Family Elopidae, TARPONS Megalops atlanticus
A Florida Flats Fishing Favorite
The tarpon is considered one
of the great saltwater game fish, not only because of the size
it can reach and its accessible haunts, but because of its fighting
spirit when hooked; it is very strong, making spectacular leaps
into the air. The flesh is undesirable and bony. In Florida and
Alabama, a special permit is required to kill and keep a tarpon,
so most tarpon fishing there is catch-and-release.
Description: last ray of dorsal
fin extended into long filament; one dorsal fin; back dark blue
to green or greenish black, shading into bright silver on the sides;
may be brownish gold in estuarien waters; huge scales; mouth large
and points upward.
Similar Fish: (as juveniles) ladyfish, Elops saurus.Where found:
primarily INSHORE fish, although adult fish spawn OFFSHORE where
the ribbon-like larval stage of the fish can be found.Size: most
angler catchs 40 to 50 pounds.
*The Florida Record is 243 lbs.
Remarks: slow grower; matures at
7 to 13 years of age; spawning occurs between May and September;
female may lay more than 12 million eggs; can tolerate wide range
of salinity; juveniles commonly found in fresh water; can breathe
air at surface; feeds mainly on fish and large crustaceans.
* The Florida records quoted are from the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission's printed
publication, and are not necessarily the most
current ones. The records are provided as only as a benchmark.
The silver king is the most common
pseudonym given to the tarpon by anglers, descriptive of the bright
flash that reflects from its large silver scales when it jumps into
the air. Other common names include abalitsa, Atlantic tarpon, atlantischer
tarpun, bass, big scale, caffum, camurupi, grande ecaille, grand-écaille,
grande ecoy, jewfish, madzorfloe, manyofle, mell, ofin, palika, peixe-prata,
peixe-prata-do-atlântico, pez lagarto, sabalo, sábalo,
sabaloreal, sabilo real, sadina, savalle, savallo, savaloreal, savanilla,
silberfisch, silverfish, suwiki, tainha, tainha-congo, tapam, tarpao,
tarpão, tarpão-do-Atlântico, tarpoen, tarpom,
tarpón, tarpon argenté, tarpon atlantycki, tarpon trapoen,
tarpone tarpone, tarponi, tarpum, trapoen, and wallidöër.
Tarpon inhabit a large range on both
sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The range in the Eastern Atlantic extends
from Senegal to the Congo. In the Western Atlantic, the fish primarily
inhabit warmer coastal waters concentrating around the Gulf of Mexico,
Florida, and the West Indies. However, tarpon are not uncommon as
far north as Cape Hatteras, and the extreme range extends from Nova
Scotia in the north, Bermuda, and to Argentina to the south. Tarpon
have been found at the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal and around
Coiba Island. When fishing for tarpon in Florida, the Tampa bay area
is excellent. Tarpon Springs didn't get it's name for nothing!
Size, Age & Growth
Female tarpon can grow to lengths of over 8.2 feet (2.5m) and reach
weights of near 355 pounds (161 kg), with the males generally smaller.
Tarpon are slow-growing fish and do not obtain sexual maturity until
reaching an age of 6-7 years and a length of about 4 feet (1.2 m).
Tarpon weighing about 100 pounds (45.4 kg) typically fall between
13-16 years of age. Male tarpon attain lifespans of over 30 years,
while females may live longer than 50 years. A female tarpon held
in captivity at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois died
in 1998 at the age of 63. Fishing for tarpon in the Tampa Bay area
can be an amazing adventure.
Although tarpon may not be harvested
commercially, debate looms over the recovery of fish caught and
released. Though released, a tired tarpon that is not adequately
resuscitated may die from oxygen deprivation or may more easily
fall prey to predators such as sharks. In order to assess the hook-and-release
survival of tarpon, the Florida Marine Research Institute is in
the process of designing a study in order to track released individuals
and determine their rate of post-release survival.
While any angler may practice catch-and-release
in pursuing tarpon, beginning in 1989 anglers must obtain a tarpon
tag in order to possess and deliberately kill them. The permit costs
$50 for each tarpon (limit two per day), and the anglers who purchase
the tag agree to provide the Florida Marine Research Institute with
information about the catch, including date and location of capture,
the length and weight of the fish, and how many anglers were fishing.
According to data obtained since this permit was instituted, the
number of tarpon killed has steadily dropped from 342 in 1989 to
70 in 1998. So fishing for tarpon is more common than having tarpon
The tarpon is not currently listed
as endangered or vulnerable with the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and
non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the
conservation status of species.