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Anglers help biologists make big strides in tarpon research

By Staff | Apr 13, 2010

Biologists with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory continue to gather valuable tarpon information with the help of Florida anglers.

By analyzing DNA samples collected by anglers, biologists gain insight into tarpon movement and distribution as well as their ability to withstand fishing pressures.

Biologists use samples submitted to the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Program to identify the tarpon’s genetic “fingerprint.” The fingerprints provide a unique and natural tag for each individual fish. Scientists compare new tarpon DNA samples with cataloged samples to determine if someone caught and sampled that tarpon previously. Biologists refer to these fish as “recaptured” tarpon.

Biologists have documented 37 recaptured tarpon since 2005. Information from these fish provides valuable insight on tarpon movement. For example, one recaptured adult tarpon traveled 88 miles in 313 days, heading north from the waters off Fort Myers Beach to Long Boat Key. A different tarpon made a similar movement in the opposite direction, confirming that tarpon move between estuaries along the west coast.

Another fish, caught in June 2007 in Boca Grande, was captured in the same location nearly two years later. This demonstrates that a tarpon will return to the same body of water during the spawning season.

Angler involvement has increased significantly since the program began in 2005. In the past 12 months, anglers provided more than 2,000 samples, bringing the total number of samples to just over 5,200. Anglers throughout Florida submitted samples from tarpon ranging in length from 5 to 96 inches.

Anglers who would like to participate in this program may obtain a free, easy-to-use tarpon DNA sampling kit by e-mailing TarponGenetics@MyFWC.com or by calling 800-367-4461.

Participating anglers receive an annual newsletter with updates on the program from biologists. As it becomes available, anglers also will receive additional information about specific fish they caught such as when the tarpon is captured again or if it has been captured previously. Anglers who submit a tarpon DNA sample to this program are entered into random drawings for various prizes.

For more information on the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study, visit research.MyFWC.com/tarpon.