SUBMITTED BY MOTE MARINE LABORATORY - Boca Grande is the historical birthplace of the tarpon fishery, the center of tarpon reproduction, and a way-station for tarpon that make up the fishery for much of the region. The modern-day recreational fishery for tarpon stretches from Chesapeake Bay, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and through the Caribbean — a fishery worth billions of dollars per year.
This now-famous fishery began in Charlotte Harbor in 1885, when the first tarpon ever caught on hook and line was recorded. This led to the tarpon fishing tradition that continues to this day, and is why Boca Grande is considered the “Tarpon Capital of the World.”
The magnificent tarpon fishery of Boca Grande is possible because tarpon use Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor as a gathering place during spawning season. Tens of thousands of tarpon gather in the pass annually as part of a pre-spawning aggregation.
Near the full and new moons of late May through early July, groups of tarpon leave the Pass and migrate offshore to spawn (exactly where they spawn, we don’t yet know).
The privilege of living in the Tarpon Capital of the World also comes with a responsibility of being stewards of the region’s tarpon fishery. Despite the long history of tarpon fishing in the Boca Grande area, critical knowledge gaps remain about how these large tarpon use Charlotte Harbor.
• Are the tarpon that first arrive in Boca Grande Pass in April also in the Pass in June? • When tarpon leave the Pass and migrate offshore to spawn, how many come back to the Pass? • How many of the tarpon that use the Pass also use other parts of Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound and the beaches? • How do the changes in freshwater flow into the rivers, such as when the lock is opened on the Caloosahatchee River, affect tarpon movements? • Does additional phosphorous effluent from mining in the Peace River watershed affect tarpon movements? • Does fishing pressure change tarpon behavior?
Mote Marine Laboratory is proposing the first-ever, large-scale acoustic tagging project of adult tarpon. This groundbreaking initiative — including partnership with local fishing guides and anglers — will determine the movements of tarpon in and around Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor and tell us how these patterns change over time and in response to different stressors.
By working with guides and anglers, Tarpon Initiative researchers will capture 50 adult tarpon annually for five years, attaching acoustic tags to each that will transmit signals to underwater acoustic receivers. An array of 100 receivers will be placed in multiple habitats in and around Charlotte Harbor, including the passes, along beaches, rivers and within the estuary and will record movements of each fish. The information will be used to understand tarpon habitat use and how tarpon respond to changes in fishing pressure and river flow. The receivers will also tell us whether tarpon return to Boca Grande Pass after spawning offshore and whether they return year after year.
Our tagging approach will also allow us to track the movement of tarpon beyond Charlotte Harbor and into the Gulf of Mexico and Southeastern U.S. coast because similar acoustic receivers are being used by our colleagues in many other locations.
Although the recreational tarpon fishery of Charlotte Harbor is still a quality fishery, it is not what it once was. As stewards of this natural resource, we need to make every effort to protect it.
We believe that the Tarpon Conservation Initiative in Boca Grande will provide information for a new, comprehensive conservation strategy to ensure a healthy fishery for future generations and protect this irreplaceable fishery.
Submitted by Mote Marine Laboratory researchers
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