Pro-jig Tallahassee lobbyist seeks clarification

Lane Stephens

Tallahassee lobbyist Lane Stephens lost his case before the FWC in September. He was hired by the pro-jig Florida Tarpon Anglers Association, a group closely tied to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. His pro-jig stance was also mirrored by the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association.

The following correspondence from Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm SCG Governmental Affairs, is dated October 2, 2013:

I need to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your report of the vote on the jig in Pensacola.

First, I never “demanded” that the FWCC hold workshops. I made a request, on behalf of my client, the FTTA, that workshops be held. This is allowed by Chapter 120, Florida Statutes. After the initial publication of a notice of proposed rule development (which occurred in August), affected parties are allowed to request public hearings. My request was not out of the ordinary and was not a demand.

Second, you indicated that “lobbyist” Tim Atkinson represents the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association. This is not true. He is an attorney and is not registered to lobby for FTTA, and he has never represented FTTA legally or as a lobbyist. Please do not attribute his statements that he made on behalf of his client to my client, or try to insinuate that he speaks for FTTA, or that my comments to the Commission are in any way associated with him.

Lastly, I never threatened the Commission with any of my comments regarding potential action that could occur. I respectfully pointed out that Florida law allows small businesses certain protections during the rule development process, and in my opinion, FWCC failed in its economic analysis of the potential impact of this rule.

I would appreciate your correction of this misinformation on your website.

(Editor’s note: Save The Tarpon stands by its reporting.)

Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant Atkinson, P.A. Environmental Law, Regulatory Law, Administrative Law, Governmental Law, Licensing Attorneys Counselors

Excerpt from Mr. Atkinson’s bio on the Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson website. Note the last sentence.

 

Join us for happy hour

Happy Hour InviteWe hope you’ll be joining us this Thursday, September 26 at 5:30 pm as we enjoy a a few cocktails together at Zydeco Grille in Placida.  Nothing fancy and you’ll have to buy your own food (you can thank the ongoing and still ridiculous PTTS lawsuit for that).  But the drinks are buy-one-get one until 6pm and Save the Tarpon will be providing a champagne toast to help celebrate.

Its hard to believe how much has been accomplished since May of 2012.  Don’t you think its time we get together and have a little fun? We do.  Hope to see you there.

Zydeco Grille is a Cajun & Creole restaurant and is located at 8501 Placida Road in the Cape Haze Plaza in Placida FL.

Sorry, Joe – but the FWC vote really does change everything

By Bill Bishop

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of a person’s reputation. Without that, success is virtually impossible.

The “success” of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is no different. The way I see it, the unanimous vote sent a message throughout the state and beyond that the commissioners believed the evidence brought before them was credible and something needed to be done to stop snagging. They were and will remain dead serious about this.

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

I recall a quote, “we won’t stop until we are told to stop.” They were just ordered to stop by the FWC commissioners. They were previously told they must stop gaffing, roping, dragging and weighing fish. They have now been told they must stop using the jig designed to snag fish.

They must also stop bypassing the process of enticing a fish to strike the lure. Earlier this month, the unanimous vote in favor of the proposal – and the change of the definition – changed everything. Any attempt to re-invent a lure that meets the guidelines – but is still used to snag fish – will be dealt with swiftly. Any attempt to sidestep the law will be done under a microscope and in the light of day.

Left to right: Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Mr. Bill Bishop.

Bill Bishop, at right, with (from left) Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams and Capt. Tom McLaughlin.

Yet, here we have PTTS host Joe Mercurio was quoted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as saying: “We’re Americans, we’re anglers, we’re adapters, we’ll find a way, we’ve already found a way. If anything, this has united some of our fishermen in using the new baits that we can use.”

How about this, Mr. Mercurio? The WAY is to realize that at the very core of honest angling is the art of enticing a fish to strike. It takes a lifetime to master this art. Those who have bypassed this art by way of snagging fish have wasted time that could have been used to learn and become more proficient as anglers.

The WAY isn’t easy. It’s complicated and challenging, but it is also one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have.

Not one thing that lives inside an honest angler has anything to do with harming the fishery or offending other anglers. At the end of each day I know whether I fished well or not. I know if my conduct was becoming. I know if the decisions I made were fair and honest.

I also ask if a young budding angler looked at me – would I be a good example to follow or not? Adapting… to me means to continue to improve my skills as an angler while staying within the boundaries of good sportsmanship and fair play.

We have already found a “way” as well. It’s called angling. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

(Bill Bishop is a noted wildlife artist and an ardent tarpon angler. He is the author of “High Rollers: Fly Fishing for Giant Tarpon” published in 2008.)

FWC votes 7-0 to ban controversial ‘tarpon jig’ in Boca Grande Pass

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC's historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC’s historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

This time it wasn’t even close.

After narrowly surviving a preliminary vote in June, a regulation banning the use of bottom weighted “tarpon jigs” in Boca Grande Pass was adopted by a unanimous vote Thursday, Sept. 5 by the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola.

The new rule will take effect on November 1. Despite some initial confusion over which way Panama City lawyer Adrien “Bo” Rivard had actually voted, the final tally was eventually set at 7-0. Bottom line, it passed.

Before adopting the Boca Grande “jig” ban on Thursday, the commissioners shot down an 11th hour bid by Florida Tarpon Anglers Association lobbyist Lane Stephens who sought to delay action on the proposed rule by demanding the FWC first hold a series of public workshops and conduct an economic impact study prior to voting on the measure.

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

Stephens, speaking for FTAA vice president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott, unsuccessfully repeated his “economic impact” argument later in the meeting. “The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” Stephens said, adding that adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Responding to Stephens and his claim that “a ban on this tried and true method used by 65 fishing guides” could cost the state an estimated $8 million annually, Save The Tarpon Inc. Chairman Tom McLaughlin noted that the potential impact on a few dozen guides pales in comparison to the big picture.

“We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

“In my lifetime I’ve seen several regulations that decreased the effectiveness of certain fishing techniques,” he said. “We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

Commissioner Ken Wright agreed. “When you consider the effectiveness of a device or method, if it’s indeed snagging then it shouldn’t be a consideration at all,” Wright said. “This rule is not intended to change human behavior, it’s designed to protect a fish that lives to be as old as 80-years-old.”

But the jig lobbyist hinted that his clients might not be done despite losing Thursday’s vote. Stephens noted that state law “allows small businesses impacted by a rule to challenge (the FWC’s) findings.” In June, a lobbyist representing the same group and the PTTS threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit and budget cuts if the jig ban was adopted. That lobbyist, Tallahassee attorney Timothy P. Atkinson, did not appear at Thursday’s meeting.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were individual anglers or representatives of a number of groups who urged the commissioners to adopt the anti-snagging regulations. Representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association voiced their opposition to the measure.

Following the meeting, McLaughlin said a lot of hard work went into the effort to ban the jig. “Our more than 21,000 supporters and their combined voices clearly made a difference. This has been a long time coming, and our members and supporters, our core group of volunteers, the Boca Grande Community, the people of Florida and the people around the world who embraced this cause finally made it happen,” he said.

“The FWC’s action today is more than just a message, it’s a historic step forward in protecting this iconic fishery for generations to come.”

UPDATED: The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, via its Facebook Page, has issued a response to the FWC’s vote to ban the bottom weighted hook favored by its competitors.

In an apparent contradiction to the “economic impact” argument put forward by lobbyist Lane Stephens on behalf of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association and its vice president Craig Abbott, the PTTS statement predicted no economic problems for the tournament or its anglers.

“This ruling will have no impact on the future of the PTTS. As demonstrated during this past season, our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed that meet the new definitions. In addition, anglers will still be able to utilize live bait,” according to the PTTS.

Stephens, however, told the seven commissioners that “the assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.” Stephens also predicted adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Meeting Notes

What’s the score? 6-1? 7-0?

Florida has a long history when it comes to counting votes. Thursday’s FWC meeting was no exception – minus the “hanging chads,” that is.

So, was the vote 6-1 or 7-0? While the math wouldn’t have changed the outcome, the actual tally remained a mystery for about five hours on Thursday. It took FWC Marine Fisheries Management spokesman Amanda Nalley, who initially said 6-1 based on what she saw on the record, to solve the numbers puzzle by going directly to the source.

Why the confusion? When the vote was called, there was some question whether commissioner Adrien “Bo” Rivard had been a yea or a nay. Sensing this, Rivard apparently replied “no, I’m with you guys.” Unfortunately, the clerk only heard the “no” part, and Rivard became the “one” in a vote that was officially recorded as 6-1. Meanwhile, new FWC Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett was thanking the commissioners for their “unanimous” vote.

With her cell phone overheating from media calls all asking the same question, Nally said FWC staff eventually decided to take the bull by the horns. They asked Rivard. And the vote went from an official 6-1 to an unofficial unanimous. But even though the Boca Grande rule is a done deal, it appears Rivard will have  to wait until November 20 when the FWC meets in Ft. Lauderdale to correct his vote and officially close the book on this one.

So, if you read somewhere that the vote was 6-1, it was. Even though it was actually 7-0. It’s a Florida thing.

Are we still in Florida?

Many local supporters of the FWC’s rule banning the bottom weighted hook had no choice to make the 520 mile trek across the state to Pensacola for Thursday’s meeting. But for Ryan Hawks, the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel was little more than a commute. Hawks, an avid angler and supporter of Save The Tarpon’s efforts, lives in nearby Fort Walton Beach. Needless to say, his 41 mile drive was the envy of everyone with a Southwest Florida Zip Code.

Ryan made an effective local case – local for those in the Central Time Zone, that is – for the new anti-snagging rules. “On behalf of all the tarpon anglers in the area, we strongly endorse the proposed gear restrictions,” he told the commissioners. “We share the same fishery. As the Pass goes, so goes the entire fishery.”

On the other hand, when tarpon season rolls around next year, Ryan gets to make the 520 mile drive to Boca Grande Pass. But no matter. Pensacola, and those 520 miles, turned out to be well worth the trip.

Judge guts PTTS lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, orders owners to put up or pay up

Judgefoster2

Judge Joseph G. Foster, pictured, ordered the owners of the PTTS  to pay Save The Tarpon $200 for failing to turn over financial records and sponsorship deals to the group’s lawyers. The fine goes up by $500 late next week if the tournament’s owners don’t comply.

Professional Tarpon Tournament Series principal owner Gary Ingman found himself watching helplessly from the sidelines Wednesday as a Charlotte County Circuit Court judge gutted his company’s lawsuit against Save The Tarpon Inc., dismissed all of Ingman’s claims against the group’s officers, and then ordered the PTTS owners to fork over $200 in sanctions for violating the court’s rules governing discovery and the production of records.

In addition to dismissing Save The Tarpon’s directors from the lawsuit filed in May by Silver King Entertainment LLC, which owns and operates the PTTS, Judge Joseph G. Foster hit the plaintiffs with a $200 assessment for attorneys’ fees for failing to turn over documents demanded by Save The Tarpon’s attorneys.

Foster gave the owners of the PTTS until Friday, September 6, 2013 to produce the records. If the PTTS ownership doesn’t meet that deadline, Foster said he would up the sanction by an additional $500.

Lawsuit Failed

The records the PTTS owners have been ordered to turn over to Save The Tarpon include all tax returns and financial statements for the past several years. Silver King is also being forced to produce its corporate sponsorship agreements as well as copies of its rules and regulations, along with any and all correspondence with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC is poised to adopt a rule in September that would restrict the use of bottom weighted hooks in Boca Grande Pass. This rule would apply to the so-called “pass jig” favored by PTTS competitors.

Save The Tarpon’s counsel Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm of Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, argued the group’s case before Judge Foster on Wednesday. Beason said Judge Foster’s decision to sanction Silver King was significant, and that he would “absolutely” be seeking reasonable attorneys’ fees from Silver King at the conclusion of the case. Beason said both Ingman and PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio are being scheduled to be deposed under oath. Additional depositions are likely, he said.

While Foster is allowing Silver King’s case against Save The Tarpon Inc. to move forward for the present, Beason noted that Silver King has already had to correct numerous deficiencies in its lawsuit—including filing the case in the wrong venue and misidentifying its own corporate name.

Carl Hiaasen: Gov. Rick Scott, clueless to crisis in our environment

This article was originally published in the Miami Herald on August 24, 2013. 

By Carl Hiassen

Lake O water releasesGovernor Clueless showed up the other day for a photo-op at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam.

The mission was to display concern over the billions of gallons of cruddy water being dumped from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, a criminal act of pollution that’s poisoning the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.

Hundreds of demonstrators, many worried about their jobs, showed up at the dam. Rick Scott didn’t stop to talk to them.

He spoke for a short time to the media, saying he wants to spend $40 million on a reservoir to filter some of the runoff before it can reach the estuary.

He blamed the Army Corps of Engineers for moving too slowly to upgrade the old Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. He also blamed Congress for failing to release the money committed for Everglades restoration projects.

The governor wasn’t so chatty on the subject of Big Sugar, which has donated a pile to his political action committee with the goal of getting him reelected.

A major reason all that lake slop is being pumped toward the residential areas of both coasts (the Caloosahatchee River carries it west) is that the cane growers don’t want it pumped in their direction.

Fearful that the dike will give way, the Corps drains Lake Okeechobee when water levels get high. Last week, the outflow was reduced from 3.1 billion gallons a day to about 1.8 billion gallons a day, still a massive deluge from what is basically a giant latrine for agricultural waste.

Since the most recent discharges from Lake O began in May, more than 1 million pounds of nitrogen and 260,000 pounds of phosphorus have been flushed into the St. Lucie River and on to the estuary.

Now we get to watch Scott, another Republican whiner about federal spending, bash the feds for not spending enough and not spending it fast enough. Somewhere in the folds of the governor’s brain has stirred a fuzzy awareness that clean healthy water is really important to Floridians, and also essential to the economy.

Ask the commercial fishermen in Stuart, the marina operators, the boat builders, the hotel owners and the restaurateurs. Ask the real-estate agents who are trying to sell waterfront lots on smelly, discolored water.

Already in crash mode is the Indian River Lagoon, which runs north from Jupiter Inlet to beyond the Kennedy Space Center. Algae blooms have decimated vast acres of sea grass, and experts suspect the outbreak was triggered by accumulated fertilizer runoff and leakage from septic tanks in Brevard and Indian River counties.

Sea grasses are the nursery for juvenile game fish and shrimp, without which the food chain collapses. At least 280 manatees have died in Brevard during the last year, along with an unusually high number of pelicans and bottlenose dolphins.

Scientists haven’t pinpointed the cause, but there’s no disagreement that the last thing the lagoon needs is a nonstop gusher of foul substances from Lake Okeechobee.

Lake O water releasesScott isn’t wrong when he says the federal government is way behind on Everglades funding. Restoration was supposed to be a 50/50 deal with Uncle Sam, but for many years Florida has been spending more than its share.

The main obstacle is Congress — particularly Scott’s own party.

After years of diddling, the Senate finally approved money for a new water bill last spring. Among the 13 senators voting against it was Marco Rubio, who has evidently forgotten which state he was elected to represent.

Soon the House will take up the water legislation, and watch what happens when Rubio’s tea party soulmates get their hands on it.

The fastest way to stop destroying the St. Lucie Estuary is to pump the toxic water from Lake Okeechobee elsewhere, south through waterways along the cane fields and other farmlands.

That’s unlikely to happen, because Big Sugar gives too much money to the campaigns of key Republicans and Democrats.

Sugar companies can afford to be generous because they’ve been slurping at the public trough for decades, their profits multiplied by federal price supports. During the 2012 election cycle, the industry spent $3.6 million on campaign donations, even more than Big Tobacco.

In fact, the sugar growers are so rich they could afford a special tax to expedite repairing the 143-mile dike around Lake Okeechobee. Make it strong enough to hold all that water during rainy season, protecting not only their precious crops but also the thousands of jobs that depend on clean rivers and bays.

That, of course, won’t happen either.

The governor’s low-voltage response to the crisis is to blame the feds and spend a few minutes up on a dam. No sense of urgency, no sign of the outrage that families and workers on both coasts are feeling.

In the short time it took you to read this column, about 5 million gallons of gunky water was flushed out of Lake Okeechobee, toward somebody’s shore and somebody’s home.

Somebody who votes.

 

Tweed Roosevelt speaks out in support of gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass to protect tarpon from snagging

Conservation quote from Theodore Roosevelt.Last week, Tweed Roosevelt,  the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, sent a letter to FWC’s seven Commissioners urging them to adopt the proposed rule amendments for tarpon and Boca Grande Pass gear restrictions.  The final public hearing for these proposed rule amendments will take place during the September 5 Commission meeting in Pensacola, Florida.

The proposed rule amendments would modify the existing snagging definition for tarpon statewide and prohibit anglers from attaching a weight to the bottom of a hook while fishing within the boundaries of the Pass.  Save the Tarpon believes these rules are a vitally important way to help protect the health of the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.  We couldn’t more pleased that Mr. Roosevelt agrees with us.

Here is the letter:

August 14, 2013

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Ferris Bryant Bldg.
620 S. Meridian St.
Tallahassee, FL 3399-1600

Dear Commissioners, 

I understand that you are considering various alternatives for regulating the Boca Grande Jig.  I know a little about the controversy but not in depth.  Others who are far more knowledgeable will address the specific issues relating to this.  My purpose is to provide some context for making the decision as to what is best for all parties concerned based on my great grandfather Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership applicable to situations such as this.

TR’s approach is relative simple, straight forward, and sensible.  He saw that there are two fundamental approaches that are not mutually exclusive but both have their place – preservation and conservation.  An easy way to understand the difference is to compare the National Park service to the U.S. Forest Service.  Parks are meant to be preserved in a state altered as little as possible by man.  Forests are meant to be conserved so they may be a continuing source of natural resources from generation to generation.  A relatively small portion of the land should be preserved and by far the greater amount conserved. Theodore Roosevelt

In situations requiring conservation, the issue is always one of balance.  How much should be consumed today and how much saved for tomorrow.  One can always argue where the line should be drawn, and these are legitimate arguments, but the extreme and illegitimate positions are usually clear and inappropriate.  TR understood this but usually felt we should err on the side of protecting future generations, as the immediate benefits are so attractive that they can cloud our vision.

The Boca Grande Jig issue is clearly one that falls into the conservation side.  The job of the Commissioners is to decide whether or not the Jig is sufficiently destructive to require it banning.  Others will make the various arguments.  I urge you to remember TR’s wise approach to these kinds of problems and rule accordingly.  I think it is very clear where he would stand on this issue, that is saving the species for future generations so they can enjoy the fishery and I hope you will live up to his standard.

Best,

Tweed Roosevelt 

Tweed Roosevelt (born September 9, 1942) – The great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt via Roosevelt’s son Archie. He is Chairman of Roosevelt China Investments, a Boston firm. He occasionally lectures and writes on the topic of his great-grandfather. He is the President of the Board of Trustees of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Theosore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) – The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt embodied the conservative values of personal responsibility, hard work and prudence. He abhorred waste and sought to protect capitalism from the excesses of greed. He believed that conservation was essential for keeping America strong. Roosevelt was a champion of the Burkean ideal that a moral partnership exists between present and future generations. That view helped instruct his passion for conserving America’s natural resources.

Bonefish Tarpon Trust gives its position on jigging issue in Boca Grande waters

The following article was originally published in the August 16, 2013 edition of the Boca Beacon.
By Marcy Shortuse

Under the proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, would be illegal.

Under the proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, would be illegal.

On Thursday, Sept. 5 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will make a decision that will impact Boca Grande tarpon fishing enormously. The proposal on the table, which was discussed at the FWC’s last meeting, is in part regarding the possibility of banning the Boca Grande jig. One organization of some influence in Florida, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, has weighed in on the issue just prior to the September meeting in Pensacola, where a final decision will be made.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust supports the proposed new rules that would ban the Boca Grande Jig,” said Aaron Adams, Director of Operations at BTT.

The commission will decide at the September hearing how to refine the two-part proposal that would include the definition of “snagging” and the modification of gear used in the Pass. According to the FWC,

“The proposal adds language that prohibits catching or attempting to catch tarpon that have not been attracted or enticed by the angler’s gear to the snagging definition that applies statewide. This change would apply to tarpon fishing statewide. The second part of the proposal would prohibit fishing with gear that has a weight attached to the bottom of a hook. This change would apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass.”

Currently live bait fishermen using traditional fishing methods in the Pass do not use bottom-weighted jigs (often referred to as the “Boca Grande jig”). Others, such as anglers in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, do use them … frequently. The debate that has raged on for years in the Pass is this: Is a bottom-weighted hook a snagging device?

Boca Grande Pass Chart

In 2002-2004 FWC scientists conducted a study in the Pass, examining fish caught by both live bait and jig fishermen. At that time FWC researcher results showed that there was little difference in the mortality rate or the snagging rate between tarpon caught with live bait and those with jigs. However, the two scientists contacted to give their opinions in the study, Dr. Phillip Motta and Dr. Justin Grubich (two of the leading fish researchers in the world), have said that their opinions given in that study were not correct, and that they were not given enough information to make an informed and complete decision.

Since then, the people of Boca Grande and several conservation groups have said they witness more dead tarpon washing up on shore after some of the tournaments held in the Pass every year, in which many of the anglers use the bottom-weighted jig. Nick Wiley, the president of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, said he believes it’s time to change some FWC rules, and said after all of the testimony they have heard, as well as after taking a close look at the equipment, his organization is not happy with how the jig is fished.

“I feel there was plenty of evidence that this jig could result in a snagging situation,” he said at the June meeting.

The agenda for the September meeting shows that the jigging and snagging issue is at the top of the agenda for the first day of the conference.

68B-32.002 states that the proposed final rule would enhance the definition in the tarpon chapter of “snagging” or “snatch hooking.” The second part of the proposal, 68B-4.018, Boca Grande Pass Gear Restrictions states, “The proposed final rule would prohibit the use and possession of gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in Boca Grande Pass.”

A vote to pursue refining these definitions was passed with a 4-3 vote by commissioners at the last meeting.

The following is text from the BTT press release issued on Thursday, Aug. 15:

Bonefish Tarpon TrustThe Boca Grande Pass – Charlotte Harbor estuary is a unique place, and is an essential location for the regional tarpon population.

Adult tarpon gather in both pre-spawn and post-spawn groups in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor. The Pass provides a unique biophysical feature that provides special advantage to tarpon during their spawning process – a deep place to gather in inshore protected waters. The adjacent estuary is also unique in that it is one of the biologically richest in the region, providing abundant prey for large numbers of adult tarpon during spawning season. Satellite tracking data show that some of the tarpon that gather in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor migrate seasonally, supporting the recreational fishery from the Mississippi River to the southeastern coast as far north as Chesapeake Bay.

Charlotte Harbor is also an important tarpon nursery. Oceanographic currents carry tarpon larvae from the likely offshore spawning locations to the extensive mangrove wetlands of Charlotte Harbor and southwest Florida, further increasing the importance of this location for the region’s tarpon population.

Much has been made of the fact that: 1) catch rates have not changed with the advent of the vertical fishing method with the Boca Grande Jig; 2) that the number of tarpon caught or snagged with the Boca Grande Jig was too small to cause a negative impact to the tarpon population. Both of these suppositions are problematic.

First, when applied to fishes that occur in groups, catch rates often provide inaccurate measures of population size and fishery health. More worrisome, they can provide misleading information that leads to overfishing. This is explained by the phenomenon of hyperstability. In effect, the overall catch rate can remain relatively stable even as total abundance declines because the total number of fish that can be captured is not correlated with the abundance of fish. For example, the maximum catch rate of tarpon might be two tarpon per boat per hour, which will remain unchanged even as the abundance of tarpon in an aggregation can decline from 100,000 to 10,000. However, such a massive decline in abundance is clearly cause for concern. By the time the catch rate declines, the damage has been done and recovery will be a long, slow process.

Second, because Boca Grande Pass is an important pre- and post-spawning location, it is not the number of fish snagged/caught that is of primary concern. The measure of concern should be how the fishing method alters tarpon behavior. Considerable research has been conducted on the complex behaviors often associated with fish spawning, with successful spawning dependent upon successful execution of these behaviors. Interruption of such behavior has potential negative consequences for spawning success. The concern in Boca Grande Pass is that the vertical jigging method is altering tarpon behavior in the pre-spawning aggregations. In the ‘traditional’ method of fishing in the Pass, boats drift with the tide, presenting bait or lures to tarpon that are in the pathway of the drift. This allows tarpon that are not going to eat, or are in a pre-spawning behavior mode, to refuse the bait/lure, which continues to drift down-current. The tarpon can remain in position within the aggregation. In contrast, the vertical jigging method entails using the boat motor to maintain boat position over a tarpon aggregation (the school of tarpon is recorded on Fish Finders), with multiple jigs lowered into the group of tarpon. This removes the ability of tarpon to reject the jig and remain in place. Instead, the tarpon must change location to avoid the jig, possibly interrupting behavior. Such behavior alteration may have deleterious population-level effects.

Other states have already realized and addressed the impact of snagging and associated angling methods in similar situations. For example, salmon on spawning runs or on spawning beds are susceptible to snagging and behavior-altering fishing methods. Implementation of bans on snagging gear and methods has resulted in improved fishing and increased fish abundance, with positive effects at the population level.

Lest we consider tarpon conservation as overkill, a recent international assessment of tarpon suggests a cautious approach to their management is required. The recent assessment classified tarpon as Vulnerable due to habitat loss and degradation, declines in water quality, and harvest in parts of its range. The Vulnerable status means that the population has declined at least 30% in the recent past and/or is expected to decline in the near future. Commercial fishing in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico caused a major population crash in the 1960s and 1970s, and ongoing issues threaten a future population decline.

Because of its importance as a pre- and post-spawning aggregation site, Boca Grande Pass requires application of the precautionary principal. When the health of the fishery is in question, it is imperative to error on the side of the fish and enact conservation-oriented measures. In conjunction with the catch and release regulations recently passed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which in part address angler behavior in Boca Grande Pass (e.g., prohibiting dragging tarpon after capture), the proposed changes to Boca Grande Pass regulations should decrease post-release mortality and allow tarpon to revert to previous behavior patterns, which should have positive implications for the regional tarpon population.

 

FWC to hold final vote on Boca Grande Pass gear restrictions in September

No Sportsmanship In Snagging

Your voice is urgently needed to encourage the Commissioners to vote YES on proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass.

On June 12, 2013, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) moved forward with a two-part proposal that would include adding language to the current statewide snagging definition and modifying what types of gear could be used to target tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

The proposal would add language that prohibits catching or attempting to catch tarpon that have not been attracted or enticed by the angler’s gear to the snagging definition that applies statewide. This change would apply to tarpon fishing statewide.

The second part of the proposal would prohibit fishing with gear that has a weight attached to the bottom of a hook. This change would only apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass.

Tarpon Snagging

This BGP gear restriction proposal will be brought back for a final public hearing at the Sept. 4-6 meeting in Pensacola.

Here are two ways to voice your opinion on this matter:

Contact the Commissioners via email.

Attend the meeting in September to voice your opinion in person.

As always, the FWC Commission meetings are open to the public and have a public comment period in which you are given a few minutes to speak if you sign up to do so.

This is the draft rule from the June 12 meeting.  We will update this when the final proposed rule has been released.

FWC meeting in Lakeland Florida.

The June 12 FWC Commission meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

Draft Rule for Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Fishing Gear – The proposed draft rule would address the Commission’s definition of snagging in Chapter 68B-32, Tarpon.  The proposed draft rule would also consider prohibiting gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in order to reduce snagging of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Gear Draft Rule Presentation.

  • 68B-32.002 Definitions – The proposed draft rule would enhance the definition in the tarpon chapter of “snagging” or “snatch hooking.”
  • 68B-4.018 Boca Grande Pass Gear Restrictions – The proposed draft rule would prohibit the use and possession of gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in Boca Grande Pass.

If you are interested in watching the last meeting, it is available online at thefloridachannel.org.

Here is quick video we created to illustrate how the rig could be used as a snatch hook.

Many people have told us that it is impossible for the Boca Grande Pass tarpon “jig” (aka a bottom weighted hook) to snag fish because the rig includes the use of a circle hook. This is simply untrue.

This video shows a circle hook snagging a pool noodle, a pineapple, and a cantaloupe. Now, we know it’s not a live tarpon swimming in Boca Grande Pass, but you can begin to see how, when the line makes contact with the fruit or pool noodle,  the “jig” turns to allow the first point of contact to be the hook point.

Music by Brett Dennen.

 

Former FWC chair: ‘I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging’

Rodney Barreto

Former FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto says if he had known then what he knows now, he would have voted to ban the bottom weighted “pass jig” as a snagging device in 2006.

Barreto is a Miami native who served 10 years on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

He was appointed to the FWC by Gov. Jeb Bush and re-appointed to a second five-year term by Gov. Charlie Crist.

He served as chairman of the commission for seven of his 10 years as a commissioner. In recognition of his leadership, the FWC established the Rodney Barreto Conservation Award for outstanding achievement.

The following email was sent by Barreto to current FWC Chairman Ken Wright and the other six commissioners:

Chairman Wright,

I’ve recently had a chance to review Dr. Grubich’s letter dated May 8th, 2013 with regards to his involvement in the 2003 Foul Hooking Tarpon Study.

If the information that he is now elaborating on would have been presented when I was on the Commission I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging of tarpon.

As you know we as policymakers are only as good as the information that is presented to us. Unfortunately, it appears that when the Commission deliberated this item back in 2006 that information provided was not as thorough as it should have been and was incomplete. A situation resulted that the Commission can now rectify.

Thank you for your consideration and your public service.