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Captain Dave Marciano from the National Geographics reality television show “Wicked Tuna” has spent the last few weeks on the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii. Though the Northeast-based star was on vacation with his family at the time, he was eager to re-spark an initiative that brought together local commercial fishermen and marine biologists, and it had stopped due to the pandemic and lack of funding over the past years.

The Ahi Satellite Tagging Project is an initiative that roughly began around 2014, where participating fishermen attach $4000 pop-up satellite archival tags (PSAT tags) to live ahi, also known as Pacific yellowfin tuna. The fish is released quickly after it is tagged and then able to be tracked through its journey through the Pacific Ocean. 14 PSAT tags were placed on yellowfin ranging from 100 to 180 pounds.

Many experienced Hawaii longline and Kauai-based captains assisted in the tagging efforts. The project was funded through a NOAA Cooperative Research grant that allowed placing more PSAT tags in adult ahi. The work of these fishermen resulted in a research paper back in 2020, revealing the substantial distances that these fish travel.

The paper’s coauthor, Dr. Molly Lutcavage, a tuna researcher who splits her time between Lawa’i, HI, and Gloucester, MA, shares, “No one knew what the ahi did because there was no research on the movements of adult ahi from the main Hawaiian Islands on such a scale. Despite being so ubiquitous in the Hawaiian culture and economy, there’s still much to learn about them.”

Captain Marciano of F/V Hard Merchandise has been on almost every season of the show, has spent 40 years on water fishing, and connected with Dr. Lutcavage a few years back.

Marciano told Kaua’INOW“I got a high school diploma, but I’ve been going to sea for 300 days a year or better for over four decades. I don’t have a doctorate. I don’t have the technical knowledge a scientist needs to help manage the resource, but I have 40 years of experience observing the ecosystem. Fishermen like myself and many others out there have something to add to the discussion.”

Capt. Marciano was a guest speaker at a virtual event in 2022 presented by Ahi Hub Kaua’i and an additional project run by Lutcavage. Ahi Hub is a project that aims to provide new ideas for Kauai ahi fishermen to diversify their fishery, including business opportunities such as tinned fish, organic fertilizers, direct-to-consumer sales, and more.

There has been little research on the movements of adult ahi despite the saturation of the species in the Hawaiian culture. Photo courtesy of Shane Gross on Shutterstock.

The tagging program and Ahi Hub have brought local commercial fishermen on the Hawaiian Islands together to learn more about Yellowfin, their movements, and population dynamics to ensure sustainability within the fishery.

Lutcavage and Marciano collaborated on the two projects but have since become friends. Fishermen, their families, and the Marciano family gathered this past weekend for a fishermen’s party to share stories. National Fishermen spoke with Marciano in June 2023, and he has always considered himself just a fisherman. He takes pride in that on and off the water, making him so relatable to the Wicked Tuna audience.

“Kaua’i fishermen tell me they view Dave as the most authentic cast member of ‘Wicked Tuna.’ They understand he has a commercial fishing career,” Lutcavage shared.

“They feel he’s honest and says what he thinks. They also feel he’s got all the right values, family values and a good work ethic. So, they respect him, and they really love him.” 

Lutcavage and her collaborators must now decide if the Ahi Satellite Tagging Project and DNA-sampling program will continue and possibly grow.

She shared with Kaua’INOW, “Over the past week, I’ve met up with a lot of fishermen who didn’t know a whole lot- if anything- about the tagging and DNA sampling, what we’ve learned so far and what we’re capable of potentially doing. I want to continue to get together with fishermen, regroup, and talk stories.”

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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