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November 04, 2009

Tarpon Tag Tells a Tale

The satellite tag traveled more than more than 2,200 miles

A satellite tag placed on a 98-pound tarpon near Flamingo in south Florida on March 17, 2009 has been located more than 2,200 miles from its starting point.

According to Dr. Jerald Ault, director of the Bonefish & Tarpon Conservation Research Center at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which manages the tagging effort, the tag was still attached to the tarpon at least as far north as Virginia, a little over 1,000 miles from it was installed on the fish. But whether the fish carried it to where it was found is not known, because the tag itself has not been recovered.

"It could have popped off the fish off Virginia and then drifted north for a few days. We won't know until we get the tag back, which could end up off Norway," says Ault

Once the tag is recovered it will deliver a payload of over 5 million quadruplets of data: depth, water temperature, light levels and salinity, recorded once every second since its deployment.

Information accumulated in the tagging project will contribute to a more comprehensive global management model for tarpon, an approach that has been neglected, says Ault.

"Years ago I asked a federal fisheries guy if there was any interest in tagging, and I got a terse 'No, that is the states' problem. There is no international component to the resource.'"

Yet Ault says he uncovered a paper written in the 1980s that documented a tarpon capture off Cork, Ireland. "Did that fish swim like this one or come up from Africa group?"

 That, and the extensive Atlantic and trans-Caribbean movment revealed by the tagging efforts paint a decidedly international picture of tarpon migrations.
 
"The data we are gathering should help tell us how tarpon management should proceed," says Ault.