Early Tuesday morning, an instagram post began making the rounds, as people expressed their rage and shame of such disrespect and terrible handling of adult tarpon. The post highlights anglers completely removing 150 pound tarpon up onto a boat’s bow for a hero picture, dead and iced down tarpon, and piles of speckled trout and puppy drum. What’s the point you may ask? Well, Captain Andy Thomson, of Salt Air Outfitters, is trying to shed some light on how you should NOT treat a fishery and put an end to the old idea that fishing is about stacking fish on the dock or dragging that massive animal into a boat for a picture only to drastically decrease its odds of survival. It’s a reminder that just because regulations may allow certain actions does not mean anglers should engage in those activities.

During a short phone call this morning, Andy highlighted that he once too mishandled fish,”I fished all those tarpon tournaments in the Keys, and we gaffed a lot of fish, but we eventually realized that we were seriously harming the fishery that we depended on.” So, they began working towards improving how they handled fish and conserving and advocating for the resource. Many readers understand that in Florida, by law, anglers cannot remove large tarpon from the water, harvest certain gamefish, and many other important fish are protected by strict regulations. Florida’s flats and light-tackle guiding community has led the charge and is promoting a more sustainable future for many of their fisheries.

Well, just up the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, tarpon clearly do not enjoy those same protections. With this shared resource, one region has gone to great lengths to conserve and sustainably enjoy, and another has no regulations. Without getting into the nitty-gritty on tarpon stock complexes, the main point is that in this day and age fisheries absolutely have to be managed sustainably and with long-term interests in mind–especially those as valuable as the catch and release tarpon fishery. There are just too many people out there fishing today to kill a tarpon, which are long-lived and are a sustainable economic powerhouse, for bragging rights. It’s a backwards, ancient way of thinking that needs to evolve.

We found some images posted by a specific Louisiana parish’s tourism account that highlighted teenagers standing next to massive dead tarpon. This is where it gets bad; the old guard that was raised on endless harvest and pillaging of the ocean is showing young, impressionable anglers that it’s OK to kill a twenty year old tarpon–and even worse, that you should be proud of it. Obviously, we didn’t want to share those images because the bullying effect social media can have, but also because these kids probably didn’t know any better. Their father or grandfathers probably brought them fishing and pushed their out-dated fishing experiences on those kids.

“We all need to be good stewards of the environment and conscientious of the sustainability of our resource. My hope is that future generations will be able to enjoy a healthy fishery.” -Capt. Andy Thompson 

This is one of those examples where social media can be a tremendously positive tool. It can educate those kids and fathers in Louisiana that if they kill that tarpon today, then their kids or grandchildren may not be able to enjoy them in the future. Also it can put a great bit of social pressure on the guides to be better stewards–because they do know better but are letting their egos get the best of them. Finally, it can influence new  policies to ensure we have abundant populations of tarpon and other species for long into the future–maybe Louisiana and other coastal states implement regulations for tarpon and adopt more sustainable management.

Thank you, Captain Andy Thompson for sharing and sparking this dsicussion. Fisheries are not infinite nor invincible–all anglers need to be stewards for the resource if we want to have them in the future. It doesn’t matter if you sustainable harvest fish to share with friends and family or release every fish you catch–you do have an impact. So, learn how to be the best steward for the resource, respect the resource, and educate those that aren’t as involved or knowledgeable.

Tarpon Best Handling Practices from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust on Vimeo.

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Will Poston
Will Poston has been with us here at Flylords since 2017 and is now our Conservation Editor. Will focuses on high-profile conservation issues, such as Pebble Mine, the Clean Water Act rollbacks, recovering the Pacific Northwest’s salmon and steelhead, and everything in-between. Will is from Washington, DC, and you can find him fishing on the tidal Potomac River in Washington, DC or chasing striped bass and Albies up and down the East Coast—and you know, anywhere else he can find a good bite!


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