May 29-30, 2014, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
St. Petersburg, FL

A workshop to understand the informational needs and concerns of potential contributors to an Integrated Animal Telemetry Network in the Gulf of Mexico was held at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, FL 29-30 May 2014. This workshop was organized by a steering committee and sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) and the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). Participant names and affiliations are given in Appendix 1. The workshop agenda is given in Appendix 2.


Workshop host Sue Lowerre-Barbieri, FWC, introduced the iTAG steering committee (see Appendix 1), welcomed participants, thanked sponsors, vendors and steering committee members, and reviewed the workshop objectives, stating “We are here to put the ‘I’ for Integration in TAG.” The goals of the workshop were to learn about international, national and regional telemetry efforts, emerging technologies that will drive future efforts, and to discuss ways to increase the spatial scale of monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico, including the best methods for data exchange. Following an overview that emphasized that the Gulf of Mexico is the only U.S. body of water without a large-scale animal telemetry network, despite having a significant investment on the order of 700 receivers and more than 1,000 active tags, presentations on global and national telemetry efforts ensued.

Reports on Global and Regional Efforts

Following Lowerre-Barbieri’s overview, Fred Whoriskey, Executive Director of the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), discussed Canada’s efforts toward a global aquatic animal tracking network. The OTN partners with nearly 400 researchers in 19 countries, offering equipment loans at no charge. A requirement of the loan is that detection information from the receivers be placed in a database that will make these data available in the long term to the broader scientific community. Policy guiding the database provides protections to researchers to ensure that data are not accessible until after a reasonable time. Whoriskey stated that with more than 20,000 operational receivers in the ocean today, the company Vemco is responsible for 90% of telemetry equipment used around the world. If data-sharing protocols can be established among those operating receivers, then the scientific community could rapidly create a global acoustic telemetry network. “Blue Growth” global economic development was emphasized as a driving force to build the network. The identified benefits of building a network included distributed costs to promote affordability, leveraging opportunities, expanded acoustic receiver coverage resulting in higher data resolution and long-term baseline data against which to evaluate animal responses to environmental change. OTN is a system and pilot project of the UN intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s Global Ocean Observing System. The conditions of OTN’s funders limit OTN to providing loans of receiver equipment. They cannot pay for salaries, tags, or operating costs for research projects. Data and information about OTN can be found at

Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS Executive Director, provided an overview of U.S. IOOS and GCOOS-RA efforts to integrate a variety of national and Gulf of Mexico-specific data. Many issues of concern to the ITAG participants have been addressed by both the GCOOS-RA and SECOORA in their efforts to integrate oceanographic and meteorological data by diverse stakeholders. With a 10-year history, the GCOOS-RA is able to address the concerns of this community, particularly regarding data management, and welcomes continued dialog to determine what would best serve the Gulf community.

Reports on Emerging Technologies

Five speakers were invited to present on emerging animal telemetry technologies. Donna Kehoe, Lotek/Sonotronics, Ontario, Canada, spoke about multi-vendor compatibility for when current equipment infrastructure is incapable of addressing specific tracking questions. She shared data from the Coastal Alabama Acoustic Monitoring Program at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, AL, and a Navy application by Joseph Lafrate looking at fish movement related to anthropogenic sound.

Denise King, an engineer with Vemco, provided information about the VRT2X, a product that combines a transmitter and receiver in the same package. The product, which is also used as a synch tag, is anticipated to be released in February 2015. Also in development are receivers with built in releases to allow them to return to the surface and Vemco Mobile Tranceivers (VMTs) with satellite links to enable the use of marine animals as mobile platforms for metocean data.

Chad Lembke, University of South Florida Center for Ocean Technology and GCOOS Gulf Glider Task Team member, provided an overview of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) as a potential platform for acoustic telemetry. Arguments for entraining AUVs in the telemetry network included their robustness and operational status. At a cost of approximately $500-1000 per day, gliders offer different spatial resolution than what is possible from receivers on fixed platforms. In October 2014, Lembke and Lowerre-Barbieri will collaborate on a project to test the use of VMT receivers on a Slocum glider to track red drum movements. If successful, the project will open discussions as to the cost/benefit of gliders vs. other receiver platforms. Lembke proposed that one application of gliders in telemetry should be using them to get spatial information that can inform where to deploy fixed acoustic arrays. It was suggested that a static study be undertaken to determine if how a receiver is mounted on a glider affects the effectiveness of capture rate of tagged animals.

Dave Fries, Systems Architect, Integrative Creative Technologies Lab, USF College of Arts and College of Engineering, communicated that fisheries observations are complex and require complex architecture and technologies to study. Looking to the future, it may be that drones are a possibility to offload data acquired from sensors on animals. Beyond RF communication above the water and acoustics below, how will it be best to communicate? There remains a power limitation problem. Fries is working with Falmouth Scientific on a solar powered AUV (SAUV) where solar-generated power is used for the payload, propulsion and communications.

Reports on Telemetry Projects in the Gulf of Mexico

Six presentations highlighting ongoing telemetry research projects in the Gulf were given. Dani Morley, FWC, reported on acoustic telemetry work in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas conducted over the past ten years on a range of reef fish species, spiny lobsters and lionfish. Wes Pratt, Mote Marine Lab based at Summerland Key, FL, shared results of long-term monitoring of nurse sharks. Since 1992, 110 nurse sharks have been tagged and traced. A number of these have been detected seaward of Tampa Bay, changing our understanding of nurse shark home ranges.

Ross Boucek, Florida International University, presented on the impact of river flow on common snook movements. Angela Collins, FWC, Ashley Ferguson, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and Lowerre-Barbieri wrapped up the session with talks focused on goliath grouper behavior after catch and release, spatial ecology of spotted sea trout in Lake Pontchartrain, and telemetry to assess population structure in red drum and red snapper in west Florida, respectively.

Developing the TAG Network

Long-time telemetry expert Dr. Dewayne Fox, Delaware State University, discussed via teleconference lessons learned from the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry (ACT) Network. Started in 2006 with 15 researches trying to resolve orphan code issues, the network currently has 81 researchers, not including associated support teams. What originated as one Xcel file shared on a periodic basis is now regularly updated online and includes active and archived transmitter information, researcher contact information and array locations. Fox shared obstacles to data sharing identified by graduate student Phillip Dionne: lack of awareness of what others are doing; reluctance to make an effort to track down the owners of data; sense of competition; resources and/or incentives to share data; centralized access to information; potential for reciprocal exchange; previous interactions with the researcher; and researcher’s reputation for sharing. To minimize the challenges for iTAG development, Fox suggested communication issues can be resolved with agreed-upon data standards, clearly defined rules of engagement regarding expectations of data use and sharing, cost sharing, and publication sharing.

Continuing the discussion on lessons learned from other animal telemetry networks, Joy Young, FWC, shared experiences gained as data manager of the Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry (FACT) network. Impetus for the group began in 2007 with six partners and 114 Vemco acoustic receivers tracking freshwater and marine fishes and turtles between Georgia and the Dry Tortugas. FACT partners agreed to share tag codes and receiver locations, deploy receivers in mutually beneficial locations, share ‘.vrl’ files, meet twice per year, and use the same (Vemco) manufacturer. There are currently more than 20 partners, representing academia, private business, NGOs and government. While there is a communal tag and receiver list on Dropbox, the site is not a warehouse. It is intended to enable people to share information. To avoid issues when people upload and edit their own information, data are currently funneled through Young to control. Work is underway to make the FACT tag and receiver list, which includes about 400 receivers and 1561 tags on 49 species, compatible with ACT. While not legally binding, there is a FACT Pact that contains written expectations, treatment of data and publishing rules.

Round-Robin Discussion

Following the talks on lessons learned from other telemetry networks, Lowerre-Barbieri solicited input from participants on their priority issues for development of a successful iTAG network. The range of answers included the following:

  • Aligning federal and state initiatives related to monitoring fish movements;
  • Ability to monitor aquatic animals over larger spatial scales;
  • Ability to integrate detection data with oceanographic data;
  • Arrays which can be used to track multiple species;
  • Integrative research for assessment and management purposes;
  • Mechanism to share resources—data, equipment, expertise;
  • Government/public support to help develop infrastructure and maintenance for large-scale monitoring;
  • Demonstrate how data from iTAG (e.g., natural mortality rates, migration rates) can fill gaps in assessment models;
  • iTAG as a network that can facilitate data sharing by integrating with other telemetry networks;
  • Ability to improve robustness of the system;
  • Sentinel arrays that are consistently deployed and can detect rapid changes or odd behaviors;
  • Use of data for outreach and education;
  • Establish a sense of community and collaboration to facilitate a regional approach to addressing bigger science questions;
  • Mechanisms for researchers to learn about new technologies and to provide feedback to vendors on needs;
  • Environmental conditions/technology improvements to refine sensors;
  • Economies of scale with equipment/leverage resources through different projects;
  • Universal data base to share detections of non-target species;
  • iTAG can ID gaps in spatial coverage in the Gulf of Mexico where infrastructure is needed;
  • Leverage funding and
  • Improve communication through annual meetings and forums.

Expectations of iTAG Network Members

Day two began by identifying deliverables for May 2015. These included a FTP site or other on-line means of exchanging non-target or orphan detections (e.g., tag numbers, code space, manufacturer and contact name) and posting a master list of receiver owners and locations. It was agreed that these would be good places to start and that data standards would come later. There was consensus that another meeting next year would be of interest to this community. The Steering Committee will continue working to coordinate efforts with the goal of creating a structured funding base for iTAG. There was agreement that there should be a phased approach to developing ITAG, starting with minimum requirements and building as the community solidifies.

Breakout Sessions

The remainder of time was dedicated to working in small breakout groups to address an iTAG data exchange structure. Discussions ranged from identifying elements for a code of conduct to engage in iTAG to logistics of operating the network. Key points are summarized in Appendix 3.

Closing Remarks

Following the breakout session, participants were informed about ‘next steps’ for the workshop and iTAG network development. Integration of information from the breakout groups and consensus building were done electronically following the meeting and shared with participants. The meeting was adjourned and the steering committee met to assess workshop deliverables and to identify future actions needed to develop a five year iTAG plan for the Gulf of Mexico.


Appendix 1: Workshop Participants

First Name Last Name Affiliation
Robert Ahrens Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences/UF
Bill Arnold NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
Luiz Barbieri Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Margie Barlas Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Joel Bickford Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Ross Boucek Florida International University
Sarah Burnsed Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Angela Collins Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Holly Edwards Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Nick Farmer NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
Ashley Ferguson LDWF Fisheries Division
David Fries University of South Florida Integrative Creative Technologies
Jacqueline Gregor Sonotronics
Marlin Gregor Sonotronics
Jacqueline Gregor Sonotronics
Cameron Guenther Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
John Hunt Florida Fish &ampl Wildlife Conservation Commission
Jared Jacobini USGS
Donna Kehoe Lotek Wireless
Denise King Vemco
Barbara Kirkpatrick * GCOOS Board of Directors/Mote Marine Lab
Andrea Kroetz University of South Alabama
Mike Larkin NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
Chad Lembke University of South Florida
Jim Locascio Mote Marine Lab
Sue Lowerre-Barbieri * Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Behzad Mahmoudi * Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Danielle Morley Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Hassan Moustahfid IOOS
Steve Murawski University of South Florida
Kristen Omori VIMs in collaboration with Mote Marine Lab
Will Patterson * University of South Alabama
Clay Porch * NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Gregg Poulakis Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Theo Pratt Mote Marine Laboratory
Wes Pratt Mote Marine Laboratory
Melissa Price USGS
Mike Randall USGS
Jennifer Rehage Florida International University
Jason Reuter NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
Jay Rooker * Texas A&M University
Thomas Selby USGS
Chris Simoniello GCOOS
Mitch Sisak Lotek
Philip Stevens Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Vembu Subramanian * RCOOS Manager, SECOORA
Ted Switzer Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Ron Taylor Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Fred Whoriskey Ocean Tracking Network
Joy Young Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, FACT

* Denotes iTAG Workshop Steering Committee member


Appendix 2: iTAG Workshop Agenda

29-30 May 2014

Coordinated with OTN & Vemco
Supported by GCOOS & SECOORA

May 29 Objectives: Learn about telemetry efforts at international, national, and regional scales & discuss data exchange and increased infrastructure in the GOM.

8:30-9:00 Welcome/Intro by S. Lowerre-Barbieri
Global efforts: using telemetry to improve understanding of aquatic animals
9:20-9:40 Fred Whorisky OTN Executive Director: establishing telemetry world-wide as a new biological observing system for the UNs Global Ocean Observing System
9:40-10:00 Ann Jochens: IOOS/GCOOS objectives and collaboration with the GOM telemetry community
10:00-10:20 Break
Emerging technology (20 min talks with 5 min questions)
10:20-10:45 Donna Kehoe presenting for Lotek/Sonotronics
10:45-11:10 Denice King presenting for Vemco
11:10-11:35 Chad Lembke: SLOCUM gliders as mobile acoustic telemetry platforms
11:35-12:00 David Fries: Additional AUVs and Sensors
12:00-1:00 Lunch (catering in the meeting room)
On-going telemetry research in the Gulf (10 min talks 2 min questions)
1:00-1:12 Dani Morelle: Telemetry in the Florida keys
1:12-1:24 Wes Pratt: Unexpected travelers: the wandering nurse sharks of the Dry Tortugas
1:24-1:36 Ross Boucek: Go without the flow: preliminary evidence that snook increase movement without decreasing freshwater flow in Everglades rivers
1:36-1:48 Angela Collins: A big fish tale: utilizing acoustic telemetry to identify Goliath Grouper behavior after catch and release
1:48-2:00 Ashley Ferguson: Passive acoustic monitoring of fishes in coastal Louisiana waters
2:00-2:12 Sue L. Barbieri: Red tag events: using telemetry to assess population structure in red drum and red snapper
Developing the TAG network: learning from others
2:20-2:40 Joy Young The FACT array
2:40-3:00 Dewayne Fox The ACT array
3:00-3:20 Break
Discussion/Breakout Groups
3:20-5:00 Issues to address:

  1. Data exchange structure: Options range from a central entity to oversee and archive all data to simply developing a master tag list which is kept in dropbox;
  2. Case study to demonstrate successful spatial ecology at a larger scale, identify: species, additional spatial coverage needed where and how (IOOS buoys, oil rigs, mobile receivers: gliders and other mobile platforms).
6:00-8:00 Social

May 30 Objectives: Share results from breakout groups on data exchange and needed infrastructure, build consensus

9:00-10:00 Presentations form the break out groups; consolidation of plans
10:00-11:00 Finalize data plan
  1. Steering committee meet to assess deliverables met and future actions needed;
  2. Unstructured time for networking with emerging technology presenters & network leaders.


Appendix 3: Summary of Identified iTAG Network Requirements


  1. Sense of community, trust, shared resources
  2. Science:
    1. Ability to track fish over an increased spatial scale
      1. Both in terms of highly migratory species, but also for less migratory species to be able to compare population behavior in different areas of the Gulf;
      2. Link with other telemetry networks
    2. Develop regional hypotheses that can be tested
    3. Data needed for assessments;
      1. Single species:
        1. natural mortality rates, migration rates, stock structure
      2. Ecosystem/integrative science:
        1. Trophic dynamics, spatial management/MPAs
  3. Infratructure:
    1. Increased numbers of receivers throughout the Gulf for nearshore habitat and receiver lines for macro science; multi-species arrays
    2. Integrate movement data with oceanography data;
    3. Portal that can be used as an effective means to share methods and data amongst array managers; include a forum
    4. Draw on the data management and portal capabilities of GCOOS and SECOORA
    5. Annual meetings
      1. Themes and education opportunities, such as: surgery, equipment deployment and maintenance, data analysis
      2. Technology feedback loop to vendors to better understand what we need for to improve our research
  4. Outcomes:
    1. Can be used to leverage funding
    2. Stakeholder engagement/outreach
      1. Map on GCOOS and SECOORA websites showing where spatial monitoring is occurring
    3. Publications that focus on telemetry at the Gulf scale:
      1. Special sections
      2. Integrating data from many PIs/locations


  1. How to join if an individual PI
    1. Website-based with a link to ‘join’ the group
      1. Administered by GCOOS and SECOORA, with data managers to keep it updated
      2. Password protected (possibly Nick Shay)
      3. Standards of conduct document that people must read and agree to before becoming a member
        1. for example, when individuals sign up for membership they need to ‘accept’ the standards prior to membership completion and access to database (similar to ‘accepting the terms of agreement’ when you make an online credit card payment
        2. Standards also sent as a pdf as part of the membership ‘packet’
  2. Standards of agreement:
    1. Tag deployment by other scientists should always be discussed with array owners prior to initiation of a study and there should be written agreement
    2. Members should maintain at least some receivers
    3. Authorship criterion: Must include the but/for clause, but also meet journal requirements for authorship
    4. Must be willing to share tag IDs with the larger group and general information about array (number of receivers, general location, start and end dates of study)
    5. Consequences if someone breaks the standards of agreement: assumption is that each member can be trusted until seen otherwise. If the standards are broken, they are removed from the community.
      1. Unethical data use:
        1. Data ranching: putting out tags but no receivers or having a significant portion of your data coming from someone else’s array
        2. Data mining: putting out receivers and no tags.


iTAG website/database:

  1. Structure
    1. Simply a list serve site so that a web page does not need to be updated
    2. Or a webpage and forum for discussions
      1. Front page could include:
        1. mission statement
          1. Example: iTAG is a community of researchers who conduct acoustic telemetry of aquatic organisms in the Gulf of Mexico and its tributaries and bays. The purpose of the community is to foster collaboration and data sharing among members, with a goal of leveraging resources and enhancing research productivity.
        2. Map of telemetry studies general locations throughout the GOM and when you mouse over a location you see the PI
  2. Data ownership: general sense that data belongs to the tagger
  3. Spread sheets needed:
    1. Tag numbers for all fish in the Gulf with active tags
      1. iTAG members can give VEMCO permission to send tag numbers with tag metadata (i.e., purchaser, institution, tag type) to the iTAG database manager upon tag purchase.
      2. New tag numbers will automatically be populated and updated in the database
    2. Orphan tag list:
      1. To include: tag number, codespace, contact info
      2. Helps drive community, as tagger must contact receiver owner to come to an agreement about level of collaboration, coauthorship, acknowledgements, etc.
      3. Timing of uploads: twice a year, build automatic notification to members when orphan tag data uploaded
    3. Receiver list:
      1. If webpage map what spatial scale do we all agree on in teems of showing the areas currently monitored with receivers?
        1. Could send detailed location list to data base manager, who could jitter locations and post graphically general areas monitored
        2. New array managers should consider locations of pre-existing arrays to as to augment rather than interfere


Range of possibilities:

  1. Do a gap analysis?
  2. SECOORA and GCOOS may be able to assist, if can demonstrate the regional value of keeping equipment in place
  3. OTN-funded receiver lines
  4. State governments may also have the ability to develop semi-permanent arrays like our contribution to the FACT array and maintain these
  5. On-going institutional reciprocity should provide evidence of the benefits of maintaining a skeleton array
  6. This increased long-term infrastructure or “skeleton arrays” should help leverage future funding from the federal government to maintain and expand data collection in the Gulf


  1. Crowd source survey questions needed to finalize our program document
  2. Steering committee conference call to discuss iTAg vision and mission and funding opportunities to increase infrastructure
  3. iTAG: How best to disseminate what we accomplished in this meeting & raise our profile
    1. Z-Gram
    2. OTN site, vendor sites, Facebook
    3. Other ideas?
  4. Decide how to share information from this workshop and how to grow future membership
    1. 50 people participated in the workshop but 97 people contacted us expressing interest
      1. Scientists conducting acoustic telemetry in the Gulf, but who could not make it to the meeting (an additional 45 people who communicated their interest to me); Develop consensus on how to welcome them…invite to drop box?
      2. Scientists from outside the Gulf but doing research on Gulf animals primarily with pop-up satellite tags
        1. Building iTAG infrastructure around passive acoustic telemetry, but please think about how to welcome/work with them in the future. These include: Jerry Ault, Bruce Mate, and John Hoenig.
  5. Year one deliverables:
    1. Develop Internet site for orphan tag posting and/or forum questions
      1. iTAG researchers need to develop a template for the data fields required for posting orphan tags and form a consensus on “rules of membership”.
    2. Develop a strategy for next year’s iTAG meeting
    3. Finalize program document & 5-year plan
    4. Post funding opportunities