June 29, 2016
This tarpon season we’ve received numerous reports and photos of a ‘golden tarpon’, a tarpon that appears to lack the darker pigments of its brethren. It was reported at Duck Key on April 27, Seven Mile April 28, Loggerhead Key May 29, estimated at 90 pounds. And a golden tarpon was caught on June 18 near Destin, FL. If this is the same fish, it traveled approximately 400 miles in 20 days. Was it the same fish? What about the golden tarpon that was spotted in the Lower Keys in April 2014? Or the golden tarpon spotted in the Keys in 2012? Was that the same fish spotted and caught this year? Is there just one golden tarpon or are there more? If there is more than one golden tarpon, why are they seen so sporadically in the Keys? Where were they in the years it wasn’t spotted in the Keys? Did they stay offshore where they didn’t cross the path of anglers on flats skiffs? Did they bypass the Keys and go elsewhere? We’ve also had reports of golden tarpon in northern Florida in past years, including just recently near Apalachicola – was it the same fish or is there more than one of them out there?
The answers to these questions are important to conservation, and this is why programs like BTT’s acoustic tagging program are important. We will get a better understanding of tarpon movements, habitat use and the population, which will help guide management decisions.
Most tarpon anglers, myself included, have a few favorite spots for staking out for traveling tarpon. Depending on conditions like tide, sun, wind, I can rank my top three spots. I also have favorite bays to search for laid up tarpon – again, the conditions dictate how these spots rank on any given day. Are the tarpon at these spots the same tarpon every year? Within a season, are we seeing a lot of different tarpon or the same tarpon many times? This is an important issue – if we are fishing to the same tarpon each year, or even within a season, the tarpon population is a lot smaller than we think, which is a cause for concern. The fact that this golden tarpon was seen by numerous anglers in numerous places suggests that many of the same tarpon are being seen over and over again. This is true whether there is a single or a few golden tarpon – the number of such tarpon is small, so if we are seeing them again and again, this implies a small population. In contrast, if tarpon are moving among locations – the Keys one year, Charlotte Harbor another year, Apalachicola another year – then the tarpon population is larger than we think because we are fishing to different fish at our favorite spots each year. We need to know the answer so we know how urgent, or not, our conservation efforts have to be. Since tarpon grow so slowly and live so long, if we react to a population decline after the fact it will be a very long recovery.
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