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Gulf Coast Billfish Classic Starts June 3
by Dr. Todd Kuhn

Mississippi's Gulf Coast will soon attract some of the world's top anglers and research scientists. The 15th annual Gulf Coast Billfish Classic is scheduled for June 3-9 at the Golden Nugget in Biloxi, Mississippi. Founded in 1997, the tournament is considered the premier billfishing event in the Gulf of Mexico.

Outstanding Payouts and Angling

Anglers are drawn annually by the promise of great fishing, as well as historically large payouts. In 2012, the total purse topped $1.1 million for best in class blue marlin, wahoo, tuna and dolphin. For 2013, swordfish have been added, providing a potpourri of angling opportunities. During the tournament's tenure, prize money has exceeded the $10 million mark with several new Ford vehicles awarded for anglers setting new state records.

Fisheries Research

While the billfish classic draws world-class anglers, it also has garnered the attention of top-tier marine biology researchers, led by Jim Franks, senior fisheries biologist at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

According to Franks, “The Classic has given us a very unique opportunity to collect biological samples over the years. We focus on tuna, billfish, wahoo and dolphin; evaluating their age class, reproductive patterns (spawning) and other environmental factors.” Tissue samples and otoliths (ear bones) are utilized to determine a fish's age, while fin clippings are evaluated for any number of parameters via DNA testing.

For 2013, a new three-year yellowfin tuna initiative will begin. According to Franks the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory will be collaborating with several marine groups, including researchers from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas A&M and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Registration

The Gulf Coast Billfish Classic is open to any vessel with an entry fee of $5,000 per boat for a captain, mate and four anglers. Additional anglers are welcomed, however, a fee of $500 per angler is required. Optional entry fees can be made for any of the five divisions (marlin, wahoo, dolphin, swordfish and tuna). Additional entry fees in these divisions range from $500 to $10,000. A "Crew Division" is also available at $500, which pays out at a 50/30/20 split for the heaviest fish weighed-in. For more information, contact Bobby Carter, Tournament Director at (228) 239-2575 or email him at bobby@mgcbc.com. More information can be found at mgcbc.com.