What do these results mean for tarpon conservation?
For the Atlantic tarpon population—which the International Union for Conservation of Nature recently classified as “vulnerable”—connectivity means conservation efforts must apply broadly across the region. Tarpon mature slowly; as a result, the Atlantic population will be slow to recover from past and ongoing declines. Effective management for increasing populations will require an international scope. Recreational and commercial harvest still occurs and remains unregulated in parts of the region—the continued harvest of tarpon in up-current areas like Louisiana, Mexico, and Cuba may negatively impact the tarpon population and fishery down-current in areas like Florida and The Bahamas if enough tarpon are harvested to cause a decline in how many juveniles are produced each year. Where regulations are lacking, conservation efforts should support the creation of harvest limits and encourage catch and release where possible. At the local level, protection of critical juvenile habitat remains an urgent need. Efforts to minimize juvenile habitat loss (particularly the loss of mangroves) and restore degraded habitat will also benefit local fisheries.
Given these findings, BTT will continue the regional approach to conservation. This includes efforts to improve fishery regulations; angler education on proper catch and release practices to ensure tarpon survive after release; identification of spawning locations (so these areas can be protected); and identification, protection and restoration of juvenile tarpon habitats. Although BTT’s work on these topics has been ongoing, these new results provide BTT with more leverage as they continue to advocate for the protection and conservation of tarpon throughout their range.