Tarpon Satellite Tagging Program

Tarpon are prized saltwater fish that can live to 80 years and grow to well over 250 pounds, and have long supported an economically and culturally important fishery. In fact, past presidents have taken part in this fishery – from FDR to H.W. Bush. Today, tarpon support a seasonal fishery that stretches from Virginia to Texas that is worth more than $6 billion per year. Despite the long history and importance of the tarpon fishery, however, tarpon populations face challenges that require additional support and management to ensure the fishery is accessible to future generations.

Although a catch-and-release fishery in many locations, tarpon populations face many challenges, including habitat loss, recreational harvest in the United States, and directed commercial and subsistence harvests by long-lines and gill nets in Mexico, Cuba and the broader Caribbean. Because tarpon are so long-lived, these types of threats can have rapid and significant effects on tarpon populations, and recovery of depleted populations can take an extremely long time (if recovery ever occurs).

An examination of recent history provides an example of how ill treatment of tarpon populations can have long-lasting effects. Port Aransas, Texas, was once known as the “Tarpon Capitol of the World”, and was host to presidents and potentates for exceptional tarpon fishing through the 1950s. Beginning in the 1960s the Port Aransas tarpon fishery collapsed, and has declined so greatly that the catch of a single tarpon today warrants special mention. Although there are numerous possible causes of this collapse, overharvest was likely a strong contributing factor. During the tarpon fishery heyday, many fish were kept as trophies. In addition, the harvest of tarpon in nearby Mexican waters was and remains prevalent. Although the harvest of tarpon in Texas has been halted except for a special exemption for world or state record catches (which have been rare in the past 20 years), this tarpon fishery has not recovered. Today, although strong fishery conservation regulations are in place in some states, other states lag behind in protection of this economically important species, so domestic threats to the fishery remain.

More worrisome is the harvest of tarpon that continues in coastal areas outside of U.S. waters. In Mexico, for example, tarpon are harvested regularly. Moreover, tarpon fishing tournaments are held every year in which many large adult tarpon are killed. These fish are targeted during the spawning season, so are full of roe and milt, which further exacerbates the long term impacts of the harvest – not only are these tarpon removed from the population, so are the future generations that they would have created. Similar harvest of tarpon occurs in other locations in the Caribbean, but it appears that the harvest in Mexico exceeds others. With strong conservation regulations for tarpon in the United States, the likelihood of successful international engagement with Mexico, and the formulation of a regional management plan, would be a real possibility.

Objectives

1) Determine tarpon movement patterns and identify critical habitats so that effective conservation plans can be designed and implemented

2) Develop a sufficient understanding of adult tarpon to allow formulation of response plans to disasters such as large-scale oil spills.

Background and Justification

1) Despite the importance of the recreational tarpon fishery, we have insufficient knowledge of spawning locations, overwintering areas, migrations, and fisheries characteristics for effective conservation

2) Given the historical decline in tarpon abundance and numerous threats to present day tarpon populations, we urgently need more information that can be directly and immediately applied to regional and international conservation plans.

To become involved in this new and exciting conservation adventure, you can Adopt a Tarpon by picking up the cost of one or more satellite PAT tags and even joining us on an expedition to observe tag deployment. All donations will go directly to the purchase, testing, programming, deployment and recovery of the tags.

Donations involving sponsorships of tags are handled by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust for the Center for Tarpon and Bonefish Conservation Research at the University of Miami. BTT provides the UM Center a dollar-for-dollar match of your donation.

Contact Dr. Jerry Ault for more information on satellite tagging jault@rsmas.miami.edu