent inward, and they are instructed to handle the creatures gently. After each qualifying fish is measured and examined, a tiny tag is inserted into its dorsal fin before the fish is released back into the water. To help novice fisher folk identify their catches, one of each type of fish caught on the trip is kept in an on-board aquarium, to be released at the end of the session.

By taking part with their children in the Environmental Fishing Program, parents are "teaching responsibility for the environment," Smith said.

He noted that the trip is best suited for children ages 10 and older, as they would be more likely to have the patience for deep-water fishing.

"Instead of just taking things from the environment, these kids are learning to be a little more curious and aware of the animals that live in our ocean . . . where they live (and) how they live," she said. "And they can learn things that they can actually do to help take care of the environment off our coast."

What: Environmental Fishing Program.

When: Saturday, Aug. 22, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Where: Orange County Marine Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (5) Freeway, exit at Camino Las Ramblas/Highway 1 and drive west. Turn left on Dana Point Harbor Drive.

Wherewithal: $11 for children ages 6 to 12; $22 for adults.

Where to call: (714) 496-2274.

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