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June 2010 cover image 12 Out on the Pier

Tracking Tarpon

New observation network teams public input with new technology.

By Art Morris

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is seeking the public’s help with its Tarpon Observation Network, a program that merges new technology and public input to amass information about the “silver king” of Texas fish.

Not much is known about tarpon, especially young tarpon. TPWD Coastal Fisheries sampling efforts indicate that sub-adults are found primarily in Texas bays from June to October. However, scientists don’t know where they are during the winter. Sub-adult tarpon are probably using the bays as nursery areas until they grow to 4 feet in length, then heading offshore to join the adults. Where they live as juveniles is also a mystery.

Researchers think juvenile tarpon may live in lower river areas and backcountry marshes. Anglers castnetting for bait occasionally report catching small tarpon in roadside ditches. Anglers fishing for other species in rivers, well upstream from the bays, sometimes hook or observe small tarpon. Because members of the public often access areas outside routine TPWD monitoring areas, they can help supplement what is known about tarpon in Texas.

Since the program began, only a handful of public observations have officially been submitted into the database, but they represent more than 200 tarpon. For example, a school of about 100 sub-adult tarpon was observed in April at a freshwater outfall near a Dow chemical plant, well up the Brazos River. Another reported observation was of a school of adults migrating along South Padre Island — the observer was able to hook several and land one.

The computer application creates a data point on a Google Maps background to display the size of the tarpon, as well as where and when it was caught or found. Uploaded photos of the catch are displayed if available. With more than 500 tarpon represented to date in the program, including TPWD observations, casual observers can query the application to discover when and where tarpon have been seen along the coast.

Over time, TPWD hopes the application will shed some light on tarpon use of Texas waters and will be used by anglers to plan tarpon trips.

The program launched in May 2009, and an incentive program has been added for those who log in new observations. As supplies last, a new tarpon poster will be given out to all observers who enter tarpon observation data. The frame-quality poster was designed by the developers of the tarpon network to provide participants with a memento of their participation.

To log in your observations or simply learn more about the Tarpon Observation Network, go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/tarpon or e-mail tarpon@tpwd.state.tx.us

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