HomeLearn about tagging programWhat to do if you catch a tagged fishHow to get involvedIdentify a tagGet your program certified


Chances are good that there is already a program in existence which can fit your needs. These organizations have generally considered the factors discussed below and have developed extensive programs to address them. Some state agencies have organized programs that encourage angler participation to obtain the specific information which the state needs for managing fisheries. For information, contact your state fishery management agency to see if there are opportunities to participate in tagging or other management activities.

Joining in with an existing program has many advantages, including the fact that they generally have an established system that is recognized by anglers and fishery managers alike. Additionally, the expense of purchasing tags, developing training materials, implementing reward systems, and managing the volumes of data that are returned are already covered by the organization. Therefore, it may be as simple as you (or your group) contacting an existing program to see how you can join in. In most cases, a small fee may be charged to cover the costs of tags and equipment - but this is usually much cheaper than starting and running your own program!

If you're still interested in starting a new program, here are some things to consider.

Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to the project - with financing?

The real fruits of a tagging project may often take years to materialize. This is particularly true in coastal areas where fish may migrate long distances. Many fish must be tagged just so that the chances of recovering even a single tag are improved. Tagging cannot be a short-term endeavor. Years after tagging has stopped, anglers will be recapturing fish and expecting rewards or, at the very least, information about their tagged fish. If groups are not around to fulfill these requests, anglers may lose interest in returning tags from any program, thereby undermining the effectiveness of other important management tagging programs.

Beyond simply the cost of purchasing tags, a properly conducted tagging program will incur substantial costs in developing a system to track what tags are dispersed (and to whom) and what tags have been recovered, as well as all of the information associated with each tag recapture. Additionally, communicating with both taggers and anglers who turn in tag recovery information can be extremely time consuming. Providing some training or guidance for inexperienced taggers so that mortality of fish is not increased is also vital to any program, and is another factor to be considered before starting a program. All of this - training materials, communication, personnel, printing costs, telephone bills, mailing costs, and other costs - can be a financial drain to organizations.

What state and federal regulations will I have to consider before getting started?

Before starting a fish tagging program, the first call that anyone should make is to the state fishery management agency. There are a number of states which have regulations pertaining to the tagging or marking of fish in public waters. Additionally, there are a number of state and federal tagging efforts currently in place that you need to be aware of before embarking on any program. Knowledge of these programs will help to avoid confusion caused by over lapping tag colors and numbers, duplication of efforts and other problems that may occur. Chances are that an agency is already collecting the type of information you may want and by working with them, you can compliment their efforts.

What will I use the data for?

Every tagging project has a purpose, whether that be collecting simple information on where the fish move or collecting more complex information such as mortality rates. You must carefully consider and outline the purposes of tagging. Most commonly, anglers are interested in both seeing where the fish move and contributing to scientific/management efforts. The best way to help science and management is to work with agencies. Most successful, long-term tagging programs have established data sharing relationships with state or federal agencies. Data that is collected through these programs fits into the scientific and management objectives of agencies and becomes more than simply "seeing where the fish go."

Training and Guidance for Volunteer Taggers is Essential

Tagging so that the best information is developed involves more than catching fish and placing a tag into it. Fish have vital organs that, if punctured, can cause mortality. Additionally, too much handling may rub the protective slime layer from the fish, making it more susceptible to infection and diseases. The last thing that volunteer taggers want to do is to increase the mortality of fish they are releasing. So it is important that some guidance be provided to taggers. Ideally, this would take the form of hands-on, personal instruction from experienced taggers or professional biologists. At the very least, strong guidance materials need to be provided. The more consistent that each tagger is in applying the tag, the better the data will be. Groups should work in conjunction with state and federal agencies to develop appropriate techniques and protocols.

The ASMFC offers a voluntary tagging program certification process, which evaluates a program's design and methodology and offers feedback from tagging experts. Even if you're not interested in having your program certified, we recommend downloading the Certification Application and Evaluation Criteria (pdf) for more information on what a well-desgned program should include.


For questions about fish tagging in freshwater, contact your state agency.
For additional information about tagging in marine waters contact Jeff Kipp at jkipp@asmfc.org

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission