Blacktip Island Scientists Plan Cowboy-Style Grouper Roundup

Fishing nets drying on the quay in Lysekil, South harbor, Sweden.

Blacktip Island ichthyologists this week are building a giant corral out of fish nets to hold all the small Caribbean island’s Nassau grouper, which they plan to round up next week for tracking and study. (photo courtesy of W. Carter)

A group of Blacktip Island marine scientists Thursday announced they will stage a Wild West-themed Nassau grouper roundup next week so they can implant location transponders in as many of the fish as possible to track their movements and behaviors.

“We’ve been randomly tagging Nassaus for years, but it doesn’t give us an accurate picture of their habits,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine science professor Goby Graysby said. “Rather than continuing all higgledy-piggledy, our plan is to round up every grouper on the island in one big pen so we can stick ‘em all.

“It’s a big project, and we’ll need every volunteer diver we can get,” Graysby said. “To encourage participation, we decided to model it after an Old West cattle drive. Without the horses and lassos, of course. But we will have divers, some on underwater scooters, herding the groupers into a big net enclosure just out from the public pier. Then we can tag them all at one time.”

Organizers expect the roundup to be a multi-day affair.

“Blacktip’s a small enough island, it’s likely we can get almost all the Nassaus,” Ginger Bass said. “Thing is, it’s also big enough it’ll likely take us several days to get all the fish corraled and tagged. Weeks, even, depending on the number of herders we get.

“We’ll have our aqua-buckaroos working ‘round the clock, and sleeping on boats,” Bass said. “There’ll be a chuckwagon-style pontoon boat bringing meals to herders so they don’t waste time going home and cooking dinner. If this works out like we think it will, this could be the new standard for fish tagging worldwide.”

Island environmentalists, however, opposed the plan.

“Why do they need every Nassau to have a transponder?” ecologist Harry Pickett said. “They can’t study the grouper without terrorizing them? In a marine park. And what about the other reef creatures they’ll traumatize? And the coral they’ll damage?

“This central net-corral they’ve installed is anchored in living reef and will cause irreparable damage,” Pickett said. “And once they release the grouper, what guarantee is there the fish will go back to the section of reef they came from? They might just stay there, and there’d be no groupers anywhere else on the island.”

Organizers remained optimistic.

“We’ll have contests as we go along, to keep volunteer fis-pokes engaged,” Graysby said. “We’ll have time trials, where individual divers compete to see who can round up and tag a grouper the fastest. Like an underwater rodeo. This could become the Tiperons’ national sport. Maybe even get in the Olympics when we host them.

“We also encourage all participants to dress in Western-themed scuba gear,” Graysby said. “We’ve seen some nice neoprene cowboy hats and vests already. And rumor has it several folks’ll be turning up in leather chaps.”

Participants will receive free meals during the roundup, and ‘Grouper Wrangler’ t-shirts afterwards.

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