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Why not try tagging your trophy tarpon?

July 3, 2010
By Capt. George Tunison

While our big silver friends are here, why not help the cause by tagging your hard won trophy? Nowa-days anglers rarely kill a tarpon for mounting. Get a picture or two, some quick measurements and a lifelike reproduction can be made that will last a lifetime, saving the fish. Now take the next step and help biologists gain useful information from recaptures to help insure the long-term survival of the species.

In most parts of the world, tarpon, as well as most all saltwater species, are under attack like never before to satisfy a seafood-hungry and sporting public. Critical nursery habitat loss, sportfishing harvest, long lining and gill netting, commercial fisheries in Mexico, Cuba and throughout the Caribbean particularly threaten tarpon.

Tarpon undergo long-range migrations throughout the Gulf of Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast and Caribbean Sea and parts unknown. Only Neptune knows the short and long-range implications of the ongoing oil disaster on these and all fish. As of today, the Gulf of Mexico endures day 75 of the disaster as well as an ongoing weak federal response to the crisis. If the new BP relief wells don't stop the leak, we are in even bigger trouble. I just saw President Clinton on TV the other day saying that the Navy needs to blow up the well with an underwater "nuclear device." This option may actually be employed; a plan that some scientists say may work or compound the disaster a hundred fold.

Different fish tagging methods have been employed over the years with most using a tag driven into the flesh of the fish. Today's DNA "Finprinting" method is fast and easy on the fish. A skin scrape using an abrasive sponge quickly gathers enough tissue to DNA identify individual fish. No reason to remove it from the water further damaging it.

To participate in the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Program, please call for a volunteer kit. Call 800-367-4461 or email If "your fish" is recaptured, a letter will be sent to you containing the fish's history including a computer link that will show the fish's movements from your release to its recapture. Pretty cool! This info is valuable to biologists at the FWC as well as Mote Marine in Sarasota and the Wildlife Research Institute that have partnered on this project. It's a great project, helps preserve our fishery and is easy to do. There are similar permit and bonefish projects under way as well.

On the subject of preserving fish by carefully releasing and tagging them, please keep tarpon in the water while unhooking and photographing them. If you have to and are in shallow water, jump in and get a great eye to eye picture with your trophy, but leave the fish in the water. These big fish are, in some cases, way over 50 years old. Please spend the time to fully revive them as a weakened tarpon easily becomes a shark snack especially in these sharky waters.

Like many of us, I have lots of old pictures proudly hanging trophy fish by their lips or jaws with hands and various lip gripping devices. Little did I realize the damage I was doing to these trophies. Recent studies show all manner of bone structure damage to the mouth and surrounding tissue and cartilage. Even more internal damage is done by holding these fish in an unsupported manner. The larger the fish, the more the damage.

Always release fish in the water whenever possible. If you must present your trophy for pictures out of the water, first wet your hands (please no towels or rags), secure a firm jaw grip then slide your free hand down the length of the fish supporting the weight of the fish horizontally. Quickly lift the fish for a quick photo then gently get it back in the water, revive it till strong and release.

Please take care of what we have, nothing lasts forever.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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