August is almost here and the howling South East Monsoon winds are upon us. It is nearly time for the popular one day Sailfish tournament which will be hosted by the Seychelles Sports Fishing Club on Saturday 5th September. During this tournament, numerous anglers take to the seas with rod and lure in search of the elusive sailfish, the fastest of all fish and probably the most valued game-fish species after the blue and black marlins - the “Holy Grails” of sport fishing.
But no one has ever forgotten the sight of his or her first sailfish, with its long sharp bill, its magnificent blue and silver body with white underbelly, and the fan of its giant dorsal fin which stretches nearly the entire length of its body. It is these characteristics that make them a spectacular catch and a favorite among trophy fishers. To catch the fastest fish in the ocean, one that also puts up a spirited fight, making incredible jumps and moving in the water at amazingly fast speeds, is every anglers dream.
Sailfish prefer warm water (77-82° F) and can be found throughout tropical and temperate regions of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Unlike other billfish, sailfish often venture near-shore and many have been caught locally right next to l’Ilot Island off Glacis, between Conception Island and Mahé and even in the Cap Ternay bay. Sailfish are highly migratory and will travel an average of 200,000 miles in their 16-year lifetime. While they are common in all three major oceans, there are only 2 named species; the Atlantic sailfish ((Istiophorus albicans) and their generally larger cousin the Pacific sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus), also referred to as the Indo-Pacific sailfish. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record for Pacific sailfish of 221 pounds was set in 1947 and the record for Atlantic sailfish of 128 pounds was set in 1974.
In Seychelles, while there are no special protection status for the sailfish, many anglers and charter boat owners practice the "catch and release" method whilst game fishing. This means that while a lucky angler might find himself with a Sailfish or Marlin at the end of the line, he removes the hook after the fight, revives the fish by dragging it slowly through the water which allows oxygen to flow through the gills, and then releases the fish back into the ocean. This conservation approach is practiced by most sensible anglers in the world and helps protect the billfish population for the future generation. Sadly however, hundreds of thousands of these magnificent creatures are caught annually by commercial long-liners and tuna boats.
But the tournament is not here yet and unless you venture into the ocean, you will not catch sight of a Sailfish. That is why
Jovani Simeon, Couisin's Senior Warden holding the young fish
Cousin Wardens and Conservation Officer Eric Blais were quite intrigued when a young sailfish washed up dead on the shores of Cousin Island Special Reserve on the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd July.
“We found it near one of the wardens’ houses. It was about 250cm in length and weighed approximately 25-35 Kgs", said Eric Blais. "It's difficult to tell what happened to it exactly, but I doubt that a local fishermen who fishes for food would willingly loose such a big catch. Our guess, although we have no evidence, is that it was lost during sport fishing. Either that or it died of natural causes.”
The questions persisted at Nature Seychelles office at Roche Caiman. A fishers catch, hurt during sport fishing or died of natural causes? Regardless, the probability of one washing up on Cousin would be rare. We therefore concluded that most likely the Sailfish was caught and released, probably with an injury that caused its death. But to get another opinion, we contacted the Seychelles Sports Fishing Club and member Marc Houareau had this to say: “It is definitely sailfish season and there are a lot of them in our waters at the moment. It is possible that the fish was caught and died after a long fight, but most of our SSFC members who practice “catch and release” would not have released a dead fish or a fish that was bleeding as it is easy to see whether the hook was in its bill or had damaged the gills. But the other possibility is that it was hit by a boat as during spawning season, many sailfish just lie on the surface of the ocean.”
So there you have the mystery of the Cousin Island sailfish. While we cannot conclude on the real cause of death, we hope that these magnificent fish will continue to thrive in our Seychelles waters for many generations to come, and we wish all the anglers the best of luck in catching and releasing as many sailfish as possible in the upcoming tournament.