Tarpon Anglers Needed to Help With Research

Tarpon, est. 25 lbs.

Tarpon, est. 25 lbs.

If you like to fish for tarpon, especially in central and northern Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could use your help.

The FWC has a tarpon genetic recapture study that analyzes the DNA of tarpon caught and released by recreational anglers. The study helps scientists learn about a tarpon’s anatomy and health as well as its catch history and migration patterns.

The study has anglers supplying the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute with DNA “fingerprint” data from tarpon that they catch and release. Currently, the FWRI needs DNA samples from fish larger than 30 inches hooked in northeast and northwest Florida, or approximately from Melbourne north on the Atlantic coast and from New Port Richey north on the Gulf coast.

“While we have a significant amount of information about tarpon in the southern portion of the state, we need more information about this fish in the north,” FWC researcher Kathy Guindon said.

By keeping track of the DNA of tarpon that are caught and released, biologists can get a feel for the health of tarpon populations and see the relationships between tarpon and different bodies of waters. The study is looking to answer questions like this: Will a tarpon that was caught and genetically sampled in the waters near the mouth of Tampa Bay get recaptured down in the Florida Keys? If so, could the tarpon then swim toward Sebastian Inlet near Melbourne, or will the tarpon return to Tampa Bay?

Anglers provide samples and information about their catches with a free, easy-to-use tarpon DNA sampling kit. More than 19,600 DNA samples have been collected to date, including 3,386 last year.

To genetically sample a tarpon, anglers use a small abrasive sponge to scrape skin cells from the outer jaw of the tarpon. The sponge is then placed in a vial containing storage solution and information on the catch, such as the location or GPS coordinates, is recorded. The skin cells on the sponge provide enough DNA for researchers to determine whether a particular fish has been caught and sampled before. No harm is done to the tarpon while the skin cell samples are taken. The fish can be left in the water alongside the boat, so no possession tag is required to participate in this study.

Samples can be turned in at collection stations, primarily tackle stores and marinas, throughout Florida, from Pensacola and Jacksonville to Naples and Key West. Those stations also provide replacement sample kits. Each sample is processed at the FWRI laboratory in St. Petersburg at a cost of less than $3 each. The technology is so good that biologists can identify an individual tarpon’s unique DNA “fingerprint” with the odds of an error at less than one in a billion. During the first seven years of the study, which began in 2005, about 100 recaptured tarpon had been identified.

To obtain a DNA sampling kit, call 800-367-4461 or email tarpongenetics@myfwc.com. For more information on the study, visit myfwc.com/research. Click “Saltwater” and then “Tarpon.”



Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn't long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

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