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. 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.
Tarpon Genetics Program
Archive of Tarpon Research
Studies That Received BTT Support
Biology and management of the world tarpon and bonefish fisheries. J.S. Ault (editor). 2007. CRC Press.
The economic impact of recreational tarpon fishing in St. Lucie River and Treasure Coast region of Florida. Download PDF
The economic impact of recreational fishing in the Everglades Region. Download PDF
The economic impact of recreational tarpon fishing in the Caloosahatchee River and Charlotte Harbor region of Florida.
General Archive of Research Articles
Andrews, A. H., et al. (2001). “Radiometric age validation of Atlantic tarpon, Megolps atlanticus.” Fish. Bull. 99(3): 389-398.
Arenas-Fuentes, V. and M. E. Utrera-Lopez (2005). “Tarpon sport fishing tournaments in Veracruz 1973-2003: what kind of information is provided?” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 92-93.
Ault, J. S., et al. (2005). “Pop-up archival transmitting tags to study atlantic tarpon migrations.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 95-96.
Bohlke, J. E. and C. C. G. Chaplin (1968). Family Elopidae: Tarpons and ladyfishes. Fishes of the Bahamas and adjacent tropical waters. Wynnewood, PA, Livingston Publishing Company: 36, 38.
Bortone, S. A., et al. (2007). “Perspective on tarpon, based on the historical recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.” 59th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute: 31-36.
Bruger, G. E. and K. D. Haddad (1986). Management of tarpon, bonefish, and snook in Florida. Multi-jurisdictional management of marine fisheries, Tampa, FL, National Coalition for Marine Conservation.
Chaverri, D. C. (1993). “Aspectos biometricos de una poblacion de sabato, Megalops atlanticus (Pisces: Megalopidae).” Rev. Biol. Trop. 41(1): 13-18.
Crabtree, R. E. (1995). “Relationship between lunar phase and spawning activity of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, with notes on the distribution of larvae.” Bull. Mar. Sci. 56(3): 895-899.
Crabtree, R. E., et al. (1997). “Reproduction of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus from Florida and Costa Rican waters and notes on their age and growth.” Bulletin of Marine Science 61(2): 271-285.
Crabtree, R. E., et al. (1992). “Age and growth of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, larvae in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, with notes on relative abundance and probable spawning areas.” Environmental Biology of Fishes 35: 361-370.
Crabtree, R. E., et al. (1995). “Age and growth of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, from South Florida waters.” Fishery Bulletin 93: 619-628.
Cyr, E. C. (1991). Aspects of the life history of the tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, from south Florida. Marine Science, University of South Carolina: 138.
Dailey, W., et al. “The international grand isle tarpon rodeo: trends in the recreational tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) fishery in the western gulf of mexico.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 77-87.
Edwards, R. E. (1998). “Survival and Movement Patterns of Released Tarpon.” Gulf of Mexico Science 1: 1-7.
Eldred, B. (1967). Larval tarpon, Megalops atlanticus Valenciennes, (Megalopidae) in Florida waters. St. Petersburg, FL, Florida Board of Conservation; Division of Salt Water Fisheries: 9.
Geiger, S. P., et al. (2000). “Air breathing and gill ventilation frequencies in juvenile tarpon, Megalops atlanticus: responses to changes in dissolved oxygen, temperature, hydrogen sulfide, and pH.” Environmental Biology of Fishes 59: 181-190.
Harrington, R. W., Jr. (1958). “Morphometry and Ecology of Small Tarpon, Megalops atlantica, Valenciennes from Transitional Stage Through Onset of Scale Formation.” Copeia 1: 1-10.
Herrera-Pavon, R. and A. M. Arce-Ibarra (2005). “Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) and Bonefish (Albulva vulpes) recreational fishery in southern Quintana Roo, Mexico.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 97.
Hildebrand, S. F. (1963). Family Elopidae. Number I: Fishes of the Western North Atlantic Part Three: Soft-rayed Bony Fishes: Class Osteichthyes. G. S. Myers, H. B. Bigelow and Y. H. Olsen. New Haven, Sears Foundation for Marine Research: 111-131.
Holt, G. J., et al. (2005). “What can historic tarpon scales tell us about the tarpon fishery collapse in Texas.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 65-76.
Holt, G. J. and S. A. Holt (2004). “Introduction to the proceedings of the third international tarpon forum held in Veracruz, Mexico.” Proceedings of the Third International Tarpon Forum.
Luo, J., et al. (2008). “Salinity measurements from pop-up archival transmitting (PAT) tags and their application to geolocation estimation for Atlantic tarpon.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 357: 101-109.
Machado, G. and R. Jaen (1982). General Overview of Sport Fishing in Venezuela. PROCEEDINGS OF THE THIRTY-FIFTH ANNUAL GULF AND CARIBBEAN FISHERIES INSTITUTE, Nassau, Bahamas, Proc. Gulf Caribb. Fish. Inst.
McMillen-Jackson, A. L., et al. (2005). “Molecular genetic variation in tarpon (Megalops atlanticus Valenciennes) in the northern Atlantic Ocean.” Marine Biology 146: 253-261.
Montano, O. J. F. (2009). “Assessing the Habitat Structure for Common Snook (Centropomus undecimalis Bloch, 1792) and Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus Valenciennes, 1847) in Santa Teresa Lagoons, Puerto Rico.” Turkish Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 9(2): 173-179.
Obermiller, L. E. and E. Pfeiler (2003). “Phylogenetic relationships of elopomorph fishes inferred from mitochondrial ribosomal DNA sequences.” Molecular phylogenetics and Evolution 26: 202-214.
Perez, J. L. O., et al. “Tarpon tournaments in the Mexican littoral of the Gulf of Mexico.” Extended Abstract.
Perez, J. L. O., et al. (2005). “Tarpon reproduction in the Laguna de Olmeca: an urban landlocked lagoon in Veracruz.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 99.
Rickards, W. L. (1968). “Ecology and growth of juvenile tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, in a Georgia salt marsh.” Bulletin of Marine Science 18(1): 220-239.
Shenker, J. M., et al. (2002). “Recruitmen of tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) leptocephali into the Indian River Lagoon, Florida.” Contributions in Marine Science 35: 55-69.
Smith, D. G. (1980). “Early larvae of the tarpon, Megalops atlantica, Valenciennes (Pisces: Elopidae), with notes on the spawning in the Gulf of Mexico and the Yucatan Channel.” Bulletin of Marine Science 30(1): 136-141.
Tuero, Y. B. “Proposal for the protection and conservation of tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.” Proposal for the Protection and Conservation of Tarpon.
Ward, R., et al. (2005). “Studies in conservation genetics of tarpon (Megalops atlanticus)- III. variation across the Gulf of Mexico in the nucleotide sequence of A 12S mitochodrial rRNA gene fragment.” Contributions in Marine Science 37: 45-59.
Zale, A. V. and S. G. Merrifield (1989). Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates (South Florida) — Ladyfish and Tarpon, U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep.: 17.