Tag: Are Tarpon Air Breathers

80 years of Illegal (tarpon) Immigration

The Tico Times

Published for the Tico Times by Todd Staley

Costa Rica Tarpon on the Pacific – 80 years of illegal immigration

Saul Porras lands tarpon near Playa Tamales in Golfo Dulce. (Photo via Todd Staley. )

Tarpon enter through Panama at the canal and head in both directions. Some go south, settling in Colombia and as far south as Ecuador. Others head north to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and as far as Guatemala. They pass in small groups or alone, but when they reach their Pacific-coast destinations, they group up with others that have made the passage. The coastline of southern Costa Rica is exactly what they need to thrive.

We are not talking about people; we are talking about tarpon, an Atlantic species and popular sport fish in the southern United States, the Caribbean, and the west coast of Africa. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is world famous for its tarpon fishery.

Caught in fisherman’s net near Quepos. Via Todd Staley.

The first tarpon was spotted in the locks of the Panama Canal in the late 1930’s, 25 years after the canal opened. Soon they were spotted in Panama Bay. Over the years, more and more sightings and captures have been recorded in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

In recent years, the sightings have increased tremendously, but that could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe tarpon are now breeding in the Pacific. Although tarpon in the larvae stage have never been found in the Pacific, the capture of small juveniles suggest that they are breeding there. The chances that these little tarpon passed through the canal and migrated several hundred miles is slim.

The expansion of the canal in recent years has allowed for much bigger ships to pass as well as producing an easier passage for species that can survive the 65 km trek through freshwater lakes Gatun and Miraflores. In fact, more than 90 species of fauna and flora have been documented to have passed from one ocean to the other — either transported by ship or freely swimming across.

Social media and internet may also play a role in the increase of reported sighting of these silver bullets. Many sightings have been in rural or sparsely populated areas where before the communication to the outside word was limited.

In Costa Rica, tarpon captures have been documented in Tamarindo, Golfo Nicoya, Quepos, Sierpe and Golfo Dulce. The majority of these have been in Sierpe and Golfo Dulce, which have an estuary type of environment juvenile tarpon and adults alike use.

I saw my first tarpon in Golfo Dulce in 1995 when I was casting the Rio Esquinas side of the Gulf for small snapper. A fish of nearly 100 lbs rolled and took a gulp of air right next to my boat, and I thought I had lost my mind. This is a fish I knew well from fishing for them in Florida to running Archie Field’s Rio Colorado Tarpon Lodge here in Costa Rica. But this fish was not supposed to be here.

Around 2010, we started hooking eight to 10 a season while fishing for roosterfish when I managed the fishing at Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jimenez. The first one was 37 lbs and was brought to the dock because the captain had no idea what it was. Today, almost all are released. I have seen one as large as 123 lbs. Most captures occur in our Costa Rican summer months with March and April seeming to be peak times for an accidental encounter.

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One angler who seems to encounter tarpon more than most is a local fisherman named Saul Porras. By trade, he is a mate on a sportfishing boat. When he is not fishing for work, he goes Costa Rica fishing for fun. He has caught more than a half dozen tarpon in the Pacific, and all of them were casting off the beach while fishing for snook. The little juvenile fish he caught off the beach at Carate adds weight to the theory that tarpon are breeding in the Pacific.

Porras watches for small sardines that school up near the shoreline. When they arrive, pelicans begin to dive on them. A short time later, the predators move in. He has learned by watching how the baitfish reacts to determine what type of fish is feeding on them. Jacks and roosterfish come in full-blown attack mode white water froths in the frenzy. Snook are more polite feeders and sneak in from underneath, causing smaller explosions of water.

A few weeks ago, Porras had set up near Tamales in the Golfo Dulce. The sardines started to go crazy and he saw big silver flashes breaking the water as they chased the baitfish. In short order, he was hooked up and a tarpon went immediately airborne. Catching a tarpon on light gear in a boat is an accomplishment, but off the beach even more so. To catch one in the Pacific Ocean is like winning the lottery. That day he hooked five and landed three of them. (He released them all.) He has caught them in at least two other locations also.

A study has just been released on 80 years of tarpon migration through the Panama Canal. Bernald Pacheco from INCOPESCA, the entity in charge of Costa Rica fisheries and CIMAR at the University of Costa Rica, contributed to the study, which was led by Gustavo Castellanos with the Leibiz Center for Tropical Marine Research in Germany. The study is available online here.

I truly believe there a lot more tarpon in the Pacific than most people and scientists believe. Every year, the number of sightings increases, and anytime you catch three of anything that is not native to an area in one day, they have set up camp.

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TOP 10 COOL FACTS ABOUT TARPON

FECOP Top Ten Tarpon Fun Facts

 

Yes, fish in general are very cool, but some fish take the “cool factor” to a whole new level. Meet the Tarpon. We think you’ll agree that this is one of the most interesting fish in the sea.

 

  • There are nearly 28,000 different fish, but only two species of tarpon.
  • Tarpon can survive in both salt and fresh water being found in Lake Nicaragua and other fresh water habitats
  • They may shed up to 12 million eggs. The eggs hatch at sea and the eel like larvae drift in shore where they undergo a metamorphosis, shrinking to half the size previously attained and taking on the more recognizable features of the tarpon as they begin to grow again.
  • Fishes were in fact the first vertebrates on Earth and date back to the Paleozoic era — the first fossil evidence of Tarpon is 125 million years old making these fighters older than a TRex.
  • Tarpon can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh nearly 300 pounds
  • There was a 64-year-old tarpon that died in the Shedd Aquarium of Chicago in the 1990s.
  • Tarpon have a potential lifespan of around 150 yrs
  • Tarpon have amazing color vision with five types of cones cells in their eyes, they can see into the ultraviolet spectrum even further than birds and insects that have four types of cones cells in their eyes. In case you are wondering, humans only have three types of cone cells.
  • Throughout history, tarpon scales have been used as nail files, wall art and pulverized for medicinal purposes. In Brazil tarpon scales werre pulverized into a powder and mixed into tea as it is believed to help with asthma,”  “Sadly, the plucked tarpon is most often left to die.” – so stick to your asthma inhaler
  • And the #1 Cool Fact About Tarpon -Tarpon breathe in oxygen from the water using gills, but they can also utilize oxygen from air in the atmosphere,” Guindon explained. “They have for long rows of lung-like material inside a swim bladder that allows this to happen.” Which explains their rolling behavior in waters with low oxygen levels

And if you think those facts are cool….watch this video of one jumping during a Costa Rica fishing trip, video courtesy Capt. Eddie Brown

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