Why Is It Illegal To Take A Tarpon Out Of The Water?

With new regulations, pictures like this of a tarpon out of the water may be a thing of the past. 

With new regulations, pictures like this of a tarpon out of the water may be a thing of the past. 

Question- Why Is It Illegal To Take Tarpon Out Of The Water?

Thomas Kurka 

I was watching the Riley Charter Episode tonight. Like him, I've never caught a Tarpon. Why is it against the law to take them out of the water?

Answer-

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for watching the show!  Your question is a good one and I'll do my best to answer it thoroughly but concisely.

1. Tarpon are a magnificent gamefish and we want to do our part to make sure that they are around for a long time to come.  They are protected by law from killing them without a kill tag (similar to deer hunting) and anglers widely respect this law.  I don't see anyone killing or poaching tarpon ever and it seems that everyone understands the value of these fish alive.

However, many anglers and guides really like to get a picture of their fish.  For the majority of anglers who catch their first tarpon, it is the biggest fish of any kind that they have ever caught.  It is understandable that they want to get a picture of it.  Tarpon are an extremely strong, and slippery fish that doesn't have any real "handles" to hold onto with the exception of its mouth or gill plates.  It definitely hurts a tarpon and reduces the chances of survival to reach inside the gill plate so far that you grab the gills, so we are really left with holding it by the mouth.  The mouth of a tarpon has an extremely rough surface that can cut your fingers or the webbing between the thumb and forefinger.  When this happens, the tarpon is usually dropped in the boat.  Tarpon can also be easily dropped in the boat when they give a big kick.  When a 100 pound tarpon hits the deck, it may not kill them, but it is certainly not doing them any favors and may make it much easier for a shark to get them later.

This tarpon is obviously not feeling at it's best due to improper handling.  The lip gaff combined with a few drops in the boat have put serious stress on this fish.  He may make it but this amount of handling was unnecessary, in my opinion.

This tarpon is obviously not feeling at it's best due to improper handling.  The lip gaff combined with a few drops in the boat have put serious stress on this fish.  He may make it but this amount of handling was unnecessary, in my opinion.

 

2. Too much handling is too much handling.  Even if it is with the best intentions, too much is too much.  Too much time out of the water is not good for a fish.  After a long fight, a tarpon needs oxygen and rest to be able to recover and swim away without predation.  If we fight the fish quickly and release it quickly, the fish will swim away with 100% chance of survival.  Fight it for an hour then pick it up out of the water, drop it in the boat 4 times and then try to release it...not so much.

This is a lifetime catch for this young angler and it is certainly understandable that these guys would want a picture.  It looks like they are being as kind as possible to theis fish and it is highly likely that no harm came to the fish.  However, not everyone is as careful and accidents do happen.   

This is a lifetime catch for this young angler and it is certainly understandable that these guys would want a picture.  It looks like they are being as kind as possible to theis fish and it is highly likely that no harm came to the fish.  However, not everyone is as careful and accidents do happen. 

 

3. It is easy to get an even better picture with the fish IN THE WATER.  If you want a great picture, try to take some like these.  The anglers either got in the water with the fish or held the fish by the lip long enough to get a picture next to the boat.  In my opinion, pictures like this are far better, make the fish look WAY bigger and also, most importantly, put very little stress on the fish.  

This angler is getting a great picture of this giant tarpon and putting very little stress on this amazing fish

This angler is getting a great picture of this giant tarpon and putting very little stress on this amazing fish

Rich Tudor revives a small Marquesas tarpon before release unharmed

Rich Tudor revives a small Marquesas tarpon before release unharmed

Not everyone has a second boat nearby that can shoot a picture. But if the customer doesnt want to get out, the guide can step out of the boat and snap a shot. 

Not everyone has a second boat nearby that can shoot a picture. But if the customer doesnt want to get out, the guide can step out of the boat and snap a shot. 

Selfie!  If you are in the boat, this is a good way to get a shot.  Put the boat in gear and the fish will plane out and you can see the entire fish.

Selfie!  If you are in the boat, this is a good way to get a shot.  Put the boat in gear and the fish will plane out and you can see the entire fish.

There are many laws and campaigns that I do not agree with that are put in place to try to protect the fish.  Some of these are done with good intentions, but created by people who really don't know about practical applications of fishing.  I have disagreed with some of these, but I do agree with trying to keep the tarpon in the water for pictures if possible.  I like a picture of a giant fish out of the water as much as the next guy, but I do not want to kill a tarpon to do it.  Try to set up shots like the ones above to reduce the stress on the tarpon.

I hope that helps to understand.

All the best,

Tom Rowland

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