Differences remain, but we have a lot in common

BY DONDI DAVIS

I have read many comments regarding the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in Boca Grande Pass. They range from the thought provoking to the downright rude.

It seems to me that supporters of Save The Tarpon and supporters of the PTTS have a lot in common. We all like fishing for tarpon, we all like boating and we are all family oriented. We even like to enjoy the same types of activities when we aren’t “on the clock.” For instance, scalloping in Homosassa, spending time with our families and enjoying what this great state of Florida has to offer.

The main difference between Save The Tarpon supporters and those who have chosen to support the PTTS is learning from past mistakes, standing up for what is right and having the ability to determine the difference between right and wrong.

Tarpon can only be fished recreationally in Florida. The majority of recreational anglers practice catch and release since the fish is not considered to be of any food value. However, anglers can possess them for trophy purposes at the cost of $50.00 per tag, per fish. Without this tag, possession is illegal.  The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) uses this “kill tag”  or “trophy tag” (as seen in the above photo) as a way to drag and weigh the fish for the television audience.

We all know that it’s common sense that when you gaff, drag and handle a fish as the PTTS does, it lessens their ability to recover.

Why won’t the PTTS go to a strict catch and release format? Is it all about TV ratings? Is it not enough to film the excitement of anglers and the mighty silver king as it jumps from the water?

The FWC clearly states “proper handling techniques ensure the best chance of survival. This includes returning the fish to the water as quickly as possible.”

The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust agrees “that research on catch and release fishing generally shows the amount and type of handling of fish after being caught and before being released is an important factor in determining the likelihood of survival after release. Fish that are kept in the water and handled minimally do best, while fish that are handled extensively and exposed to air for long periods of time don’t fare well.

So why does the PTTS insist on calling their tournaments “catch & release?”

Wikipedia defines catch and release as a “practice within recreational fishing intended as a technique of conservation. After capture the fish are unhooked and returned to the water before experiencing serious exhaustion or injury.”

Expertglossary.com defines catch and release as “catching a fish and immediately releasing it.”

Nowhere can you find a definition of catch and release that involves purchasing a $50 tag, gaffing a hole in the fishes bottom lip, attaching said tag, dragging it across Boca Grande Pass, weighing it, dragging it somewhere else and “reviving” the fish so it can be released.

Is it legal? That’s what the state says. But is it ethical? Is it preserving the fishery for future generations? I’ve listened to arguments on both sides. My conclusion is no, it shouldn’t be legal and it is definitely not ethical. Critics will say I wasn’t born here. That I don’t have the right to speak my mind. Nonsense. I live here. I see things with my own eyes. I have experienced catching – and immediately releasing – the mighty Silver King.

With all that we now know about fishing and conservation, the only answer for me is to DEMAND that the PTTS change its format and practice true catch and release. Catch the fish, release the fish. Not catch the fish, gaff the fish, drag the fish, hoist and weigh the fish, drag the fish again, and hide what’s left of the fish.

We have much in common. Let’s work together to preserve this fishery.

Scott Alford of ProjectTarpon.com responds to Cindy Mercurio

Project TarponCindysays:

“Project Tarpon takes over tarpon tournament” (on Mr. Alford’s website)in Texas. Mr. Alford’s website is sponsored by a yacht company that makes tarpon fishing boats and he sells clothing! Andros Boats is going to the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. You guys hoping to get it on tv? Get your own sponsors etc.? This is about power, control and money! The PTTS has continually changed their rules to ensure that the tarpon are handled with care. But it does not matter because you are using the tarpon to gain what you want….YOUR FISHING HOLE FISHED YOUR WAY!

Cindy, I wish you knew me better. If you did, you would know that what I am hoping to do is about as far from power, control or money that it possibly could be. I think we can agree that the problem with assumptions is that they are often not based in fact.

I’ll let you know some things about ProjectTarpon.com. First, in the two years it has existed, it has never made a profit. Really? Yea, really! Winter Custom Yachts doesn’t even pay ProjectTarpon.com to have its ads on the page. I have NO ownership in Winter Custom Yachts and the company has NEVER paid me a dime. I simply built a boat with them and think they are a great company, and I personally like the folks that run the company. Gorgeous boats, love ‘em and really want to see them succeed in their relatively new and young business. Tarpon boats are NOT their specialty nor will they ever be. [ Besides, as long as they are around, I guess my hull warranty is good. :-) hahaha… ]

The other ads on the pages aren’t really any different. They are all folks I know, like, respect and have worked with to help tarpon research. (One of them even competes in the PTTS and has the last two years.) Guides who may advertise on the forums are all given the same deal, you agree to post reports during tarpon season on the forum and you get your ad for free. I’d make the same offer to any PTTS guides who want to do the same thing or any other Boca Grande guide. I think at one time I made $25 off of running some of those banner GoogleAds but never got the check from Google for some reason. They claim they mailed it? I am open to taking pay advertisers on the website but it is not really a priority for me, nor has it ever been. As they say, I have a “day job.” I hope and anticipate ProjectTarpon.com making a little money at some point in the future… I hope… but I never anticipate it keeping me above the poverty level nor would I EVER want to piggy-back on anybody else to actually turn some small profit.

I tell you what, once we agree on a cooperative effort with the PTTS next year on tagging tarpon and get the details settled, I’ll stick an ad up for the PTTS on the website. Sound good? Although, I don’t think ProjectTarpon.com is going to make a dent in anybody knowing about the PTTS but I’ll do it for ya…. for free.

With regard to our tournament “take over”, I solely organized the Tarpon Tomorrow Tournament in Texas and if you had read the rest of my website, you would see that ProjectTarpon.com’s “taking over” of the Tarpon Tomorrow tournament is really just a name change. It was me, myself and I before and it will be me, myself and I this year. The tournament offers no prize money, just trophies. (One year it did have prize money at the request of professional guides, who then did not sufficiently participate to make it worth the hassle, so it was abandoned – the pros seemed to complain and argue…. so I eliminated them too and made it only amateurs. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth doing.) This tournament is an amateur angler only tournament and is organized just for fun and to satellite tag tarpon and assist with tarpon research in Texas.

Just so you know the history of this tournament. It was originally run by somebody else. It was called the Texas Tarpon Pro/Am. It was organized to raise money to satellite tag tarpon in Texas. It never really made any money. Then, the guy who ran it moved away from Galveston and decided to abandon it. That very year, we found out the state, the University of Miami, BTT and others were willing to fund satellite tags and wanted a tournament to help get them placed. So… during a Tarpon Tomorrow board meeting, nobody volunteered to run a tournament to help, so I opened my fat mouth. The rest is history. I even remember where I was the day I made that fatefully decision. Standing on a dock in South Carolina while my family sat in a restaurant having dinner during a family vacation so I could be on the phone for the meeting.

The tournament is for fun and its goals are sportsmanship and research. We all go to a little fishing town in Texas, rent rooms in the same hotel, tie our boats at the dock in front of our rooms and have a good time. I don’t compete, I take the biologists out on my boat to tag fish that are caught by others. The competitors are just as happy to see their buddy in the next boat win as they are to take home a trophy for themselves… in fact, when one boat finds fish, they usually call over other competitors… that is an oddity in a tournament. It is what sport fishing should be and I am really proud of everybody that enters the tournament. I consider each and every one of them a friend (all ten to twelve boats or so of them – a whopping turnout huh?).

The tournament has never made any real profit. I think at most about $1k was carried-over to the next year in the bank account to front expenses. There is no TV, there are no sponsors giving the tournament money anymore… any money that is fronted for this effort comes out of my pocket. When companies did sponsor, it was so they could get a logo on the give-away t-shirts and help me cover the costs of the shirts (on which I personally lost money every year). We don’t do shirts anymore so I don’t ask for sponsors anymore. So, that being said, to say this is about power, control or money, I guess it is if you mean LOSING power, control and money.

(And by the way, the reason I started the ProjectTarpon.com website was because the guys at my tournaments started asking, where can I go to find out what happened to the tagged tarpon… wow, there was an idea…. help anglers learn about research on tarpon).

With that background, let me say that I can actually help your son and Gary Ingman. I had a great conversation with Garry and shared it with the world when I did. I posted it here. I am not some black night with some bad agenda controlled by some group in Boca Grande. I love Boca Grande and have fished there for years and years. Traveling and spending my money locally. Pass fishing is not really my preferred way of fishing so I personally don’t really care who is in the pass doing what. I only want to help the fishery. I think Gary got that impression from my conversation with him. That is why he wants to keep talking with me about what we can do together. I may have opinions, but don’t we all. I am still open minded and as I have always said, I would love for the satellite tags to prove that that PTTS does not harm fish. After all, if the satellite tags show the fish survive, then aren’t I your best spokesman?

To reduce your concerns about power, control and money, I would be more than happy to agree that during any tagging at the PTTS tournaments, I will exclude all logos, reference or anything related to ProjectTarpon.com. In fact, please don’t mention my name or ProjectTarpon.com at ALL. (I don’t even plan on playing a big part in it other than coordinating with researchers, since I live 1k miles away and can’t afford to be there all the time.) There will be absolutely no references to anybody who advertises on my page (free or not), the Winter Custom Yachts boat I fish on will not be there, so your sponsors need not worry, and I will be sure not to wear any clothing containing any logos of anybody whatsoever. I will be happy to wear a PTTS shirt if somebody will provide one. Shoot, if it is important to ya, I’ll even buy it.

As you can see, this not about ProjectTarpon.com, its not really about the PTTS, its about tarpon… I thought I said that somewhere before?

Please just do me one personal favor – call Gary, get my phone number and call me on the phone if you have a concern. Joe is more than welcome to call me too. I’d love to talk with you or your son in more detail. Just please don’t attack me with assumptions that aren’t fair and that you don’t really know about. We don’t have to agree…. but that doesn’t mean we can’t “get along” enough to help tarpon and help maybe end some of the divisiveness that only hurts tarpon fishing and sportsmanship in general. Agreed?

Today, as in 1997, ‘it has gotten way out of hand’

Tarpon Fishing Tournament in Boca Grande PassThe story below was published in 1997. It focuses on boat operation in Boca Grande Pass rather than the “yes it does, no it doesn’t” debate over the jig. It also tells us that the flats and bay boat drag races that are part of today’s PTTS viewer experience are nothing new.

For the benefit of anglers who only recently began to make the weekend commute to the Pass to fish the PTTS, Jack Harper once ran a series of popular tournaments from Miller’s Marina (now the Boca Grande Marina) that were, along with the chamber’s World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament and the Ladies Day event, an important part of tarpon season in Boca Grande.

By the time this article appeared, things were beginning to change. It was becoming obvious that what the author describes as the “run-and-gun method” of boat handling jig anglers brought to Boca Grande was, both literally and figuratively, colliding with the traditional method of drifting the Pass.

It was a matter of logistics. And it had little or nothing to do with bait, lures, circle hooks and snagging. It had everything to do with boat operation. It was something Harper clearly understood. The mechanics of drift and “run and gun” didn’t work well together. The laws of physics as applied to tarpon fishing. Two bodies can’t occupy the same space at the same time. As the story explains, his solution was to hold separate tournaments. Most tournaments would be a “drift” events. He would then hold a limited number of “non-drift,” or “run and gun” affairs. Unfortunately, that’s not how they were labeled.

As the article notes, anglers were segregated by what they were dropping into the water rather than how they ran their boats. Harper’s tournaments were either “live bait only” (drift) or they were “open.” The latter meant that those choosing to fish the breakaway jig (“run and gun”) could participate. So could those who used traditional methods (drift). It didn’t work. Ultimately, “open” became synonymous with “jig.”

Arguably, “run and gun” boat operation was initially confined to the tournament environment. Those who fished run and gun for money on the weekends could generally be found drifting when a trophy and a check weren’t on the line. There was, again arguably, relative peace in the Pass. It didn’t last.

There is no doubt the jig was a convenience. Just about anyone could spend a few bucks for a handful of these things and go tarpon fishing. And they did. As the device grew in popularity, so did demand for more tournaments tailored to “run and gun.” If nothing else, Harper was a good businessman. He began adding more “open” tournaments to the Miller’s schedule to cater to what he saw as an expanding market. The Miller’s drift tournaments slowly drifted away. Other “live bait only” events took their place.

It isn’t surprising that the boat handling methods once pretty much limited to the Miller’s tournaments would ultimately seep into non-competitive Pass fishing. And, as Harper had earlier discovered, drift and “run and gun” still didn’t and couldn’t co-exist. And just as Harper had also learned, the table – or the Pass – was stacked in favor of the runners and the gunners. They could run and gun amid the drifters with relative ease. But the drifters couldn’t really drift amid the run and gun.

One “user group,” as the FWC likes to say, by virtue of its choice of boat handling had effectively excluded another. And while, as Harper notes, these user groups were once identified by this choice of boat handling methods, the dispute eventually evolved into one involving choice of lure versus bait.

Today, the PTTS has taken “run and gun” to an extreme not even Harper could have imagined. And it’s being broadcast to a national cable TV audience. The world perceives Boca Grande Pass as the “controlled chaos” created by the PTTS and touted by host Joe Mercurio. The PTTS has become Boca Grande Pass. And Boca Grande Pass, sadly, has become the PTTS.

Harper, who would eventually go on to become the Timothy Leary of “run and gun” jig fishing, makes an unlikely prophet. But his words, spoken in 1997, were truly prophetic. Yes, Jack, you were and are right. “It has gotten way out of hand.”

Published Sunday, April 27, 1997
Jacksonville.com: Jiggers-baiters quarrel raging

By Joe Julavits
Times-Union outdoors editor

All is not well in the kingdom of the tarpon.

Boca Grande, the upscale village in Southwest Florida where life is good and the tarpon fishing even better, is locked into a debate over conflicting methods of catching the giant silver kings.

It’s the jiggers vs. the live-baiters, and the struggle has reached Biblical proportions.

“It has gotten way out of hand,” said Jack Harper of Miller’s Marina, which holds seven tarpon tournaments each year.” We’re trying to get together a list of 10 Commandments for etiquette in the pass.”

The pass is Boca Grande Pass, and each spring and summer the tarpon congregate there in numbers that must be seen to be believed. For generations, the accepted method of catching them has been to drift the pass with heavy tackle and live bait, usually small crabs or pinfish.

Boats like the venerable Morgan were specifically designed for tarpon fishing in the pass. When the fish are thick, so are the boats, and the captains queue up, make their drift and pull out of line when a hook-up ensues. All very orderly.

In the late ’60s, former Tampa Tribune outdoors writer Herb Allen is believed to have introduced deep-jigging to the Boca Grande area. In recent years, the practice has become increasingly popular and effective as companies such as Cotee and 12 Fathom have developed break-away jigs aimed primarily at pass tarpon.

And here’s where the rub comes in. Not only have the jigs proven themselves as tarpon catchers, the run-and-gun method of fishing them from small flats skiffs clashes with the classic style of drifting practiced by the old-line Boca boats.

Something had to give here, and in recent months it has. The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, put on annually by the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, has banned jigs. The $165,000 affair – $3,500 entry fee – will be fished July 9-10 with live bait only. Miller’s Marina has also disallowed jigs in its seven 1997 tournaments, although a jigs-only tournament has been added to the schedule.

The jig-makers cried foul, then seized the marketing opportunity, saying their lures were too effective and resented by traditionalists. Tournament organizers countered, saying the situation had become potentially dangerous, with hooked tarpon possibly leaping into nearby boats, causing injury.

“We wanted to even the playing field, and we chose to go with live bait mostly for safety’s sake,” said Debbie Ricci of the Boca Chamber. “We have 60 boats competing in a very confined area, and the two methods [of fishing] are conflicting.”

Harper said most of the opposition to jigs comes from a core of about 25 live-bait boats.

“Those jig boats start running around like crazy when the fish pod up,” he said. “It’s kind of dangerous and funny at the same time to watch. The jig boats are cutting the other boats off. They’re using light line, and you can’t control a big tarpon on 20- or 30-pound test.”

Nick Stubbs of Cotee Industries in Port Richey said the issue is complex, but at the heart of it is the efficiency of the jigs.

“The two fishing styles don’t meld very well,” he said. “The bait guys do a drift through a stretch, while the jiggers tend to dash here and there. All the bait boats traditionally have taken charters out for those tournaments.

“The guys on small boats with jigs have dominated those events in the last few years. The bottom line is, jigs outperform live bait in the daylight.”

The tarpon have already arrived in Boca this year. Some of the jiggers say they’ll switch to live bait for this season’s tournaments, but they’ll still use the run-and-gun technique.

Colecchio learns he is not the master of his own domain when he makes it personal

Gary S. Colecchio has spent more than a decade injecting himself and his wisdom into the very public Boca Grande Pass tarpon debate. With the emergence of Save The Tarpon Inc., the Bonita Springs resident has gone into overdrive.

Colecchio is the Southwest Regional Director of the Florida Guides Association. From August 9, 2011 to May 11, 2012 he was Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Southwest District Office. He was among five Floridians nominated to serve on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. His bid was opposed by the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association Inc., among others. He failed to win appointment. He is a member of the Coastal Conservation Association and the National Association of Charterboat Operators. He clearly gets around.

On June 20 of this year at 3:47 p.m., “senior member” Colecchio got around to logging in on the familiar ground of the Florida Sportsman Southwest General Fishing & The Outdoors Forum where he asked “Who’s really behind the Save the Tarpon campaign?” The topic he started ultimately drew 6,277 views. Quite an accomplishment. He even said so himself.

“Is it the son of a Boca Grande insurance agency owner?” he wrote. “Is it the husband of a New York artist recently moved to the area from Colorado who suddenly recanted his evil fishhandling ways and started an Occupy Boca Grande Facebook movement as his salvation?”

Colecchio had taken a legitimate public policy debate and decided to make it personal at the expense of two young parents who, along with nearly 2,000 others, decided what the PTTS was doing in Boca Grande Pass was very, very wrong. It’s an old political trick. When you realize you’re circling the drain, go negative. Get nasty. Make it personal. Colecchio had no idea how creatively personal it was about to get.

Gary Colecchio - Southwest Regional Director of the Florida Guides Association

Above: Gary Colecchio, Southwest Regional Director of the Florida Guides Association

Rather than engage in a flame war with a total stranger on some obscure Internet fish forum, the “New York artist” did something Colecchio never saw coming. She bought him. Or, more precisely, she bought “garycolecchio.com.” Mr. Colecchio wasn’t amused when he discovered he had been “owned.” That he was no longer the master of his own domain. Literally. But he pretty much kept it to himself. Didn’t say a word to his forum buddies. And honestly, who can blame the guy?

Although the “New York artist” (Colecchio would later go on to describe her as a “hippy”) now owned a Colecchio dot com, she didn’t do much with it. Not much you can really do with a “garycolecchio.com.” A page eventually appeared in place of an empty URL. It was a tribute of sorts. A collection of Mr. C.’s forum posts. One of those “in his own words” compilations. Just his words. Nothing else needed. Res Ipsa Loquitur.

The page was never promoted. No “Search Engine Optimization” or any of that stuff. Yet, back on the Florida Sportsman forum, the one where Colecchio is a “senior member,” somebody managed to find it. And they talked about it. Again, Mr. Colecchio was not amused. “Cyber-terrorism!” came the charge. Not a very nice way to describe Colecchio’s own words, words that had already been broadcast by Colecchio himself to tens of thousands of Internet eyeballs.

Ultimately, the page became boring. There were no photos of cute kittens and puppies. No viral YouTube videos of people doing stupid stuff. Just Colecchio. It was getting hits thanks to all the buzz it was receiving from Colecchio and his pals over at the fish forum. But it was still just Colecchio. It was ultimately replaced by a blank page. It received even more hits. Still, there was little hope “garycolecchio.com” was in any danger of becoming the next Facebook. And that was never the idea. The idea was to do absolutely nothing with the name, the URL and the the fish forum legend.

Then came The Letter. Otherwise known as the “Nasty Lawyer Letter.” Not that the lawyer is nasty. Probably a nice guy. Most lawyers are. That’s why so many of them are friends of Save The Tarpon. And most of our lawyer friends are nice. Most of them.

The “nasty” refers to the letter. And, as nasty lawyer letters go, this one was almost downright pleasant. A little loosie goosie with the law and the facts, but that’s how these things tend to go. No big deal.

The bottom line was that Colecchio, according to James L. O’Leary III, Esq. (the “Esq.” is even in his email address) really, really wants to be master of his own domain. He’s apparently grown tired of checking it every 15 minutes waiting for some public sort of record thing to be published directly under his URL. The “New York artist” married to the guy who “suddenly recanted his evil fishhandling ways and started an Occupy Boca Grande Facebook movement as his salvation” never gave it a thought.

Colecchio’s new-found desire to be master of his own domain is based on the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. Known as the ACPA, it targets “nefarious cybersquatters” defined by the courts as those who:

(1) “register well-known brand names as Internet domain names in order to extract payment from the rightful owners of the marks;” This hasn’t happened.

(2) “register well-known marks as domain names and warehouse those marks with the hope of selling them to the highest bidder;” This hasn’t happened.

(3) “register well-known marks to prey on consumer confusion by misusing the domain name to divert customers from the mark owner’s site to the cybersquatter’s own site;” This can’t happen.

(4) “target distinctive marks to defraud consumers, including to engage in counterfeiting activities.” This hasn’t happened.

Further, the courts have ruled that “the ACPA’s congressional record consistently signals the drafters’ intention to target a narrow class of cyber-squatters consisting of those who have the bad faith intent to profit, and not to tread on the rights of those with any other motives.”

In this instance, “other motives” can be found in those words Colecchio wrote on June 20 of this year at 3:47 p.m. for the entertainment of 6,277 sets of eyeballs.

Case dismissed. But let’s look at this for a moment. Kicks and giggles and all that. “The domain,” Colecchio’s Personal Injury Lawyer Esq. states, “appears as if Mr. Colecchio has some involvement in its ownership and construction.” Ownership of a domain, of course, is easily determined. Colecchio’s involvement was limited to providing content: His own words, as posted and posted and posted across the World Wide Web.

It’s interesting that Colecchio’s personal injury lawyer would characterize a compilation of Colecchio’s writings as “an attempt to create a condition of intimidation and fear.” He is being unfair to his client. Nothing about Colecchio’s writings are intimidating. Fear? Really?

“Mr. Colecchio is not a celebrity, public figure or entitity and has no official authority.” Most people would agree. But Colecchio isn’t most people. Just ask him. He has notoriously and repeatedly injected himself into the arena of public debate on all things Boca Grande, aggressively seeking the limelight for himself and his inflamatory rhetoric.

Consider, Colecchio has, since June, 2011, amassed an incredible 2,008 posts on just one Internet fishing forum. This works out to an average of 154.46 posts per month, 35.86 per week and an astonishing 5.12 per day. Including weekends. For most of this time he was actually holding down a full-time job. And Colecchio doesn’t, of course, limit himself to just one Internet forum in his efforts to avoid the public limelight. Or just one state. He’s all over the map. Where there’s a “submit” button, there’s likely to be a Colecchio.

Since June, Colecchio has started or starred in 11 separate threads on just one Internet forum concerning the current Boca Grande tarpon controversy. These threads have been viewed a total of 19,546 times over a period of just five weeks. Further, the shy Mr. Colecchio has twice gone online to boast of the number of readers he has attracted in what can only be reasonably interpreted as an attempt to promote himself.

The definition of public figure is “one who has voluntarily thrust himself into the limelight.” Next to that definition it’s likely you’ll find a photo of the personal injury lawyer’s client.

Regardless, Colecchio’s Personal Injury Attorney Esq. wants the site taken down. Already happened. It was boring, remember? Colecchio’s Personal Injury Attorney Esq. doesn’t want anyone to purchase another garycolecchio.com. There’s more than one? Good grief! And he seems to suggest Colecchio would, indeed, like to become the sole master of his own domain.

Fine. Here’s what Personal Injury Attorney Esq. needs to tell his client to do:

1. Remit a personal check, signed by Gary S. Colecchio and made payable to Save The Tarpon Inc. in the amount of $5.13. This amount is the original purchase price of the domain, plus tax. There is no profit of any sort realized. Mr. Colecchio’s check shall be recorded as a donation to Save The Tarpon Inc. and reported as such.

2. Issue a written apology to the young mother Mr. Colecchio offended as well as the nearly 2,000 members of Save The Tarpon Inc. This apology will be posted on SaveTheTarpon.com. Mr. Colecchio shall also post his apology as a new thread on the Florida Sportsman Southwest General Fishing & The Outdoors Forum.

3. Once Mr. Colecchio’s apology thread on the Florida Sportsman Southwest General Fishing & The Outdoors Forum reaches 6,277 views, the domain name will be promptly transferred to Mr. Colecchio who shall assume any and all transfer fees. Until said time, it shall remain dormant. And finally,

4. Be nice.

 

Letter from Gary Colecchio's attorneyPage 2 of the Letter from Gary Colecchio's attorney.

Senior Vice President of Florida Guides Association makes position clear

Captain Troy Sapp, Fishing GuideThe following is an email we received from Capt. Troy Sapp, senior vice-president of the Florida Guides Association, PTTS participant, and a seasonal Tarpon Guide in the Boca Grande Area in response to our posting of a letter by Scott Alford of ProjectTarpon.com:

Mr. Alford,

Seeing you have tagged a lot of Tarpon and you know which ones lived or died could you please post the Data and the post release mortality rates. I too have DNA, sonic tag sampled and PAT sampled a fairly large amount for BTT and FWRI. 

With the known post release Mortality rates it seems that the PTTS would have a very small impact on the fishery as a whole when you consider the total directed effort on the Tarpon fishery. The other thing that troubles me about the fishery we only know the mortality rates of the fish we tag.

What happens to a tarpon that has been hooked and escapes capture? Could we presume that this escaped fish may have been hooked in a soft tissue area "Throat, Stomach" and the hook tore free. Tarpon are suction feeders and they don't chew their food. What goes in their mouth is headed straight to their stomach and many times attached to a very sharp J hook. Just because a hook is in the bony area of the mouth on the fish we land doesn't mean that is the first place that the hook came in contact with the fish.

I also question what happens to a hooked fish when it jumps violently multiple times. Is this tarpon not subjecting itself to the same stresses as being hoisted out of the water? Have you not observed Tarpon shaking their head so violently that blood comes from their gills or that they excrete spawning fluids?  How many times have you seen the heavy leader pulled back through the gill plates during the fight?

I am asking these questions as there are many individuals that claim to hook several hundred fish a year. If they land 50% of them some are going to perish. If this is about saving tarpon we better come up with some answers and a different plan.  

Yes I participate in the PTTS. But the number of fish I handle and weigh is insignificant in comparison to fish I bring boat side either on my charters or recreationally fishing with my family and friends. I Tarpon fish in many regions and with a variety of methods. It is interesting how many juvenile "under 20 pounds" gut hooked fish I have landed in comparison to adult fish. Could it be that the smaller fish don't pull hard enough to tear loose? Maybe that's another factor we should consider when fishing natural bait.

If Tarpon are truly in trouble there are many factors to be considered.  Picking 1 event and  1 method of fishing  and attacking it like it's the cure all doesn't represent well for trying to save Tarpon. I wish it were that simple but it's not.

It would be nice to advocate mandatory use of circle hooks.
Know the dynamics and water quality effects now that the shipping channel in and out of BGP are no longer being dredged and are filling in.
A stock assessment.
Conditions of the estuaries where juvenile spend their youth.

You know, the things that may make a real impact on a fishery where no intentional harvest takes place.

Respectfully,

Capt. Troy P. Sapp

The Following is our response, sent directly to Capt. Troy Sapp:

Dear Mr. Sapp,
Thank you for your comment submission on SaveTheTarpon.com.  As I am sure you are aware, it was not approved for inclusion in the discussion. We felt the subject of your questions and concerns were better suited for Scott Alford’s site, ProjectTarpon.com.  Your questions have been forwarded to Scott Alford so he may address them directly. Again, thank you for your participation on our site.  We welcome any future comments you may have.  Please keep in mind we try to keep the discussion focused around the mission of our website–the preservation and protection of the Boca Grande tarpon fishery.

Regards, Jennifer McLaughlin

The following is the next contact we have with Capt. Troy Sapp, senior vice president of the Florida Guides Association:

How does a realtor/ artist become the moderator for a organization that claims they are about saving Tarpon? What are your qualifications or first hand experience concerning Tarpon? My comments did nothing more than raise some valid questions about the fishery you say you are trying to protect. Why would you not want your followers to engage in conversation where valid questions concerning tarpon are presented?

I already know the answer.
Your mission is very clear.

I have a feeling you are going to get what your asking for and then some. Myself and many other guides will be in the pass next year if anyone is fishing in there. We will also frequent the beach and harbor more. I have spoken to over 20 guides who will not be run off if their preferred methods of fishing are changed. Certainly the PTTS being there or not won't make a difference. There are many that have established a good bit of business in BGP. I really don't think any of my clients care how when or where they catch fish.

Good luck trying to save the tarpon of Boca grande pass, the same fish that swim around all over the state. No matter the outcome your mission will do nothing to Save the Tarpon. This issue isn't like commercial fishing.

You can't buy your way into it while locking out others.
Capt. Troy P. Sapp Fins and Tails Guide Servicehttp://finsandtailsguideservice.com/#welcome Florida Guides Assoc. Senior Vice Pres. Tsapp22334@aol.com WWW.Florida-guides.com

Well Capt. Sapp, no one at Save the Tarpon is looking to “lock others out.”  No one is asking any person who has come here to fish to  in the past not come here and fish in the future.  What we are asking is for an end to a made for TV series, turned charter booking service, that looks to exclude all others from fishing the pass by employing hyper-aggressive fishing techniques in order to protect “a good bit of business they have established in BGP.”  We are also asking that those that fish for Tarpon in the Boca Grande area use handling techniques that, to the best of their ability, ensure the highest chances of survival of the fish they are targeting unless they plan to harvest the fish. We also want those who are deliberately mishandling those fish in order to increase revenue for their TV show to stop both the mishandling, and the exclusion of all other anglers in order to further the success of their charter booking service, namely the PTTS.

If we are successful in that mission, then we will re-evaluate our situation and come up with a direction to take our organization that we feel best supports our stated mission and that is within our area of expertise and the scope of our organization at that time.

The constant threat from PTTS participants that “the pass will be closed to all fishing if you don’t stop this” will not stop us from supporting what we believe is right.  Should we stop calling attention to what you are doing if  we feel it is wrong simply out of fear of the repercussions? If the situation is so dire, shouldn’t the PTTS be doing more to help curb the user group conflicts and fish handling problems?  Why does the PTTS go to such great lengths to hide what they are doing from the public if there really is nothing to hide?

The mission of Save the Tarpon is very clearly established and can be found on the About Us page, along with a current list of our board of directors. There are no ulterior motives.  Any motivations you may assume we have are just that, assumptions.  We are not looking to exclude anyone from use of the pass, as a matter of fact we are fighting to STOP the exclusion of fishermen from the pass.  You can cling to your assertion that Save the Tarpon is simply a front for BTT or the BGFGA all you want, but I believe our board of directors makes up a representative sample of two members from virtually all of the user groups who have an interest in Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass or the surrounding area.  The universal support by all other user groups who have rallied on behalf of Save the Tarpon to stop the for-profit exploitation of the public resource in Boca Grande pass at the hands of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the Florida Guides Association certainly speaks volumes to the validity of our mission. The same cannot be said for those coming to the defense of the PTTS.

We have left the door open to your involvement in this discussion, as long as it pertains to subject matter that falls within the scope of our mission and our area of expertise.  We also invite you personally to involve yourself in our forum which is specifically designed to answer questions people may have, whether in support of our movement or not, in an open, public, and controlled environment.  you can read more at:

http://savethetarpon.com/save-the-tarpon-opens-forum-for-questions/

Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Save The Tarpon

They will never understand

By: Susanne Darna DudleyBoca Grande Pass

The PTTS will never understand how we feel.

The people who plunder for gain
will never understand
those who grew up loving it
and striving to protect it.

They will never understand
what it feels like to be a little girl
catching her first tarpon with her Daddy
nor the joy that it brought to her Daddy’s face.

They will never understand
the men
who come from generations of fishermen
who have captained these waters
and provided for their families
giving thousands of people the thrill of their lives
fighting the great Silver King.

They will never understand
the quiet pride these men have
for the Pass and for each other.

They will never understand
how considerate
protective
or passionate
these captains are.

They cannot understand
the look in their father’s eyes
when he realizes the truth of it’s deterioration.

They will never understand
the sense of community
or family
nor our fierce desire to protect it.

Because

they have done nothing
but come into the area
with a complete disregard for it’s history.

And so we keep fighting
until we conserve and protect our heritage.

Viewer calls PTTS out on upside down Marine Corps flag

The United States Marine Corps flag was properly displayed by the honor guard in the photo above. The honor guard, of course, was comprised of veterans. And veterans, as the PTTS learned, know how the flag is to be flown.

Dan. C, whose last name we’ve chosen not to use, noticed something odd about a United States Marine Corps flag flying at the PTTS Memorial Day observance. Dan is a veteran of the  Marine Corps (there are no “former” Marines). He made the discovery while watching the PTTS program on TV.

Dan saw that the flag, the United States Marine Corps flag, mounted on one of the PTTS boats was being flown upside down. Apparently by a PTTS participant whose boat had been beached for the ceremony and, also apparently, provided with the flag. The PTTS, unfortunately, neglected to provide instructions.

Dan was understandably upset. Flying the flag of any branch of the military upside down is viewed as an insult and a sign of disrespect. And Marines, especially, don’t tolerate disrespect for the Corps. As a result, all members of the armed forces receive instruction during Basic Military Training, or boot camp, on inter-service military courtesy. This includes memorizing rank, insignia and the colors displayed by sister branches of the service.

Was it an honest mistake? Not even the harshest critics of the PTTS would suggest it was done intentionally. We aren’t. It wasn’t. But we do question the sincerity of the statements made by the PTTS and REC Media Group in response to Dan. C.’s post.

The PTTS wrote: “We have multiple Marines competing in our events.” Really? If an active duty Marine or a veteran of the Corps was actually present that day as a competitor and noticed the upside down flag, the Marine would have been storming the beach faster than you can say Iwo Jima. Or Semper Fi. And the PTTS would have been given a big screen dose of Must See TV. It didn’t happen. You can decide why not.

So, perhaps the PTTS told a little white lie on this one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time. The PTTS, its TV host and its hangers-on have repeatedly claimed Save The Tarpon members and others disrupted and “disgraced” the tournament’s Memorial Day observance with their June 17 demonstration on the beach bordering Boca Grande Pass. The PTTS observance – the one with the upside down flag – was, in fact, held in May.

But details can be such troubling things. Like, for instance, why would a Marine Corps veteran or active duty member – and the PTTS says “We have multiple Marines competing in our events” – stand by and do nothing as a PTTS boat shows an upside down flag? Is it possible? There’s an old saying in the Corps: Just “ask a Marine.”

Here’s the full Facebook exchange:

 

  • Dan C. Can anyone tell me why the Marine Corps Flag was upside down showcased in the begginging of the show. I am a Marine Corps Vet and I felt very hurt and disappointed that have seen that.

  • Professional Tarpon Tournament Series ‎ – We apologize & will look in to it. Clearly our organization and anglers are very supportive and appreciative of our current armed forces members & veterans. We have multiple Marines competing in our events.Thank you for your service, we apologize again.

    REC Media Group We just saw this post and went back to look at the footage. The clip appeared 1 minute and 57 seconds into the show, just after the graphic show open. The Marine Corps flag was on top of one of the competing teams’ boat that was pulled up on the beach for the Memorial Day presentation. The flag appears to have been displayed upside down as a mistake by the team, and no one on our crew noticed it. This was an honest mistake, but we should have caught it during post production and chose an alternate shot. We sincerely apologize for the mistake and meant no disrespect.

Dan C. graciously accepted the apology in his final post: “I am not one to point fingers and mistakes out. I was just very surprised when I noticed it. The show was awesome and I can truly see the effort of patriotism and appreciation that was put out by PTTS and its crew. I thank you guys for your support and will continue to be a loyal fan of the show.”

Project Tarpon on PTTS: ‘Virtually all of them die’

Team Sea HuntThe following is an unsolicited response from Project Tarpon‘s Scott Alford to Save The Tarpon’s earlier post “Study was a ‘win-win’ for tarpon, a ‘lose-lose’ for PTTS.” 

The PTTS crowd likely will attack me. They will link me to this group or that group but linking me to some group does not have anything to do with what ProjectTarpon.com stands for. ProjectTarpon.com’s only interest is tarpon.  ProjectTarpon.com does not have a dog in the jig vs. no jig debate or in the use of the Pass by one group or the other. What I do know is Boca Grande tarpon swim all around the Gulf. That makes those females in Boca Grande important to tarpon everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. That makes it more than a Florida issue. It makes it an Atlantic tarpon issue.

From my satellite tagging experience (having participated in the tagging of all but a couple of the satellite tagged tarpon in Texas), I know which fish we released lived, which died and which were preyed on by sharks. Knowing if a release fish lived or died for sure lets you learn a few things about releasing tarpon. One of the things I learned (the hard way) is the type of handling being undertaken in the PTTS is not stacking the odds in the tarpon’s favor for survival. Do some live? Probably, but from my personal experience, I’d bet virtually all of them die.

After sending the letter and receiving absolutely no response from the PTTS, coupled with the reports that started to surface in the month following my letter, I became concerned with the possible hypocrisy of the PTTS. I have friends that fish in kill tournaments in Louisiana. I’ve never killed a tarpon in a kill tournament and never will, but at least when my friends go and fish a kill tournament they’re honest about it. Do I wish they wouldn’t? Absolutely. I am doing things to change that practice? Absolutely. Will that likely make me unpopular with some of my friends? Absolutely, but it won’t stop me.

My letter to the PTTS and making it public will likely make ProjectTarpon.com and me very unpopular with a number of folks involved with the PTTS. They may attack me, attack who I am and come after my website. I say bring it…. but if you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is… let me come tag some fish. I’ll give you the chance to prove me wrong. I’d welcome it. If you can prove the PTTS is not killing tarpon with its weigh and release program, I will be the first to stand up and say I was wrong and shake your hand for proving me wrong. However, if you never let me try….. well, then shame on you. Silence often is louder than any personal attack on me. The offer still
stands – let me tag and we’ll end this debate once and for all. Either way, tarpon win!!

– Scott Alford, Project Tarpon

Study was a ‘win-win’ for tarpon, a ‘lose-lose’ for the PTTS

Inserting Satellite Tarpon Tag

Measuring a big tarpon and inserting a satellite tag means holding the tarpon at each end, and hoping it doesn't explode into life at the wrong moment. Photo by Joe Richard © 2012

In a letter dated May 4, 2012, Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford requested the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series cooperate in a “collaborative effort” to satellite tag fish caught and weighed by the PTTS. The project would be fully funded.”At least two of the tarpon research projects being conducted by the marine biologists at the University of Miami could draw a great deal of benefit from the participation of the anglers competing in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series,” he wrote. “The first is the tarpon specific weight formula research, and the second project is the satellite tagging program.”

The “tarpon specific weight formula” is a reference to a project to fine tune a method of calculating a fish’s weight by measuring it at the boat rather than towing it to the beach and hoisting it on a scale.

He notes that “since killing tarpon is prohibited in many locations and certainly frowned on in most, it is difficult for these researchers to obtain weight data for tarpon.” But luckily “the PTTS offers a unique opportunity for the biologists …”

He continues: “The possible cooperation between the PTTS and biologists is obviously a win-win for both.”

And finally: “The PTTS has a long standing cooperation with biologists and research efforts. The satellite tagging seems like a natural and easy fit to further the PTTS’s conservation and research objectives.” And “this is truly a great opportunity for both the PTTS and tarpon research. I hope we can make it happen.”

The PTTS, Alford says, never responded. They didn’t “make it happen.” Color us shocked. Not much of surprise on this one.

Alford, of course, never had a chance. A satellite tag, obviously, would track the movement of the tournament’s tarpon after they are gaffed, towed, hoisted from the water and released. The same tag would also, obviously, track the non-movement of the tournament’s tarpon after they are gaffed, towed, hoisted from the water and released. You can do the math. The PTTS already did.

The PTTS also knows those weigh boat shots, those up close and personal eye candy interviews with the jubilant team captain, make Must See TV for the folks watching at home. A perfected tarpon specific weight formula would end the need for gaff, drag and weigh. The scales could be replaced by a far less photogenic and equally boring boatside tape measure. The tarpon would obviously benefit. But what do fish know about making good TV?

Tarpon satellite tag, painted a dull color so it won't invite unwanted attention from other fish. This tarpon is about to swim free. Photo by Joe Richard © 2012

In his letter, Alford also notes that “the PTTS gains by having additional material for the TV shows, which many viewers will likely find fascinating …”

In reality, many viewers will likely find it fascinating that most of those satellite tags on those “live release” tarpon aren’t moving.

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a response from the PTTS, a frustrated Alford went public with his letter. He could have saved himself the stamp.

PTTS apologists will likely claim Project Tarpon has some sinister agenda. They will, given enough time, ultimately link Project Tarpon to al-Qaeda and Planned Parenthood. That this new-fangled satellite technology is unproven. That developing a tarpon specific weight formula is yet another attempt at phony baloney voodoo science. The PTTS noise machine will, predictably, drone away.

Alford unintentionally went to the heart of the debate (and ended any chance the PTTS would cooperate) by noting “killing tarpon is prohibited in many locations and certainly frowned on in most.” That in this respect, “the PTTS offers a unique opportunity.”

We didn’t know how special we were.

See for yourself. You can read Alford’s letter here. The gaff and drag Photoshop Rangers over at that other Internet place can have someone read it to them.