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.

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.

A ‘statistically insignificant’ tarpon

Sharks

No reason to be disturbed by this photo. It is, after all, “statistically insignificant.”

Researchers say the methods used by Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers more than double the time required to land and release a tarpon. The same methods, according to the same study, more than double the risk of foul-hooking a fish. Foul-hooking, of course, leads to substantially increased fight times. Which means a spent tarpon is less able to defend itself against predators. Like bull sharks.

But not to worry. The researchers who conducted the study concluded those doubled fight times and those doubled rates of foul hooking were “statistically insignificant.”

The photo is courtesy of WaterLine. It was taken during Sunday’s eight hour marathon “Sea Hunt Mega Money Tarpon Cup” PTTS tournament. The photo was shot moments after an exhausted tarpon was released into a pack of bull sharks following yet another prolonged PTTS-style fight.

And, in case you were wondering, this is what “statistically insignificant” looks like.

Let these lawmakers know: Don’t play politics with conservation funding

Holder2

Rep. Doug Holder was among three state lawmakers a PTTS lobbyist suggested might withhold FWC funding if commissioners voted to approve a measure designed to curb foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

A number of you have asked how to reach out to the three lawmakers who were mentioned by PTTS attorney and lobbyist Timothy P. Atkinson in his remarks to the seven Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members in Lakeland. As you know, Atkinson threatened that Rep. Doug Holder, Sen. Bill Galvano and Sen. Jack Latvala could potentially use their powerful committee posts in Tallahassee to withhold vital funding for the FWC unless the commissioners did as the PTTS demanded.

Atkinson invoked the names of these legislators and their control of the FWC purse strings while threatening to sue the seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS and others unless they voted down a proposed regulation designed to curb intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

As many of you have noted, playing politics with FWC funding is a slap in the face to conservation-minded sportsmen throughout Florida. The FWC plays a critical role in conserving and protecting our fisheries – including Boca Grande Pass. You have asked how to go about letting these three lawmakers know proposing further cuts to an already lean FWC budget is both irresponsible and potentially disastrous. Or, as one of you wrote, “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

We agree.

If you’d like to make your voice heard on this important matter, here’s how:

 

Rep. Doug Holder

Rep. Doug Holder, as the PTTS lawyer noted, is chairman of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. His district is centered in Sarasota County, and includes the communities of Venice, North Port and parts of Englewood. You can send him a message using the provided contact form by clicking here.

 

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, and Manatee counties. A link to his contact form can be found here.  On the left side of the page you will see “Email The Senator.” Clicking on this link will take you to a contact form. UPDATE: Sen. Galvano’s office has contacted a number of those who wrote to say he now supports the proposed gear restriction and will be writing a letter expressing his support to the FWC. A letter is also being sent to Mr. Atkinson. There has, to our knowledge, been no response from Rep. Holder or Sen. Latvala.

 

Sen. Jack Latvala

Sen. Jack Latvala serves with Sen. Galvano on the same Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of parts of Pinellas County. To write him, click here.  As with Sen. Galvano, you’ll find a link to “Email The Senator” on the left side of his page. Clicking on it will take you to a similar contact form.

It’s encouraging to know that you are willing to take the time to ask these lawmakers to clarify their positions on funding for the FWC, to disavow the PTTS lobbyist’s threats attached to their names and to remind them “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

PTTS hires lawyer to threaten the FWC with funding cuts, lawsuit

Joe Mercurio and Attorney

Joe Mercurio and PTTS lobbyist Tim K. Atkinson huddle at the June FWC Commission meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

UPDATED: Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.

Did a lawyer hired by Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio and the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series really invoke the names of three powerful politicians and threaten to use these politicians to cut funding to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

Did the PTTS lawyer actually suggest that’s what would happen unless the seven commissioners voted down the draft rule aimed at putting teeth in regulations aimed at curbing the intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass?

Did the same PTTS lawyer really threaten to sue these seven commissioners if they voted to prohibit the use of bottom weighted gear in this iconic tarpon fishery?

Yes, in fact, he did. But you be the judge.

Here is lawyer Timothy P. Atkinson in his own words speaking to those seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS in Lakeland. Atkinson is a partner in the Tallahassee law firm of Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson. His biography notes that “his practice also includes challenges of existing and proposed agency rules, and agency and legislative lobbying.”

And remember. Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.

FWC changes tarpon rules

Sun Pix

SUN FILE PHOTO
This tarpon was caught using a Boca Grande Pass jig. The jig has become the focus of a major debate in the fishing community.

This article was originally published in the June 13, 2013 edition of the Englewood Sun.

By JOSH OLIVE and LEE ANDERSON
SUN STAFF WRITERS

LAKELAND — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to move forward with new rules that would change the definition of snagging as it relates to tarpon and would limit a specific type of fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass.

Wednesday morning’s draft rule hearing in Lakeland was attended by an estimated 250 people, most of whom left shortly following the commission’s vote later in the afternoon.

The proposed change to the snagging definition is intended to eliminate fishing methods that hook tarpon without the fish being enticed or attracted to the hook. Most anglers consider snagging or intentional foul-hooking to be unsporting. The gear restriction would prohibit the use of a weight attached to and suspended from the bend of a hook, with the rationale being that such a rig is more likely to snag fish. The rig commonly called the Boca Grande Pass jig fits that description.

About an equal number of people spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed regulations. Many who wanted the draft rule shot down called for additional scientific studies to prove that tarpon are being snagged.

Gary Ingman, owner of Ingman Marine and a founder of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, was among those speaking to commissioners.

“We need a study once and for all to find a solution,” he said. “Our community is fighting. If you don’t conduct a study, there will still be a rift in our community. Right now there isn’t enough evidence to make a decision. Our community needs your help to settle this rift. We need to increase tourism, and we need your help.”

A study already was done in 2002-2004, looking at both foul-hooking and post-release mortality rates. That study has been under fire because two of the experts quoted — Philip Motta and Justin Grubich — since have said their statements in the study are not correct. However, outgoing FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright didn’t offer much hope that a new study would be forthcoming.

“We do not have to put ourselves to the burden of proving … this device is snagging fish,” he said. “I think we’ve got evidence that is compelling that we need the rule. I have the opinion, and so do two Ph.D.s (Motta and Grubich), that this device is more likely to catch a fish by snagging it than by fish eating it.”

Commissioner Ron Bergeron disagreed.

“I think we need more scientific evidence in order to dictate the gear we can use for tarpon. To me, it’s a big enough issue (to warrant a new study) — it affects the economy, it affects businesspeople.”

One of those who would feel the pain is a small Florida tackle maker.

“I sell these jigs for a living,” said Red Flower, owner of Outlaw Jigs. “These jigs give me 40 percent of my income, and without them I’ll lose my business.”

But a shortage of money is a big part of the problem for the FWC as well.

“There’s no $250,000 for an additional study,” Wright said. “If we don’t fix this now, we will be putting it on the back burner. It’s been 10 years since we looked at it, and it will be another 10.”

However, as Commissioner Brian Yablonski pointed out, the only change that actually would be required to make the Pass jig compliant with the proposed rule would be moving the hook.

“We’re talking about centimeters and inches,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be able to move the hook if you’re enticing the fish (to bite)? With a small tweak in the gear, I’m thinking we can eliminate a lot of the social conflict here.”

Approval of the draft rule will have no immediate impact on tarpon fishing. Commissioners will investigate such data as they have available to them before their next meeting in September. A final rule will be presented — and voted on — at that time.

“We still have some work to do from now until September,” said commissioner Leisa Preddy. “I have never been involved in something like this. This debate has pitted people against each other who have known each other for decades. It has split friendships. This was an extremely difficult decision, but our number one goal is to protect the resource. Everybody here can agree that we have to protect the tarpon. It’s just that each side has a slight difference of opinion.”

Email: jolive@sun-herald.com
Email: landerson@sun-herald.com

Here’s a link  to the Sun’s e-edition story. As the Sun will be the first to admit, the e-edition format can be a struggle. Accordingly, we’re reproducing the story here.