Florida's Genetic Tarpon Tracking Keeps Tabs on Silver King

It's like fingerprinting fish and Florida's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has gleaned some interesting data points from its Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study. The research arm of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWRI uses DNA samples with a unique genetic ID, or fingerprint for each fish to study silver king migration patterns.

Samples are taken by scraping small amounts of skin cells from the tarpon's jaw with an abrasive sponge and sending the DNA, along with catch details, to FWRI for processing. Newly sampled fish are added to the existing database, while recaptured fish already included are identified when their DNA is cross-referenced to reveal growth and movement.

In its 7-year existence, the program has sampled over 17,000 tarpon. Annual reports present the latest findings and the 2012 compilation revealed these stats:

• In 2012, fishing guides and recreational anglers collected 4,346 tarpon DNA samples. Scientist contributed an additional 263 samples.

• 143 tarpon have been caught and sampled more than once

• One juvenile tarpon in the Sebastian River was caught and sampled three times in three months

• Recreational angler, Jon Mallory of Merritt Island, Florida caught and sampled 975 tarpon in 2012

• An adult tarpon sampled off Sarasota County was sampled again less than a month later in Islamorada. About a month later it was sampled again in Islamorada.

• Of the 4,606 tarpon DNA samples collected in 2012, 4,387 came from the United States and 222 came from other countries.

• DNA samples were collected in five states. Florida led with 4,343 samples.

• Florida's top sampling counties in 2012 were Brevard County with 1,276, Monroe (832) and Lee (828).

Anglers interested in participating in the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Program will find details at TarponGenetics@MyFWC.com.