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Hundreds of tarpon are being legally killed and trashed every winter, spring and summer by spearfishermen in Gulf coast states. This issue is important and needs to be addressed. These guys aren’t harvesting tarpon. They just kill them and boast – large females to be dissected and sampled and then thrown in the garbage!

Fly Life is offended by this practice and will address this issue with urgency in pursuit of legislative measures that will provide this amazing migratory species with the safety and respect they deserve.

It is time to request protection for tarpon in Federal Waters.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]arpon need catch-and-release game fish status in Atlantic and Gulf coast federal waters.

We don’t know of any tarpon that are harvested in the federal waters bordering the state waters of Florida. However, the federal waters bordering the state waters of Louisiana are a different story. At the present time Louisiana has no tarpon regulations. Louisiana fishermen can kill as many tarpon as they want and at any size. Unfortunately, they do kill tarpon, and lots of them, especially large spawning females.

No regulations!
Dead tarpon from Helldivers' video.

Dead tarpon from Helldivers’ video.

There is a spearfishing sport (?) fishery for tarpon in the waters off of Louisiana. From 2002 to 2012 there have been 807 tarpon killed by Louisiana recreational fishermen (

The tarpon spearfishing fishery is supported by the fact that in the winter large numbers of adult tarpon aggregate at the Louisiana oil rigs (Stein and Franks, 2011). Louisiana spear-fishermen are aware of this phenomenon and take advantage of it. The photographs shown were posted on the website of the Hell Divers Sportfishing Club of Louisiana. Different oil rigs can be seen in the background in many of the photos the club posts at their website. Louisiana state waters only extend three miles from shore. There is only one oil rig in Louisiana state waters ( so the spearing of tarpon does occur in federal waters (see Hell Divers website info below – calls for oil rig ID # in “tournament”).

Killing a non-edible but magnificent game fish just for the boast at the dock?

We have a problem with the spearing of tarpon. For one, tarpon are known to have poor meat quality so we doubt these fish are being harvested for food. Second, tarpon are a long lived fish (80 years old) making the sustainability of the population very susceptible to fishing mortality (Ault et al. 2008).

They’re Florida Tarpon too!

One of our biggest issues with the spearing of Louisiana tarpon is the fact that they are KILLING FLORIDA TARPON! Satellite tagging results clearly show that tarpon caught in the inshore waters of Florida migrate to the oil rigs of Louisiana, and tarpon on the oil rigs of Louisiana migrate to the inshore waters of Florida and Texas. It is an age old conundrum of a migratory species that must pass through many differing jurisdictions throughout its yearly travels. Some haunts are less kind and definitely take their toll on, and sometimes devastate, a species. Tarpon are found as far south as Argentina and as far north as Nova Scotia. These are your fish too.

Taking action

We’re requesting that NOAA/FWC take a large step for tarpon conservation by creating a no-take of tarpon in federal waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. A tarpon is a game fish of quite considerable value to Gulf states when alive and should be catch-and-release only in “all” federal waters. Curtailing the spearing of tarpon in federal waters of Louisiana and the other Gulf states as well as the Atlantic states would result in a marked decrease in mortality on Florida’s tarpon stock. It would also send a message to all the coastal states’ fish and wildlife commissions about the value of live, migrating tarpon which can be a solid revenue resource for all Atlantic and Gulf states. This would be a definite step in the right direction. We expect it has the potential to generate momentum for other states to ban the harvest of tarpon in their waters.

Note: Under section 16 U.S.C. 1856 (a)(3) of the Magnusun-Stevens Act, states can extend their regulations into federal waters if their are no fishing regulations for the fishery in federal waters. So the state of Florida can extend tarpon catch-and-release status into federal waters since there is no management of tarpon in federal waters. 

Excerpt from Hell Divers Sportfishing Club of Louisiana current website

Note: “William Stein MD, accorded a PhD (just recently) at UNO, is doing a study on Tarpon. Dr. Stein gave us a talk on Tarpon at this year’s Council Meeting. He has requested that if any large tarpon is landed that he be given a call at (415) 779-5261 (please save the number in your cell phone) so either he or one of his lab partners can do a study on the fish. The out come of this study may prove that platforms have become an important and/or essential habitat for Tarpon during part of their lifecycle.”

Hell Divers Celebrate Their 50th Anniversary in 2013!

Mark your calendars for the spearfishing event of the year.
The 50th Anniversary of the infamous Hell Divers Spearfishing Rodeo!
Rodeo dates are May 30 thru June 2, 2013 with the weigh in
and party taking place on the 2nd.


Scales will close at 1:00 pm CDT Sunday June 2, 2013.
Rodeo Registration is $50 until May 15, 2013.
From May 16 – May 29 Late Registration is $60.

Doctarpon (Stein) is offering a prize of $100 for the largest Lionfish.
$100 for largest tarpon over 110 lbs. Rig number and depth must be privately sent to Dr. Tarpon (to protect secret spots) or Alex Fogg to receive reward.

$100 for smallest tarpon under 25 lbs. Rig number and depth must be privately sent to Dr. Tarpon or to Alex Fogg to receive award.
$300 reward for a spawning capable female tarpon. 1 award will be given for each of the 2 largest spawning capable female tarpon. Tarpon will be dissected but spawning status may take 3 weeks to determine.
Total possible awards $900.

More to come on this vastly important issue. Stay tuned to Fly Life for the next step towards saving these amazing creatures.

Tarpon in all its glory... Greg Dini photo

Tarpon in all its glory…
Greg Dini photo


Author Skip

More posts by Skip

Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • Andrew Derr says:

    Very important cause… more to come on this.

  • will says:

    Fly Life

    Dear Sir or Madame,

    I have read with some interest the Spotlight Article in the recent online edition of your magazine entitled “Conservation: Wanna’ know what the absence of any regs looks like?” I would like to take this opportunity to correct some of the factual errors in your article and to help you gain a better understanding of the problems facing a magnificent animal that we all love: the tarpon.

    I have been fly fishing for tarpon for over thirty years in almost every country in the western hemisphere that has fishable tarpon stocks. My love for tarpon led me to return to school to earn a Ph.D. so that I could scientifically study this animal. Tarpon are important food fish in Columbia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and many other countries that boarder on the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. A very active artisanal aquaculture industry exists in Columbia just for this purpose. However, I have been appalled by the wanton destruction of the species by sports fishers across the hemisphere. As you correctly stated, very little is known about the life cycle of tarpon. In fact, we do not even know where tarpon spawn. Last spring, we published the first report of a spawning tarpon in the northern Gulf of Mexico. My research has shown that tarpon complete their entire life cycle on the Louisiana coast. This means that fish caught in Florida may well have come from Louisiana. The problem is that tarpon stocks have apparently decreased in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1960s. However, as no stock assessment has ever been done, we really do not know whether or not this is true.

    You did inaccurately state that “hundreds of tarpon are being killed every winter, spring, and summer by spear fishermen in gulf coast states (sic)”. In point of fact, the pictures that you display in your article show only three fish which were collected over a number of years. I have kept very accurate records of every adult tarpon taken by spear fishers in southeastern Louisiana for the last three years. In point of fact there have been less than 29 in total. I should also point out that the spawning capable tarpon in our paper was captured and brought to the dock by a sports fisher and not by a diver.

    The rewards for tarpon posted on the Hell Diver website are for only four (4) tarpon. As you pointed out, tarpon are not good to eat, so it is unlikely that I will get even these 4 fish unless one is brought in by a sports fisher. The point of this “reward” is to obtain a few fish so that we might learn more about them and what we can do to help preserve the species. At this point in time, it would appear that the two factors which are most threatening to tarpon stocks are: loss of coastal nursery habitat through human development and loss of adult tarpon through improper handling by sports fishers. Kathy Guindon’s excellent Ph.D. dissertation from the University of South Florida addresses the effects of catch-and-release angling in Florida’s central Gulf Coast recreational fishery. As she points out, the short- term catch-and-release mortality rates range between 5.3% and 13.4%. These numbers do not include all cases of predation (shark attacks). She estimates that rates would approach 5% if all shark attacks were avoided which of course is impossible. Estimates of annual catch-and-release tarpon mortality in Florida alone ranged from 5899 in 2009 to 8105 in 2004.

    The annual mortality among rates for tarpon in the catch-and-release fishery in Florida alone are between 700 and 1000 times higher than the annual loss from spear fishing in Louisiana. If your editorial policy is really to preserve tarpon and not to sensationalize incorrect information from inadequate research and lack of knowledge, our sports fly fishing community would be better served were you to spend more effort informing your readers about proper handling procedures. Furthermore, the image of fly fishers would be greatly improved if the numerous videos on YouTube showing fly fishers feeding tarpon to sharks were removed.

  • Skip says:

    We need a petition so we can get leverage with the admin folks in government.

  • will says:

    Presently the State of Florida regulations condone the killing of hundreds of tarpon every year (1250). Kill tags need to be done away with completely in Florida.

  • will says:

    See how 50 year old tarpon are treated with respect in Florida:

  • photodiver says:

    Florida fishermen kill many more tarpon each year as the sharks get them before they can be released check out you tube videos there are too many to watch.

  • Zitz88 says:

    Who wrote this??? It has multiple inaccuracies and attempts to paint the Helldivers as a bloodthirsty mob that is causing massive damage to the ecosystem. Their conservation practices and devotion to sustaining habitat for tarpon as well as other gulf species is well documented. The fact is that whoever wrote this made false accusations and slandered Louisiana spear fisherman, of which I am one, and more specifically the Helldivers, is flat out wrong but more and more typical of poor “journalism” and people trying to push an agenda by attacking others.

    Very sad and pathetic….

  • rigfisher says:

    I have been fishing the oil rigs off of Louisiana for about 30 years now. I fish many tournaments every year where tarpon are a species on the board. I have talked some of these divers you have posted about here, and they kill far far fewer tarpon than we do fishing. They probably take fewer than 15 a year as an entire group in Louisiana. To call them out in this article as uncaring killers of tarpon is just plain untrue. Their goal is to show a breeding population of tarpon off Louisiana and make an effort to stop the removal of the oil platforms that kill many thousands of fish including tarpon and other game species. Instead of focusing our efforts to the government on a specific fish, we should be focusing on the entire ecosystems being systematically removed on a daily basis mandated by that same government.

  • Tarp101 says:

    There is nothing “slanderous” in this article… “slander” doesn’t apply. The term you are looking for is “libel” and there is nothing “libelous” for the Hell Divers in this article. It appears to be completely factual where the organization is concerned. However, what I don’t really understand is the thought of placing a monetary award for a recognized sport fish species and award the killing of it in the name of research. If the tournament were to offer prize money for something, then do so, but seems rather strange to me for a researcher to be paying for specimens. Why doesn’t Dr. Stein just get his specimens for free at the Grande Isle Rodeo? Also, he has already published his paper. I read it. It discussed one female and two male tarpon. How many females did it take for him to get the one he wrote about? How many other female tarpon showed no signs of egg maturation. If the one was statistically small compared to the fish taken (i.e. 1 in 10?), does it make sense to continue the research? He got the evidence he needed and published it. And what does killing a small tarpon under 25 lbs prove? We know for a fact, if you do your homework on tarpon biology, that small juvenile tarpon do not grow up in deep water. A 5-10 pound tarpon is not sexually mature so examining a dead specimen is worthless for that. Seems like a photo would be good enough to prove they were at the rig. As for the other arguments, it is not about the numbers, it is about the intent and the mentality. Some people may think shooting a tarpon with a spear gun is sport, the problem is that other people, and likely a large number may disagree. At least anglers who may participate in a particular kill tournament, like the Grande Isle rodeo can say that on most days, they are careful to release their tarpon alive. I don’t think that spearfishing has the opportunity to be a catch and release sport. So arguing you are killing tarpon to prove they use an offshore rig so rigs should be saved makes no sense to me personally – Dr. Stein’s published study has proven what you allegedly need – so why not just take a camera next time – just my 2 cents.

  • snook snagger says:

    Diver dudes, we have an understandable concern, I just think for some of us that it’s misdirected. It’s normal to find a little misinformation and jump on it in a feel good measure but it ain’t right. Yeah, you guys take Tarpon in a more challenging and barbarick manner but you take only a fraction of what us sportfishers do. Besides, if i understand correctly it’s for a documented science study? My little mind can’t imagine being attached to a seven foot angry Tarpon by a rope undewater. Hats off to you, sounds like you guys know how to have fun. Fellow anglers, be careful of what we stir up because when we point one finger at them, we have three more pointing back at us. Guilty as charged.

  • Tarp101 says:

    One last thing – I watched your video at – Really? The tarpon swim lazily around you until you pick one out and shoot it. Maybe I don’t understand but is this “sporting” to anybody? Seems like you just shoot it and pull it in. That would be like shooting tame buffalo. Walk through a herd in a pasture and pull out a rifle six feet away and shoot it.

  • Zitz88 says:

    I guess you didn’t “libel” the guys whose names and pictures you took down?

  • Zitz88 says:

    So by insulting our sport, you think you are strengthening your argument? REALLY!??!! Name calling?…what are you like eight years old?

  • motherfroanotherbrother says:

    Who gives a flying fuck about a big silver minnow. Go ahead, try to get the feds to bann spearing of tarpon if federal waters, (it’ll never happen because there ain’t no back room deals for a shit fish) and I’ll pound all those motherfuckers before they get out the marsh.

  • yakattack says:

    Ok kiddies, dont be throwing dirt clauds at each other.

    Personally I dont fish for sport, I fish for food and I never take in more than I plan to eat for dinner if I catch anything worth eating at all. I’m a kayak fisherman myself and have landed a couple of tarpon. There is nothing more fun than fighting a tarpon and getting dragged around a little in the water. Granted, that none of the tarpon I landed were giants, but catching those 15-20 pounders is quite a fun filled fight for a kayak. I always throw them back because they are not good eating and I dont buy tarpon tags.

    As for inedible fish, I dont see the point of bringing it back to shore unless you plan on eating it or doing something usefull which there isnt… Other than pasting it on your wall. I’m not a tree hugger or anything like that, but spearfishing giant tarpon for “RESEARCH” is pointless. The Japanese play this card with their whaling, they claim that their whaling is nothing more than “RESEARCH” of menke whale but have atrociously high quotas, but after being personnally stationed in Japan for 4 years, I have seen plenty of whale on the menu and in the fish markets. They do this regardless of the many regulations against excessive whaling in international waters. And no I am not taking this info from those green peace freeks from Whale Wars, though I do like their thwarting efforts that are in fact paying off, this is first hand experience.

    Tarp101 makes a point “The tarpon swim lazily around you until you pick one out and shoot it. Maybe I don’t understand but is this “sporting” to anybody?”

    Fishing is done in many ways, and as much as I dont go so low as to spearfish but instead use my wits and angling techniques instead to give the fish a fighting chance at life, poaching and bringing them to a dock cutting them up then throwing them back and saying “RESEARRRRCH” is pretty BS.

    I am not going to just drop dimes on Helldivers as they are probably not the only group out their doing this, but there does need to be limits on this both in federal and state waters. We humans are, by far, the most destructive force on this planet and those who fail to put common sense into play on their “RESEARCH”(SPORT) efforts are contributors of the destruction to an oceans ecosystem of the only known planet able to sustain human life. We’ve already done a great job at harming the numerous land species here already.

  • Ihatetarponklllers says:

    Dr. Will Stein, your assertions about Tarpon fishing tournaments, specifically the PTTS are very well founded (they are currently suing “save the tarpon” for economic damages related to loss of sponsorship). However, blowing a Tarpon’s brains out to prove they sit offshore on oil rigs is purely for thrill seekers, is devoid of sportsmanship, and has no scientific merit. It would have been much more appropriate to post your video sans spearfishing incident to illustrate the Tarpon’s presence followed by a statement about catch and release mortality in Florida

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