BONEFISH & TARPON TRUST'S TARPON ACOUSTIC TAGGING PROJECT
The Virginia Sportsman|Winter 2019
Multi-Year Study Aims to Better Understand Tarpon Movement and Habitat Use
Joe Shields

I listened, double-hauled and let the purple streamer— fly. For once, I didn’t unnecessarily false-cast, hook the guide or fumble line. My fly landed gently over a bed of seagrass. I stripped slowly, and a juvenile tarpon that was resting there followed.

The guide and my friend Charles Lunsford hollered with excitement. They fell silent when the young tarpon spooked and darted across the flat to the dark reaches of more grass.

A Virginian, Lunsford spends time in Boca Grande, Florida, which is known as the “Tarpon Capital of the World.” He is on the water as much as possible with renowned tarpon guide and teacher Tommy Locke; Lunsford says Locke has forgotten more about tarpon than most of the best tarpon fisherman will ever learn. Lunsford is also passionate about the fishery, and his obsession for chasing tarpon (“poon”) there has rubbed off on me. So has his regard for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT).

BTT’s mission is to conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats through research, stewardship, education and advocacy. The non-profit takes a science-based approach to protect and enhance healthy, functioning flats fisheries and habitats in the Western Hemisphere, and restore those in decline. This work is being done in collaboration with institutions and governments.

One of BTT’s newer research initiatives monitors the movements of different age and size classes of tarpon using sophisticated technology. A few years ago, Lunsford sponsored one of BTT’s tarpon-tracking tags, and Locke helps BTT tag fish with the devices. Each tag is surgically implanted in the tarpon’s abdomen, and then movements are tracked following safe release.

“Previous studies on tarpon movements relied on expensive satellite tags, which are limited to large fish for shorter periods of time,” said BTT Research Fellow Andy Danylchuk, Ph.D., professor of fish conservation at the at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. “Using satellite tags, researchers could only track fish weighing more than 100 pounds, and it was difficult to piece together movement patterns on individual fish because of short-term tracking capabilities. Acoustic telemetry is a real game changer, as it sidesteps these challenges.”

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