Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study

Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study


Tarpon are one of the most popular and lucrative sport fisheries in Florida waters. Every year tarpon fishing brings millions of dollars to the state economy even though strict state regulations make it generally a catch-and-release fishery. Recreational anglers can help protect and manage these valuable fish by taking part in a field study conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and contracted partners at Mote Marine Laboratory. The Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study depends on recreational anglers to collect DNA samples from the tarpon they catch. Since 2005, the study has collected over 11,000 samples from people who caught tarpon in Florida inshore and coastal waters. But scientists say they are in need of many more samples to better assess the health of this fishery. “Well one of the mottos that we actually give to the angler is that they should sample any tarpon anywhere any size. So we want to get DNA samples from the small juvenile fish as well as the large adult tarpon and that ties directly to our long term objective.” Dr. Kathy Guindon conducts research at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute laboratory in St. Petersburg where all of the DNA samples are sent for analysis. Here, scientists test the samples to determine if they match previously collected samples. The short term goal is to determine the recapture and survival rates for individuals. But, in the long term scientists want to gain a better understanding of the seasonal and regional movements relative to spawning season. “What we’re trying to determine is … over time are the juvenile tarpon that we are sampling DNA from the same fish that grow up and become the adult tarpon in the lucrative recreational fishery.” Understanding when and where tarpon spawn and identifying where juvenile habitats are located will help scientist manage the fishery for sustainability and help protect the fish population. To participate in the study, anglers sample their tarpon with an easy to use sampling kit. The kit includes several single use abrasive scrub pads … a waterproof data slip … a pencil … and several vials filled with an ethanol solution. It also includes step-by-step instructions on how to collect a DNA sample. Collecting a tarpon DNA sample is simple and starts once the fish is caught and being readied for release. Keep the fish in the water to reduce the stress on the animal and rub the abrasive scrub pad back and forth along the outside of the bony upper jaw of the tarpon while applying pressure on the pad. Scrub until a silvery or white material is seen on the pad. This action does not harm the fish and insures that scientists will have adequate cells for DNA extraction. Place the silver pad into the vial submerge it completely in the ethanol then secure the lid to prevent additional water, slime or debris from getting into the vial. Record the date … time … fight time … and approximate length of the fish on the data slip provided. Each vial comes pre-labeled with a specimen ID number and this number should be written at the top of the data slip. It is important to include the approximate location of where the fish was caught and if the fish survived the release. Fill out the information slip clearly and completely using a pencil to prevent smearing. A sample can remain in the vial at room temperature until it’s mailed to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute lab or turned into one of the many participating tackle shops around the state. To locate a shop in your area log onto MyFWC.com Anglers that turn in samples are automatically entered into contests for great prizes donated by local and national businesses through Mote Marine Laboratory. The Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study offers anglers the chance to do their part to help protect this amazing and valuable animal. Scientists want to insure tarpon will thrive in Florida waters for years to come. But a better understanding of this fishery depends on the participation of tarpon anglers. “The Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study is a one hundred opercent stakeholder research project. We depend one hundred percent on the recreational anglers to do all of the field sampling for us. Without the tarpon anglers taking the DNA sample from any tarpon that they catch … any size anywhere … there would be no study.” For more information on the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study contact the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and for more information on proper catch and release techniques visit catchandrelease.org

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