VIEWPOINT: Gaff and drag doesn’t come with a punch line

The parody Facebook page is called “Shave The Tarpon.” Its stated goal: “Working to make Boca Grande Pass a friendly place to fish.” We’re still waiting for the friendly part to show up.

In reality, it’s little more than an online Photoshop album. Although once you navigate beyond its anti-conservation, pro-gaff and drag rhetoric, it does have its moments. Or, perhaps, its moment.

Shave The Tarpon was apparently created as a platform for a one-trick gag photo. A picture taken from the water shows Save The Tarpon supporters on the beach standing next to the PTTS weigh boat. They were there as a result of a social media campaign that surpassed 1,000 members and continues to grow.

The image was Photoshopped to alter the messages on the signs that were being carried by those attending the rally. One Photoshopped placard bore a baffling and cryptic attempt to make religious intolerance funny. ROFLMAO.

This image, created to mock Boca Grande residents, was pulled from the Shave the Tarpon page and illustrates the contemptuous culture bred by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).

That one aside, it was a pretty clever piece of work. But once the chuckles subsided, the author of the Facebook page obviously had a problem: What to do next? The answer: Quit while you’re ahead.

A joke can only be stretched so far before it ultimately blows up in your face. The next attempt, a copyright infringement featuring “Rocky the Flying Squirrelfish,” probably merited a few LOLs. But the creators of this one really shouldn’t give up their day jobs.

The rest of the page doesn’t, as they say, bring the funny. It doesn’t bring much of anything. Even Rocket J. Squirrel gets it. Once the cheap gags run dry, there really isn’t much that’s funny about what the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is doing in Boca Grande Pass.

It’s tough to find funny in a photo of a tarpon with a gaff through its head. There aren’t many belly laughs in a picture of a dead and eyeless PTTS tarpon gutted to make it sink from view. And while a video of some poor soul pretending to revive a dead tarpon might be amusing in a ridiculous sort of way, it really isn’t. It’s actually pretty pathetic.

There isn’t much of a future in dead tarpon comedy. And it’s tough trying to parody a fishing tournament that’s already a parody of itself. Or the Daytona 500. It’s not likely Florida’s sportsmen are finding much in the way of side splitting humor knowing their money is going to subsidize a wasteful and unenforceable tarpon tag program that exists soley for the benefit of a low rent cable TV show.

The “Darth Baiter” idea worked as a play on the Star Wars character, but even the creators of this copyright infringement know Save The Tarpon isn’t about live bait versus no bait. It’s about ending gaff and drag. It’s not about cheap-laugh caricatures of traditional fishing guides. It’s about ending gaff and drag. It’s not about tortured attempts at photo caption hilarity, it’s about ending gaff and drag.

And that’s their problem. Deep down inside they know there’s nothing funny about gaff and drag. Dead tarpon don’t come with a punchline. A dozen boats running down a pod of fish doesn’t work with a laugh track. It’s pretty tough to build a sitcom around the gruesome shark attacks the PTTS promotes in its slick video pitch to advertisers.

But it’s just a Facebook page. One of millions of Facebook pages, most devoted to posting photos of cute kittens and playful puppies. Now and then one will come along that’s truly funny. Considering the seriousness of what’s at stake, however, Shave The Tarpon isn’t one of them – even though that Photoshopped crowd shot was pretty good.

At the end of the day, however, there’s still nothing funny about dead tarpon. You really should have stopped while you were ahead.

A local Captain speaks out regarding Tarpon DNA research

Captain Mark BennettThis article was contributed by Captain Mark Bennett, a local full-time fishing guide in the Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande region.  For more information on his Snook, Redfish, and Tarpon fishing charters, please visit tarponsnook.com.

In the three years that I was tagging (DNA sampling) tarpon I dominated the competition.  Tagging and releasing more adult tarpon than anyone, anywhere in the world.  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.  Previously only one person ever broke 100.  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.

Unfortunately, because of several unethical actions of the FWRI and it’s employees that were recently (some not so recently) brought to my attention, such as advertising, promoting and endorsing a tournament series that undeniably is the number one greatest threat to the health of the Florida tarpon fishery,  I can not in good conscience continue to help in their agenda.

I honestly thought the research they were doing was meant to help tarpon, not kill them.

2011 was my last year DNA sampling tarpon.

What did they do?

Funny, I have been asked that question many times this season.  The answer is not what did they do, but what they are doing every weekend in May and June.  The tournament series they promote kills just about every tarpon weighed.  They drag the tarpon all of the way to the beach to be weighed and photographed.  The FWRI and FWC are there DNA sampling the fish that come in to the scale.  They see this happening and do nothing.  They also stand around while the tournament officials slit the bellies and pop the eyes of the tarpon that are already dead or are too exhausted to make it.  This is done so there are less dead fish floating on the surface the next day.  The majority of the fish weighed are the largest females that the FWRI says can be 40-50 years old.  The damage to the tarpon fishery can not be undone in many lifetimes.  This affects tarpon populations all over the state, not just Boca Grande.

Tarpon from all over the state come here to spawn.

I first heard of the Tarpon Genetic DNA tagging 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.

This program gives the recreational anglers a chance to see how their numbers stack up against the pros and it gives the pros a chance to put their money where their mouth is.

Actual numbers from the 2011 season were withheld by the FWRI for some unknown reason. One of the many mysteries we have become used to from the FWRI.

Below are the numbers from 2009 and 2010:

May and June 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. 1.       Capt. Mark Bennett – 95
  2. 2.       Tie — Capt. Gary Maconi and Capt. Paul D’Antonio – 77 each
  3. 3.       Capt. Jeff Hagaman – 39
  4. 4.       Tie — Jeff Owens and Capt. Tom Stephens – 37 each
  5. 5.       Capt. Skip Neilson – 36
  6. 6.       Capt. Jay Withers – 34
  7. 7.       Capt. Jeff Malone – 32
  8. 8.       Tie — Capt. Carl Ball and Capt. Dave Markett – 30 each

Cheers,

     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

The Tarpon Genetics Team

 

Sponsors – is your PTTS team obeying the law? Here’s one that didn’t even try

Miller's Ale HouseHats off to the Miller’s Ale House PTTS team captained by Artie Price. His Miller’s Ale House team caught and weighed a 154 pound tarpon to win Week 2 of the PTTS 2011 season.

But Price didn’t get the job done all by himself. The Miller’s Ale House PTTS team of Greg Devault and Frank Massaro, both of New Port Richey, plus Myakka’s Jon Turner also share credit for “gettin’ ‘er done.”

Unfortunately for Miller’s Ale House, the boys aboard Price’s Miller’s Ale House boat left Miller’s Ale House with something of a public relations black eye where Florida law is concerned. You see, the boys aboard Price’s Miller’s Ale House boat didn’t really get the job done that week. Not the whole job. They probably guessed nobody would notice.

Putting a $50 tarpon tag on that 154-pounder they weighed got just half the job done for the Miller’s Ale House team. But FWC regulations say, quite clearly, that the Miller’s Ale House team was required by law to finish the job by returning a tag card to the state within five days of its Miller’s Ale House 2011 Week 2 PTTS victory. These cards, to be filled out by the angler who “possessed” the tarpon, help the FWC with its conservation efforts. Especially in Boca Grande Pass. The tag cards tell FWC researchers where the fish was caught, its condition, its size and other useful tarpon conservation information. Useful, only if someone cares enough and takes the time to put the tag card in the mail.

See a list of all tags issued and returned in 2010/2011 here.

According to FWC records, Miller’s Ale House captain Artie Price never returned the required tag card for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Greg Devault never returned the required tag card for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Jon Turner never returned a tag for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Frank Massaro never returned a tag for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2.

Here's one of the tarpon which Team Ale House weighed without using a legal tarpon tag.

 

In fact, it seems nobody aboard the boat sponsored by Miller’s Ale House bothered to return a card for that 154-pound tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2 of the PTTS. Or, for that matter, any other week during the 2011 PTTS season. Cards returned for tarpon caught last year in Boca Grande Pass: 38. Cards returned last year for tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass by the Miller’s Ale House team of Price, Devault, Turner and Massaro: 0. That’s zero. Zilch. Nada. None.

According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team never caught that 154-pounder. According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team didn’t capture, gaff, drag and weigh that 154-pounder. According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team couldn’t have won Week 2 of the 2011 PTTS, Miller’s Ale House couldn’t have won that nice new boat. That’s because, according to FWC records, Miller’s Ale House wasn’t there. According to FWC records, in 2011 the Miller’s Ale House team didn’t exist.

Except it did. It was on the TV.

The Miller’s Ale House team that went out and got the job done in Week 2 couldn’t be bothered to take the time or make the effort to get the whole job done as state law requires. But we understand. Filling out those forms, putting them in an envelope, spending money on stamps and hiking these things out to the mailbox can be inconvenient and expensive for a Miller’s Ale House team whose career PTTS winnings as of Week 2 of the 2011 season totaled a scant $300,000.

And really, who’s going to notice? Where tarpon regulations are concerned, it’s easy for teams like Miller’s Ale House to get away with just about anything with a wink and a nod. And even though FWC regulations state that failure to return a tag card can cost you the privilege of purchasing future possession tags and weighing fish in future PTTS tournaments, nobody in Tallahassee is paying attention to any of this. Either is the PTTS. Either, apparently, is Miller’s Ale House. Maybe they should.

In 2011 the tarpon tag program generated little more than $15,000 for the FWC. Care to guess how much the FWC spent on administrative and other costs associated with the tarpon tag? Care to guess what four letters benefitted most from what, in reality, is a financial drain on an agency that can better use its resources just about anywhere else than subsidizing a television show?

Sponsors like Miller’s Ale House need to spend a little time questioning what’s going on in their name in Boca Grande Pass, what’s going on their name in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and what’s going on in their name aboard the boats bearing their name.

If a law so simple and basic and beneficial as returning a tarpon tag card to the state agency that oversees Florida’s conservation efforts is being so blatantly ignored, it should give sponsors pause to ask what else is or isn’t happening inside this sports exhibition called the PTTS? Are those aboard all those boats all wrapped up in all those logos for all those folks at home to see really playing by the rules, following the regulations and obeying the law?

Is it honestly worth taking the chance that their team, their PTTS, their television show and, by association, their valuable brand name might – like team Miller’s Ale House – not be getting the whole job done?

FWC and Mote Marine Clarify position on PTTS, Ingman’s and Mercurio’s lies exposed

Updated: Monday, June 25, 2012 with statement from Mote Marine.
Mote Marine & FWC

Over the last several years those following the PTTS, and the controversy around it, have often heard the statement that the “PTTS is backed by FWC and Mote.”  As a matter of fact, this exact statement is a quote attributed to none other than Mr. Gary Ingman himself, as published in the Englewood Sun on Monday June 18, 2012.  Apparently the writer of the article, Drew Winchester, did not take it upon himself to contact FWC or Mote Marine to verify this outlandish statement.  We did, and here is what we found.

We contacted FWC and were put in contact with Amanda Nalley, a spokesperson for FWC. We were quickly and clearly informed that the FWC does not sanction, endorse, support, or back the PTTS. They attend the events in a law enforcement position, and have one biologist on site to collect samples. FWC also does not condemn the event, but “certainly does not back or support it in any way.”  Ms. Nalley also went on to say “What the PTTS does is legal, but our position is that if you are going to release a fish that you do so immediately and that you do not gaff, drag, tow, remove from the water, or otherwise excessively handle the fish. Especially with large fish such as Tarpon.”  This sentiment is reflected very clearly on the FWC website and in several publications relating to proper fish handling.

What did Mote Marine Laboratory &  Aquarium of Sarasota, Florida have to say about “backing” the PTTS?  “Mote does NOT help organize, endorse or receive funding from any tournament.” says Hayley Rutger, public relations coordinator for Mote.  She also went on to say that their official position is  “More research is needed to understand how two common fishing techniques — jig fishing and live bait — affect tarpon or the tarpon fishery.”  We at SaveTheTarpon.com couldn’t agree more!

Mr. Ingman and Mr. Mercurio have been quoted, and published in their own words, that both FWC and Mote Marine Lab support, endorse, back, or “oversee” their events.  As a matter of fact it has been one of the most compelling arguments echoed throughout the PTTS community.  We think its time that the PTTS start explaining to its participants, followers, and critics just what they meant by those statements.

 

Save the Tarpon Supporters Show Up in Top Form to Protest the PTTS

Early reports of today’s Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) protest are coming in. Starting with the first “release” floating up on the beach. There will be videos, photos and stories coming. For all those who attended the event, good work!

If you attended the protest and captured any of today’s events, please forward us your story, photos and videos as we work to compile all of the evidence.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Calls for Responsible Tournament Angling

(Originally published in the Boca Beacon on June 8, 2012)

Responsible Catch and Release is Essential 

The use of catch and release as a conservation tool to ensure healthy recreational fisheries for the future has become standard throughout the world of recreational fisheries. The catch and release ethic is especially apparent in the world-class tarpon fishery of Florida, where virtually all tarpon are released. However, catch and release is only a valid conservation tool if it is practiced correctly so that most fish that are released survive. Sadly, the catch and release practices of some in the tarpon fishery are likely decreasing survival of released tarpon and should be curtailed in deference to the ethic of responsible fishing.

Bonefish Tarpon TrustResearch on catch and release fishing generally shows that the amount and type of handling of fish after being caught and before being released is an important factor in determining the fish’s likelihood of survival after release. In general, 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.

Despite the availability of tarpon harvest tags in Florida (each $50 tag allows the harvest of a tarpon), the harvest of tarpon in Florida– whether by individual anglers or by tournaments – has declined to nearly zero in recent years. This is great news for tarpon: tarpon are late to become sexually mature (approximately 8 – 12 years old) and can live a long time (potentially to 80 years), which makes them especially susceptible to harvest. This makes it even more important to use proper catch and release practices when fishing for tarpon – so we can continue to enjoy the best tarpon fishing in the world.

Some mishandling of fish during catch and release is simply a matter of an angler not knowing about proper catch and release handling practices. This is why Bonefish & Tarpon Trust expends significant effort educating anglers about proper catch and release practices. This education effort by BTT and others is paying off with improving catch and release practices by recreational anglers. Unfortunately, in other instances proper handling practices are purposefully not followed, which is a real cause for concern.

Given the overwhelming support for catch and release of tarpon, it is puzzling why anglers would engage in practices that very likely cause high mortality of tarpon after release – the towing of caught tarpon to a weigh station as part of a tournament. Although data on the effects of towing tarpon are scant, the preliminary data that do exist suggest that towed tarpon exhibit much higher levels of physiological stress than do tarpon that are caught and released but not towed. Moreover, since we know that, in general, more handling time equals lower survival for caught and released fish, it makes sense that increasing the handling time by towing and weighing tarpon will likely decrease survival. The responsible and prudent approach is to reduce handling time, and therefore not engage in towing of tarpon prior to release.

Gary Ingman PTTS Ingman Marine

Gary Ingman, pictured above, makes sure all is right when the cameras are rolling for his TV show, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. This process of dragging and weighing the fish is extremely damaging to the Tarpon and will most likely result in its death.

The requirement for a weigh-in is especially puzzling given that accurate weights can be obtained by applying measurements of a fish’s length and girth to a formula that is specific to tarpon. This formula, created by University of iami scientists based on measurements of hundreds of tarpon, is accurate to within a couple of pounds. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has this formula available via an iPhone app or water-resistant weight conversion cards.

This letter is not a statement on tournaments, but is instead a call for all tarpon anglers to follow catch and release practices that maximize the survival of tarpon after release. This should be the goal of all recreational tarpon anglers, and especially of entities that host events that rely on a healthy tarpon fishery.

In closing, a tip of the hat to the highly responsible, talented guides of Boca Grande Pass who practice good catch and release, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s ongoing tarpon conservation research, each contributing to a sustainable fishery.

Sincerely,

Aaron Adams, Ph.D.

Director of Operations

 

About Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is a non-profit, science-based conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that bonefish, tarpon, and permit populations, and the fisheries they support, remain healthy and helping to restore the fisheries that have declined. BTT accomplishes this mission by funding conservation-focused research; working with local, national, and regional resource management agencies to improve regulations to protect these fisheries; and funding and conducting education of anglers and the public.  BTT uses scientific findings to advocate for fisheries conservation and works to ensure coastal habitats used by bonefish, tarpon, and permit are protected.  For more information visit the BTT website at www.tarbone.org.

PTTS: A Far Cry From “Catch and Release.”

Tarpon Gaffed in HeadIt has come to the attention of those involved in every facet of the fight to end unethical and unacceptable angling and handling practices in Boca Grande–namely the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series–that the owners, managers, participants, and supporters seem to think of the PTTS as a “catch and release” tournament.  Let’s take this time to clarify exactly what is taking place in Boca Grande Pass on the weekends.

The term “catch and release” is not one to be thrown about nonchalantly.  It is, in fact, a technical term in the state of Florida and has been successfully held up in court to prosecute fisheries violations.  

The state of Florida describes “catch and release” as the fish being “returned immediately and unharmed.”  It is this very definition that requires the PTTS to use the tarpon kill tag in order to gaff, drag, and weigh the fish during the televised events.

The PTTS and Joe Mercurio would have both the viewers and the sponsors believe that just because they return the fish to the water after they are finished with their antics, that this constitutes catch and release.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The very same FWC that Mr. Mercurio says he works closely with will go on to tell you, once you take possession of the fish (i.e. gaffing) you are no longer “releasing” the fish.  Once you move from catch and release to possession, the state does not distinguish between a fish dragged, weighed, and towed off by the ‘release team,’ or a fish whose throat is slit and laid on the beach for the birds to eat.  Though the mortality rate may be different, it is clear that based on extensive catch and release mortality studies, the chances of survival are considerably less than those of a fish who is unhooked, popped off a leader, or otherwise allowed to go free immediately after being caught.

In the world of fisheries management a fish returned to the water with a questionable chance of survival is referred to as a “discard.”  This again is a technical term just like “catch and release.”  It does not exist to make one feel better or worse about the disposition of their catch. Why is the difference between “catch and release” and “discards” so important?  Because a large majority of the PTTS viewers are not particularly skilled or educated anglers.  In general, they have very little knowledge of the intricacies of proper post-catch fish handling.  However, many do understand conservation organizations, both private and governmental, support and promote ethical fish handling such as “catch and release.”  When they are lead to believe the handling they see on TV during the PTTS is “catch and release,” they use the television show as instruction as to how to properly handle tarpon and other big game fish.  This is a dangerous situation.  The fact that these fish are not “released” but rather “discarded” will never even enter their mind.

It is the responsibility of those who profit from fishing to promote proper etiquette, promote ethical angling, and promote true “catch and release.”  The time of kill tarpon tournaments is gone, and now its time to end “catch and discard” tournaments masquerading as “catch and release.”

The same goes for the sponsors of the PTTS who will surely be inquiring as to why Save the Tarpon, Inc is calling for a boycott of their business.  They will be told the same as the television viewers heard. ‘Live release, live release, live release.’  The fact remains, most of the fish mishandled by the PTTS die.  And for no other reason than to provide TV drama in the relentless pursuit for higher ratings.

And though the tournament only officially takes place on weekends, the damage to the resource does not stop on Monday morning.  The fallacy continues throughout the week as tarpon are dragged to the beach at Boca Grande, most illegally without the use of a tarpon tag, simply because charter clients demand the same photo-op they saw on TV back home.  If it’s good enough for the PTTS then it’s good enough for them, right?

Fisheries worldwide have made great strides towards bringing public perception inline with what the scientific community agrees is acceptable fish handling through the promotion of “catch and release.”  Even the oft mentioned Boca Grande Guides Association, accused of killing “countless numbers of tarpon” by members of the PTTS, has not gaffed, dragged, or removed a tarpon from the water in the course of a tournament since 2007.

As we progress through life, especially as anglers, we are constantly learning.   We may not have all made the right decisions in the past, but that does not mean we cannot make them in the future.  Our understanding of fisheries is increasing at a pace quicker than we can get the word out to the general public. It is the responsibility of those who profit from fishing to promote proper etiquette, promote ethical angling, and promote true “catch and release.”  The time of kill tarpon tournaments is gone, and now its time to end “catch and discard” tournaments masquerading as “catch and release.”

 

Capt. Tom McLaughlin, Founding member of SaveTheTarpon.com

Unafraid, unfazed, and certainly not intimidated.

“Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.”   Mahatma Ghandi

Each May and June, cobwebs of ignorance sprawl across Boca Grande Pass.  These cobwebs seem to multiply exponentially each year, running rampant across this world famous tarpon fishery, and collectively tightening a web of lies in an attempt to suffocate the truth.  The cobwebs of ignorance enshroud the harsh realities of the damage done by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.  Until now, the truth has been covered up and well hidden from the general public. The atrocities committed during this tournament can no longer be tolerated.  The consensuses among a growing number of those in opposition to the tournaments existence feel that this cover-up is a heavily strategized, deliberate, and collective effort undertaken by those involved.

The Profession Tarpon Tournament Series, or “PTTS” tournament as it is often referred to, is a source of major controversy in this area.  On paper this tournament appears to be espousing conservation.  But a closer look at the tournament practices reveals that conservation of the species might not be quite as important to the competitors as they claim. These “anglers” (we will call them anglers for ease of reference, and not because of any actual skill or competence while fishing) compete for money or prizes in a series of 5 tournaments.  Each of these tournaments is a travesty; they are a despicable display of grown men prioritizing greed, ego, and the need for recognition over character, self-respect, or species preservation.

It appears that the PTTS believes that in its infantile existence it has amassed a wealth of tarpon fishing knowledge that trumps the collective knowledge of generations of Boca Grande families and fishing guides.  The PTTS defends the tournament practices that they employ, and give no reverence to any opposing party, nor heed any warnings about potential long-term harm they might be causing.  But there are generations of fishing guides who have watched the fishery change before their eyes, and they are speaking out against the PTTS to protect a fish, and a way of life passed down to them.  Do not be fooled by the propaganda spewed by the PTTS crowd. This is not, as they would like the public to believe, a movement brought on by a bunch of “angry old fishing guides.”   This is a movement made up of a wide range of socioeconomic groups, coming from all over the country. We are not of a common demographic, and there is no label that you can put on us. We are diverse in all respects.  We are all brought together by one common goal; we aim to protect the fishery that we all cherish. More specifically, we join together to protect and to preserve the tarpon of Boca Grande Pass.

This letter is a call to action. I call on the public to demand an explanation from the PTTS tournament. I call on the public to demand the truth. If it is so “obvious” to all the PTTS anglers that tarpon aren’t snagged by the jigs, that the fish aren’t dying, that the migration patterns aren’t being changed, and that conservation is a priority, then evidence supporting these contentions should be readily available.

I have never jigged fished in my life. Therefore, I will not pretend to know everything that happens at the bottom of Boca Grande Pass. Rather, I will pass along information that I have heard from people that have.  I have interviewed current PTTS anglers about jig fishing. I have interviewed Captains that have personally competed and won PTTS tournaments. This is the information I have collected: Those individuals who are against the PTTS claim that the fish are primarily, if not exclusively, snagged by the use of “Jigs.” The tournament rules state that no tarpon can be snagged, which mirrors the state of Florida rules regulating tarpon fishing.  The PTTS “anglers” and staff claim that the use of circle hooks makes it impossible to snag fish.  However, circle hooks can be bent or “offset” which allows jig fisherman to easily circumvent the rule proscribing the use of circle hooks. In fact, many tarpon Jig fisherman callously refer to jigging as “snagging and dragging.”  Let that phrase sink in.

Ever hear a jig fisherman defend himself by using the “tarpon bite” defense?  Those that defend the PTTS ask “if tarpon don’t eat jigs, why does the bite go hot and cold during the day?” A simple explanation that I received is available to dispel this rumored tarpon bite. The tarpon jig is designed to snag the tarpon in the gill, the clipper plate, the face, or any body part it will grab tightly enough. It is effective because tarpon stack up in the pass in massive numbers, literally on top of one another. Jig boats make drifts past the tarpon, and “anglers” are instructed to reel as fast as possible at the slightest bump. These bumps that are felt are the jigs passing the tarpon, bouncing across their bodies. A successful hookup is when the hook snags a fish on its way past the schools. Snagging is less effective when the fish aren’t stacked in a small area.  So a hot “bite” is when more fish are being snagged, and a cold “bite is when the fish aren’t in a place where snagging is possible. It’s pretty simple, really.

This is just what I have been told by the people who fish in these tournaments currently, and those who have fished them in the past. But the PTTS rules explicitly say that fish that are hooked outside of the mouth are ineligible for weight or leader touch points.  I can’t imagine that the sponsors, tournament directors, and anglers knowingly violate the rules of the tournament as well as the rules of the State of Florida. Can you imagine if such a blatant violation of the law was taking place in such a storied and cherished fishery? Can you imagine the public outcry, not to mention the potential legal ramifications of such violations? I know that I would be concerned if I was in any way involved in such an abhorrent display of disrespectful and irresponsible behavior.

This is NOT a catch and release tournament. According to the state of Florida "catch and release" is classified as the fish being "released immediately and unharmed". This lifeless Tarpon was harvested only for the purpose of creating television drama for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS). Regardless of whether it was thrown back after the fact, its chances of survival have been drastically reduced by this handling.

Perhaps the most pathetic attempt at justifying these brutal fishing tactics is referencing the fishing practices of the past. Yes PTTS advocates, we all know that the early years of tarpon fishing saw countless tarpon being hung from trophy boards.  Ask any of the Boca Grande Families, and they will tell you that tarpon were killed for mounts, for tournaments, and for photos. I am personally guilty of holding fish out of the water for photos before I knew of the dangers. Tarpon fishing history is rife with what would now be considered wrongful actions. But that is not an excuse to condone the behaviors of today.  The PTTS commonly uses the tactic of pointing to the harms done in the past as way to justify what they are doing now.  But guess what guys, the fishing practices have evolved…Maybe you can join the evolution, and stop pleading ignorance.  I know that I am not proud of holding tarpon out of the water when I was younger and uninformed. But I quickly became informed, and made an effort to cease any practice known to cause unnecessary harm to the fish.  Everyone makes mistakes. It is human nature.  But the real test of human character is the way people respond when they are given the chance at redemption. It is not too late to stop these practices, as many of us have already done. I am asking the public to do the same, and I am asking the PTTS to join us.  We all care about the same fishery.  We take for granted that these fish will continue to return here each year. But what if that’s not the case?

Let’s be clear about a few things: this is not about “territory” or who has the fishing rights to Boca Grande Pass. And this is not simply about jig fishing. This is about an entire style of fishing that has infected our waters.  Years ago, live bait boats and jig boats fished the pass together. This was before the PTTS gained popularity.  Jig fishing, although frowned upon as unethical by many anglers, is not the only problem.  It has become an entirely different style of fishing because of the popularity of the PTTS.  The PTTS brought to Boca Grande a “run and gun” mentality.  Anyone who fished Boca Grande Pass before the inception of the PTTS knows that the style of fishing was one of respect. It was calm, it was elegant, and it was beautiful to watch.  Now, it is utter chaos.  Visually, it is a nightmare. But this is not the true cause for concern. The real cause for concern is the impact is has on the fish populations and migration patterns.  Pre-spawn tarpon come here to feed, to rest, and to congregate before they move offshore to reproduce.  However, with the “run and gun” style of fishing, these fish are constantly bombarded by a fleet of boats and a pack of heavy lead jigs. It is overly disruptive. It should be stopped before it is too late.  Are we, as recreational anglers, captains, guides, and members of the community, really willing to take a risk so great? Are we really willing to gamble on our cherished fishery? I hear advocates of the PTTS constantly defend the practices they employ, but how sure are they that this style of fishing is not doing any lasting damage?

The PTTS rules say that an observer is allowed on each PTTS boat. Several individuals, myself included, will be happy to observe and document the championship tournament. We will gladly watch, photograph, and take notes of the tournament practices.  Will the PTTS, since they have nothing to hide, allow us to do so? Let’s find out.  More importantly, if such ethical and legal violations are occurring, will the public demand recourse? Will we stand up hold accountable those responsible? I think we will.

Captain Chris Frohlich

Save the Tarpon discussed on WENG Radio Broadcast

Captain Tom McLaughlin, one of the founding members of SaveTheTarpon.com, was a guest co-host on The Boating Life radio show with Captain Tom Healy.  In this recording, he discusses what the Save the Tarpon movement is about and how to take part in it.

 

Josh Olive, publisher of WaterLine Magazine, we expected better from you

Waterline Magazine and Mr. Josh Olive,

Apparently you did not receive the memo published directly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding safe Tarpon handling in Boca Grande Pass.  You also seem to have fallen victim to the bright lights and fame of seeing your magazine’s name adorn the side of a tournament sponsored boat.  Has your interest in the tournament actually clouded your judgement this badly?

 

Taken directly from MyFWC.com, Tarpon and Boca Grande Pass:Waterline Weekly Magazine

• Never gaff a fish unless you are going to harvest the fish.  “Gaff and release” is a practice that may leave the fish with an open wound making them vulnerable to predation.

• Leave fish in the water while photographing, removing the hook, or cutting the leader.  Boating large fish is dangerous to you and your crew, and can injure the fish. Don’t boat your fish, if you can help it.

 

In order for you to have “proof,” why must one use DNA testing to prove the PTTS is killing fish when obviously their handling of the fish is outside the bounds of what is acceptable to every single conservation oriented organization that has an interest in Tarpon fishing?  What is worse, is you personally know that this deviation from the norm is for nothing more than increased drama to boost television ratings and is entirely unnecessary.  Why is it unnecessary you ask? Mr. Olive are you not a supporter, promoter, and sponsor of the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge?  The shark tournament that you tout as bringing tournament shark fishing inline with conservation?  How do you handle your sharks for the tournament? I believe you do not gaff the fish and drag them to a weigh in, but rather briefly hold them up to the side of the boat while they are still in the water whilst a film crew or observer records the length.  I personally have made this suggestion to Mr. Gary Ingman, owner of the PTTS and it has fallen on deaf ears.

If safe fish handling practices tell you that you are likely to have an increase in mortality, and these practices are not condoned by any conservation entity, then why would you continue those practices when they cause so much animosity towards the tournament and its participants, not just by fellow fishermen, but also the hundreds of visitors who sign the Save The Tarpon petition each and every day? The answer is simple: TV Drama, ratings, and money. I guess once your business is plastered on the side of one of the boats on TV no one is above the influence.

I would have expected better from you Mr. Olive, it is sad to see your publication fall to this level of disgrace.

 

Captain Tom McLaughlin, Founding Member of SaveTheTarpon.com

 

CORRECTION:

It has come to my attention that Waterline does not in fact sponsor a boat for the tournament.  One of the contributors for the Waterline operates a “Waterline” wrapped boat in the Pass, but captains a different team during the actual tournament.  After an extensive conversation with Mr. Olive by one of our founding members, we stand by our assertion that Mr. Olive sold out his journalistic soul to Ingman Marine, his largest advertiser and the focus of our Boycott.  Here is some more information for your reading Mr. Olive if you think that handling a tarpon the way the PTTS does and operating their boats the way they do has no effect on the fishery, but those same actions are unacceptable when it comes to your shark tournament.  A true reporter of “facts” would have no problem finding information such as Dr. Adams has provided in his opinion letter below.

http://bocabeacon.com/news/editorial/4636-letter-to-the-editor-responsible-catch-and-release-is-essential

We are also not here to discuss the merits of the Boca Beacon, Dr. Adams is widely considered the worlds leading Tarpon biologist. His opinions are clear though he does not mention the PTTS by name.