Tarpon Migration & Spawning Research Using Satellite Tags

Overview

The seasonal U.S. recreational tarpon fishery that occurs from Virginia through Texas is worth billions of dollars per year, and has a unique history all its own.  In addition, the tarpon fishery is culturally important – it supports the culture of recreational fishing guides, anglers, tourism, and has regional historical importance.  Anglers from around the world travel to Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea to pursue the Silver King.

Tags record water temperature, salinity, light levels and depth at second-by-second intervals for a predetermined period of time, after which the tag will detach from the tarpon and pop-up to the surface to begin transmission to an overhead network of ARGOS satellites.  The tag data relayed by satellite allows us to study tarpon movements and migrations in relation to their environment, and to determine where and when they spawn.

Unfortunately, there is insufficient knowledge for effective management of the tarpon fishery.  A strong fisheries conservation plan for tarpon will only be possible with the detailed knowledge of tarpon biology and population dynamics.  We lack information on most aspects of tarpon biology, so creating a good conservation plan remains a challenge.

Migrations & Movements

Previous tarpon PAT tagging data show that tarpon seasonally migrate thousands of miles.  These migrations take tarpon up the eastern coast of the U.S. to at least the Chesapeake Bay, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and southward to the Caribbean Sea.

Although tarpon are a catch-and-release species in Florida and Texas, other countries in the region do not share the same ethics or fishery regulations.  For example, tarpon are harvested for meat and roe in some Latin American countries.

Since we all share the same tarpon population, tarpon harvested elsewhere directly affect stock size and reduce critical spawning biomass and recruitment, the future of the fishery.  Tracking tarpon migration patterns will aid in regional management of the species, which will help to ensure the sustainability of the fishery.

Spawning

Tarpon spawning locations need protection to ensure the future of the fishery.  If a spawning site is compromised, this would impact the fishery for decades to come, and since tarpon live to 80 years, recovery time for an impacted population would be decades.

What we know is that the peak tarpon spawning season is from late spring through summer, and occurs near full and new moons.

But we don’t yet know where they spawn.  Previous research indicates that tarpon likely spawn in offshore waters.  For example, we think that one spawning location might be in offshore waters of southwest Florida.

Using satellite tags will enable BTT scientists to track the movements and migrations of adult tarpon to determine spawning locations.  BTT will then use this information to push for protection of spawning locations.

 

Funds are needed to support the tarpon satellite tagging program.  Although tags cost $6,000 to $8,000, the data they provide are invaluable and essential to regional tarpon conservation efforts.  Please consider generously donating to the tarpon satellite PAT and FAST tagging program.  All contributions are helpful.  Please contact us at bob@bonefishtarpontrust.org if you are interested in funding a tag.

Download the Tarpon Funding Brochure (inside and outside).