Port Aransas once was known as the “Tarpon Capitol of the World,” and played host to presidents ranging from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George H.W. Bush and dignitaries the world over for exceptional tarpon fishing through the 1950s. However, in the 1960s the Port Aransas tarpon fishery collapsed and has declined so greatly that the catch of a single tarpon of any size today warrants special mention along the Texas Gulf coast.

The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust recently released more documentation on the causes and considerations behind the decline of tarpon, a prized saltwater fish dubbed the “silver king,” which can live to 80 years and grow in excess of 250 pounds. The species long has supported a seasonal fishery that stretches from Virginia to Texas that is worth more than $6 billion per year. Despite the long history and importance of the species, populations face challenges that require additional support and management to ensure that the fishery is accessible for generations to come, the Trust has found.

While the species offers a catch-and-release fishery in many locations, tarpon populations face numerous challenges including habitat loss, recreational harvest in the United States and  commercial and subsistence harvests by long-lines and gill nets in Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. Because tarpon can live for so long, these types of threats can have rapid and significant effects on their populations, and recovery of depleted populations can take decades, if ever, research has shown.

Although there are numerous possible causes of the collapse of the Port Aransas tarpon fishery, overharvest likely is a strong contributing factor, the Trust says. During the tarpon fishery heyday, many fish were kept as trophies. In addition, the harvest of tarpon in nearby Mexican waters  remains prevalent. Although the harvest of tarpon in Texas has been halted except for a special exemption for world or state record catches, the tarpon fishery has not recovered. Although strong fishery conservation regulations are in place in some states, other states lag behind in protection of this economically important species, so domestic threats to the fishery remain.

More worrisome, according to the Trust, is the harvest of tarpon that continues in coastal areas outside U.S. waters. Tarpon fishing tournaments also are held every year in which large adult tarpon are killed. The fish are targeted during the spawning season, which exacerbates the long-term impacts of the harvest, according to the Trust. Similar harvest of tarpon occurs in other locations in the Caribbean, but it appears that the harvest in Mexico exceeds others. With strong conservation regulations for tarpon in the United States, the likelihood of successful international engagement with Mexico, and the formulation of a regional management plan, would be a real possibility, the Trust has said.


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