Tarpon DNA Research

The Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study

Tarpon, Snook and Redfish guide - Light tackle and fly fishing charters with Florida fishing guide Capt. Mark Bennett - tarpon genetics - tarpon research

Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study

In the three years that I was tagging (DNA sampling) tarpon I easily dominated the competition.  Tagging and releasing more adult tarpon than anyone, anywhere in the world.  I only tagged tarpon I caught in the Boca Grande/Charlotte Harbor area.  I set a record in 2009 for tagging 147 tarpon in one season.  Since the program started in 2005, previously no one had ever even come close to this number in one season.  Only one person ever broke 100, even then just barely.  In 2010, I tagged 148.  April through July 2011, I tagged 165 at which point I ceased to tag tarpon for the remainder of the season. 

Even stopping early, in July, I still tagged more tarpon than anyone on the West Coast of Florida and more adult tarpon than anyone anywhere in the world.

Probably due to lack of results and lack of ethics of the people running it, the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Program was ended by the FWC, FWRI and Mote Marine.


For unbiased, up to date and intriguing tarpon research check out the satellite tag (PAT) data from the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust at the link below.

Now this is research!

Instead of endorsing the unnecessary killing of tarpon these guys are working hard to stop it.



I first heard of the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Program in March '09.  I was browsing the Florida Wildlife Research Institute's website.  I was interested in the findings of the past and thought I could help out by tagging a lot of tarpon that upcoming season.  

What really got my attention was they were keeping track of how many samples each guide/fisherman obtained.  This was a way to FINALLY show who caught the most tarpon over an entire season.  Some of the best tarpon guides from all over the state are already involved.  Any and all naysayers are invited to participate.

Put up or shut up...What a concept!


How do you get a DNA Sample from a tarpon?

Essentially, when a tarpon is boat side, I grab the leader in one hand and the fish by the lower jaw.  Then I rub a piece of scotch-brite pad on the side of his upper jaw.  Then the pad is placed into a small vial that is index numbered by the FWRI.  Lastly, I record all of the pertinent information about the fish size, weight, capture location etc.

That is a little easier said than done.  First and foremost a photo for my client with his or her fish is my number one priority.  Secondly, holding onto a less than happy fish with your hands that weighs over 100 pounds is not that easy to begin with.  Then adding scrubbing his face with a scotch-brite pad.  It tends to make them a bit perturbed to say the least.  During the course of the season if I got samples off of 50% of the tarpon we landed I felt good about it.   


The numbers are in and it is official!

Actual numbers from the 2011 season were withheld by the FWRI for some unknown reason.

One of the many mysteries I have become used to from the FWRI.

My guess is Kathy got tired of me kicking her old man's ass year after year...lol


Below are the numbers from 2009 and 2010.


May and June 2010 Tarpon Challenge Results

Hello Tarpon DNA Anglers,

We are also pleased to announce that Capt. Mark Bennett is the winner of the 2nd annual Markett Tarpon Challenge for 2010.

Capt. Mark Bennett has claimed this honor for the second consecutive year-by collecting 95 samples during the months of May and June.

We have included the May-June Top Ten list for your review:  

1.       Capt. Mark Bennett – 95

2.       Tie -- Capt. Gary Maconi and Capt. Paul D’Antonio – 77 each

3.       Capt. Jeff Hagaman – 39

4.       Tie -- Jeff Owens and Capt. Tom Stephens – 37 each

5.       Capt. Skip Neilson – 36

6.       Capt. Jay Withers – 34

7.       Capt. Jeff Malone – 32

8.       Tie -- Capt. Carl Ball and Capt. Dave Markett – 30 each


     The Tarpon Genetics Team

2010 Overall Results

1.         157                     Jon Mallory - East Central, FL

2.         148                     Capt. Mark Bennett - Boca Grande/Charlotte Harbor, FL

3.         101                     Capt. Paul D'Antoni - Key West, FL

4.         100                     Capt. Carl Ball - Ft. Lauderdale, FL

5.         94                       Capt. Ed Walker - Boca Grande, FL

6.         93                       Capt. Gary Maconi - Key West, FL

7.         91                       Capt. Skip Nielsen - Islamorada, FL

8.         78                       Capt. Jeff Malone - Duck Key, FL

9.         76                       Capt. Francisco Rosario - Puerto Rico

10.     73                       Capt. Robert McCue - Tampa Bay/Boca Grande, FL


Florida Guides Association Guide Offers Tarpon Challenge

 A Friendly Tarpon Challenge Issued

A featured speaker at the annual Florida Guides Association meeting was FWC Scientist Kathy Guindon. Kathy described the Tarpon Genetics program and asked for the guides to support the effort of collecting DNA samples. A lot of FGA guides already participate in the program but they need more.

Last week after a meeting with Kathy, FGA West Coast VP, Capt. Dave Markett proclaimed, "Ain't No Way any other working guide is gonna' out tag me this May and June ." He went on to say, "In fact, I'll throw down the gauntlet and say I'll beat em' all in May and June - if I don't then I'll deliver a bottle of the winner's favorite spirits to that winner personally. You can quote me on that." 

Well folks, that sounds like a challenge to me. I have some friends who are really good tarpon anglers and they don't all live on the West Coast. Kathy needs samples from all over the state and I think she's gonna' get em' because this challenge cannot go unanswered.

Remember, size doesn't matter with this Tarpon research. If you catch a tarpon take the sample and send it in. Use the contact information below to obtain your easy to use jaw scrape sample kits.

DNA is the fish tag of the future.  Using forensic science and DNA fingerprinting techniques on DNA samples you provide from any tarpon you catch can provide a "tag" to uniquely identify an individual tarpon.   The technique is less invasive to the fish.  It is less costly to tag tarpon using this jaw scrape technique than conventional tags that can break, foul, or fall out of the fish and the FWC-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has the ability to process the genetic material in house (St. Petersburg).  Finally, DNA is a tag that lasts forever.  


Capt. Dave Markett’s Tarpon Challenge Ends and a NEW CHALLENGE begins!


The numbers are in and it is official!


Capt. Dave Markett of the Florida Guide Association presented a challenge that he would not be out-sampled in May / June 2009 and so be it.    Capt. Dave returned a whopping, most impressive, total of  37 official tarpon DNA samples.   But…   

… on July 16th…one day before the deadline…

…a UPS overnight delivery arrived from Charlotte Harbor and Capt. Mark Bennett – a newcomer to the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study in 2009 – mailed in a box with “an astonishing 60 tarpon samples” from May and June.  The quote comes from Michelle Davis, our genetics technician, who did the official counting and verifications of samples taken with full capture information.  Capt. Dave, it’s true, there were 60. 

So, Capt. Dave, I am afraid you owe Capt.  Mark Bennett a bottle of his favorite spirits.


Top 10 from the May/June Tarpon Challenge: 

Capt. Mark Bennett-60        Capt. Dave Markett-37        Jeff Owens-33             Capt. Jeff Hagaman-26        Capt. Tom Stephens Jr.-21  

John Gargan-20           Tommy Ziesmann-18              John Manuel-17          Carl Ball-15     Clark Nash-15


Tarpon anglers, do not despair.  A NEW CHALLENGE has been put forth from a Florida artist to keep the tarpon momentum moving forward. 

 I challenge you as anglers to help preserve our fisheries by participating in this program.  The angler who brings in the most samples will receive a 'Silver King' print," says artist Richard Powers.

Mr.  Powers will present a wonderful, signed and framed leaping tarpon 18” x 24” print to the person who samples and returns the most tarpon DNA during July and August 2009.  This challenge is for anyone sampling tarpon, anywhere, any size!   All DNA scrapes must be returned by Sept. 18th to qualify for this challenge. 


The Tarpon Genetics Team


Here are the top 5 samplers for Florida in July/August 2009. 

































Kathy Guindon
Assistant Research Scientist
FWC - Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 8th Ave. SE
St. Petersburg, FL  33701



Can you imagine catching nearly 150 tarpon in 6 months?

By Capt. Ron Presley

One tarpon angler in Florida has not only caught and released nearly 150 tarpon, he also tagged them using DNA sampling techniques. Samples are collected by recreational anglers and processed by the folks at FWRI.

The numbers reported below report the top ten anglers who turned in samples between January 1, 2009 and October 31, 2009.

The Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study gives anglers the opportunity to make a direct impact on state-of-the-art research. Anglers statewide can collect a DNA sample by removing a few skin cells from the outside of a tarpon’s jawbone using an abrasive pad provided in a free sampling kit. The tarpon can be any size.

Top Ten 2009 Tarpon DNA Samplers for Florida are:

Capt. Mark Bennett 147
Jon Mallory 136
Capt. Ed Walker 119
Capt. Robert McCue 86
Capt. John Manuel 70
Capt. Raymond Baird 63
Capt. Roy Bennett 56
Lee Roberts 50
Jeff Owens 49
Capt. Dave Markett 37


For Information and reservations:

Email or give me a call, I am always available to discuss your trip.

Capt. Mark Bennett

(941) 474-8900




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