Fish Tagging: Lesson Plan

Ecosystems have limits to the numbers of organisms and population sizes they can support. These limits are set by predation, competition, disease and the physical habitat (reefs, artificial reefs, mud flats, sea grass and marsh). Learn how fish biologists are using two types of tagging to understand how the physical environment constrains the population dynamics of Red Drum, North Carolina’s state fish.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • NCES.8.L.3.1 — Explain how factors such as food, water, shelter and space affect populations in an ecosystem.
  • NCES.8.L.3.2 — Summarize the relationships among producers, consumers and decomposers including the positive and negative consequences of such interactions including: coexistence and cooperation; competition; parasitism; and mutualism.

Learning Outcomes

Students will identify the factors that affect the Red Drum population and discuss the relationships between predator and prey.

Essential Questions

  1. Describe the ecosystem of the Red Drum? How do they interact in this ecosystem? 
  2. What predator/prey relationships exist with the Red Drum? 
  3. What factors affect the Red Drum population in the ecosystem? 
  4. How do scientists learn more about these factors and interactions?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Organisms
  • Populations
  • Tag
  • Radio transmitter
  • Habitat
  • Estuary
  • Experiment
  • Incision


Students will view images of Red Drum fish and their habitat, such as those found at the links below.

Ask the students to turn to a partner and discuss. What factors such as food, water, shelter and space might affect the population of Red Drum fish in this ecosystem? How might a scientist study these factors?


Students will work collaboratively in small groups to research the Red Drum using the sites below and other resources.

After completing research, students will create a poster to illustrate the appearance, habitat and traits of the Red Drum including their role in the ecosystem.


Students will view the NC Science Now video Fish Tagging. After viewing the video, students should answer the following questions. They can discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups.

  1. How is the catch, tag and release program conducted?
  2. What information can be learned from the program? 
  3. What are the program goals? 
  4. Why are catch, tag and release programs used?


Students will run a simulation and use the accompanying activity sheet to better understand the factors that can impact a fish population.

After the simulation, discuss:

  1. What factors influenced the gulf tuna population?
  2. Which of these factors might also affect the Red Drum population? 
  3. What role might predators play in the size of the population?


Students will design a proposal for a catch, tag and release program, which includes a description of population to be studied, the research question and the factors that affect the population that will be focused upon.

Additional Resources: