A trip to Belize to study tarpon … are you in?

fieldworkersBY ADAM MARTON, THE FIELDWORKERS CLUB – This August a small group of anglers from all over the USA will be traveling to the Caribbean to participate in the Belize Tarpon Tagging Expedition, a partnership between anglers and scientists with the University of Miami. This expedition is a unique opportunity for folks to pitch in and lend a hand in an effort to enable global scientific research to the marine fisheries community. Research focused on Atlantic tarpon, Megalops atlanticus.

For decades tarpon have taken the main stage in places like Boca Grande, the Florida Keys and Port Aransas, Texas. In fact, recent economic research studies have shown sport fishing in Florida is now a multi-billion dollar industry that exceeds the state’s citrus revenue. Those are big numbers and numbers reliant upon the success of annual fish stocks to return year after year for the longevity and sustainability of the resource.

BELIZE 5Years ago, many resource managers thought about the management of tarpon as a state’s issue, not a federal or international issue. But those beliefs may not be consistent with contemporary theories developed through the use of high-tech satellite tags that track tarpon in real time as they migrate thousands of miles annually. It’s been long thought that tarpon migrate. But, not until the last decade since Dr. Jerald Ault of the University of Miami’s, Tarpon and Bonefish Research Institute started a satellite tagging program has there been irrefutable proof that in fact tarpon do travel across regional, state and international boarders over the course of a year.

These issues again raise the unanswered question first posed by Billy Pate during an informal discussion in the early 2000’s, that is “Are our fish, their fish?” On an Atlantic Ocean global scale, we still don’t know for sure.

Satellite tags have proven in 2013 that a 178-pound tarpon caught on fly and tagged in April in Apalachicola, Florida, swam more than 350-miles south where it was again caught and released on May 18 (38 days later) in the Boca Grande Pass.

In 2014 several tarpon weighing more than 150 pounds were caught and tagged outside of Port O’Connor, Texas. In two cases the fish migrated more than 1000 miles, south of Veracruz, Mexico, and into the Bay of Campeche where they spent the winter of 2014/2015. In other cases tarpon tagged in southwest Florida swam as far north as the Mississippi River mouth before making their way to Texas.

So it’s not so farfetched to think these very same fish may have gone on to Mexico. Once again, illustrating the point that the fish seen by anglers in Boca Grande Pass in May could be the very same fish that overwinter in Mexico.

Are our fish, their fish?

Back to Belize and August of 2015 where the interrelationships between tarpon in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Lousiana,Texas and Mexico and tarpon in the Caribbean basin is still largely unknown. We do know there are connections between tarpon in all of locations and we suspect these connections go way beyond simple genetics. The Belize Tarpon Tagging expedition intends to help unlock these secrets, and in so doing, provide resource professionals and decision makers from all over the world with factual-based evidence they can use to strategically manage, protect and sustain this incredibly special species and the prey and habitats that they so dearly and critically rely upon.

The Belize Tarpon Tagging Expedition is an unique opportunity for anglers to participate in this important effort, not only to answer vexing scientific questions, but also an opportunity for learning while participating in a sport they love.

In 2014 Chicago Angler – Adam Marton, Dr. Jerald Ault and Stu Apte, led our expedition. One adult migratory tarpon was tagged in 2014. The 2015 expedition will be led by Adam Marton and Andy Mill, the man who wrote the seminal book on fly fishing for tarpon (A Passion for Tarpon, Wild River Press, 2010).

In addition to world-class fly fishing for tarpon in an incredible tropical environment along with focused satellite tagging activities, the expedition will also include daily skill-building workshops intended to turn good tarpon fishermen into great tarpon fishermen for the rest of their lives.

Andy Mill will be teaching the 5-essential skills for successful tarpon fishing with a fly rod. Other workshops will focus on key rigging techniques, fly tying, optimum tidal flows and moon phases, and the science of tarpon research.

El Pescador Lodge and Villas will host the 2015 Belize Tarpon Tagging Expedition. This lodge provides a world-class staff and facility for this comprehensive tarpon emersion.

The Belize Tarpon Tagging Expedition is unlike anything ever before available to anglers who are passionate about tarpon. The ask here is not for money per se, but for people to consider joining an effort to do what they can to dig in and actually participate in an effort to advance the science of global tarpon research while learning and having a ball in Belize.

The expedition is looking for a few special people to participate this year. If you or someone you know is passionate about tarpon and would like to immerse yourself in this totally unique experience, please get in touch while there is still space available. Our goal is to tag several more adult tarpon and we could use a your hand and passion to accomplish the goal.

The Belize Tarpon Tagging Expedition is an effort of The Fieldworkers Club, an organization that leads scientific fly fishing expeditions and provides critical partnerships between anglers and scientists. More information can be found at fieldworkersclub.com or by contacting adam@fieldworkersclub.com.