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Texas Tarpon Research Gets Shot in the Fin
AUSTIN, Texas — Tarpon reign as the supreme nearshore gamefish from Florida to Panama; that’s been the case at least since Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt did battle with “silver kings” in Port Aransas, Texas, in 1937.
Despite the longstanding — and fervent — interest anglers have exhibited in the species, surprisingly little is known about tarpon life history and their suspected migrations throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
A partnership announced this month between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the University of Miami could help change that.
Together, TPWD and SEA are contributing nearly $100,000 to a study by researchers Scott Holt of UTMSI and Jerry Ault of the University of Miami.
This summer Holt and Ault will undertake the most ambitious Texas tarpon tracking study to date. Using pop-up archival tags, or PATs, these researchers hope to enlist recreational and tournament anglers to tag a total of 20 mature (60-inch or longer) Texas Tarpon.
This research builds on similar studies undertaken by Ault in Florida and Mexico.
“We are trying to establish the migratory routes of the fish; that’s the primary objective,” Holt said. “Fish we catch in Texas, we expect go back to Mexico in the winter. Jerry has tagged seven or eight fish in the spring, in Mexico, that have come up here in the summer. Our expectation is that they will return to Mexico in the winter. As an ancillary benefit we get information about daily activity — diving depth, temperatures they prefer.”
The PATs collect and archive minute-by-minute data on depth of the animal, water temperature and light level (used to determine the daily location of the tagged fish). The tags are pre-programmed to release from the tagged fish at a specified time and date, usually 3 to 6 months after deployment, and they pop-up to the ocean surface where they transmit their stored data to an ARGOS satellite network passing overhead. The data retrieved by the satellites are then forwarded to research labs for analysis.
"This is a great opportunity to advance our understanding of tarpon along the Texas coast," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., director of Coastal Fisheries at TPWD. "This effort will generate the type of information we need to manage the fishery for these magnificent fish and help assure their future in our coastal waters.”
The TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division also is in the initial stages of developing a web-based Tarpon Observation Network that will reside on the TPWD website. A Beta version of the site should be up-and-running before the end of June, with a full version coming online within 12 months.
The design is simple. Anglers who land, hook, observe or otherwise come into contact with tarpon will be asked to enter various aspects of the observation into the TPWD website input device. Known information (e.g. time, date, location, length, weight, water temperature, etc) will be gathered and entered into the website.
After the data has been verified, the information will be graphically displayed in various formats, such as a map with that particular observation indicated by an icon along with past observations in an easy to use design. Participants will be able to see their observations alongside previous entries.
“Tarpon are a unique species and we don’t know as much about them as we’d like. This gives us more information to use in our management practices,” said Art Morris, TPWD Coastal Fisheries outreach specialist. “We see tarpon from the mouths of creeks to 20 miles offshore. People net juveniles in bar ditches, and we hear reports of tarpon from all over. This will give us a database to work from that organizes all that information, and because it’s web-based researchers from all over the world can use it.”
Morris said he got the idea for the web-based, volunteer system after seeing a presentation about eBird (http://ebird.org/content/).
“We are very excited about this program, if successful, the program could be expanded to include other states, Mexico or additional species,” said Morris. “Ultimately, the program will help researchers and anglers alike in understanding this unique and popular species.”
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