What A Difference A Summer Can Make!

By: Heather Taylor

We are recent 180-degree converts from being avid PTTS fans to passionate advocates of saving the tarpon of Boca Grande Pass.  My husband, Kevin, and I not only watched the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series on television, we even recorded it on our DVR so as not to miss a single episode.  I “liked” them on Facebook.  I even got a little thrill when I saw PTTS host, Joe Mercurio, at a restaurant.  But that was then, and this is now…

My husband is an avid fisherman.  He has fished in the Pass and surrounding area for over 20 years.  His most recent passion, which he took up about a year ago, is fly fishing.  He has instilled a passion for fishing in our two teenage daughters and it is one of our favorite family pastimes.

Jig Fishing for Tarpon in Early Morning

This past spring we enlisted a Realtor to help us find a vacation home in the place we love to spend our free time;  the place we love to fish; the place that hosts this tournament we love to watch on TV.  We have spent a lot of time in the area since March.

What we discovered this spring and early summer about the PTTS was shocking and heartbreaking.  The PTTS had misled us and so many other viewers into believing that they are an ethical catch and release tournament which promotes conservation. But we saw with our own eyes that this is simply NOT the truth.

It doesn’t take a marine biologist to watch the hoard of boats pound the fish ruthlessly day after day to understand that what is happening is bad news for the fishery.  Also, the tackle and technique is simply unfair to these magnificent fish.  What we saw during and after the tournament was tragic evidence of this … massive female tarpon floating in the pass or washed up on the beach and lost forever.  Finally, the majority of the old timers my husband interacted with during the season indicated it was one of the worst ever.  The fish were not only sparse and inconsistent, but very skittish when present.

The PTTS supporters would like to make people believe that they are a huge economic boost to Boca Grande, but I do not even think that is the case. We rented both on and off the island during our home-buying process.  Our experience was that the PTTS folks rent elsewhere in the area, for the most part, and do not spend a significant amount of money on the island.

Those renting on island at that time of the year are predominantly those who have vacationed there and fished recreationally for years.  Other than Millers (Boca Grande Marina), we never saw PTTS participants at a restaurant where we dine (The Temp, South Beach, Sisters, the Gasparilla Inn and The Pink Elephant).

The PTTS has to be stopped.  It is so sickeningly against the ethical treatment of animals, I do not see how it has continued this long! What can we do to stop it?  Please tell us.  We are 100 percent on board with all efforts to stop this travesty of “sport” fishing!

Do you have a story to share? We would love to hear it.  Email us at contact@savethetarpon.com.

 

Fish feud: David tumbles Goliath – again

Here’s Gary Dutery’s column as printed in the Charlotte Sun, Tuesday, September 11, 2012. He spoke briefly with Tom, but this was completely unexpected. Nice to see someone in the media get it right. 

By: Gary Dutery

This is a fish story that began back in May as David versus Goliath II, but this one was fought with hooks, lines, Tshirts and Facebook pages. The biblical David has come to symbolize the abject underdog, the anonymous little guy whose faith and tenacity took down the Philistine Man Mountain with just a sling, a stone plucked from a nearby brook and one between the eyes. It was the ultimate bad day to be an Iron Age bookie.

David vs Goliath

David vs Goliath

The Davids haven’t fared all that well since chalking one up in the Valley of Elah. They’ve barely managed to cover the spread let alone bring home anything close to a win. But while the rest of us have been focused on the politics of pilfered yard signs and fact-checking the sensory onslaught of Mitt versus Barack, a small group of local residents decided that, perhaps, David was due.

They apparently didn’t know the odds. Aligned against them was the heavy machinery of state government, a Fortune 500 of corporate clout, two TV networks and 44 million cable television eyeballs. And that’s just for starters. But on their side they had, uh … well, nothing. Just a little band of fired up folks bent on making a bunch of noise on their inevitable journey to the land of crash and burn.

That sound you just heard was Goliath once again being dropped to the mat. Or, more precisely, tossing a sweat-soaked towel into the middle of the ring. And the setting was a bit closer than the Valley of Elah. This one quietly took place last week at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, a few minutes from Tampa International, where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave the improbable win to the Davids. In this case, a grass-roots group of locals who fashioned themselves into a movement of sorts that somehow morphed into what ultimately became a fairly sophisticated political force that the Goliaths never saw coming. Until it was too late.

The role of the modern David was played by a four-month-old organization known as Save The Tarpon. It has since tacked an “Inc.” to its name. It’s now a Florida nonprofit. Over in Goliath’s corner stood a handful of corporate for-profit entities that comprise a TV show known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. Standing behind Goliath were heavy hitters like Miller Beer, Yamaha and many of the major players in the fishing and boating industry. The overunder on this one came with a comma.

The feud over fishing in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass likely began within minutes of Ponce de Leon claiming Florida for Spain. The Pass, as the locals call it, isn’t just about tarpon. It’s about money. The strong tides at the entrance to our harbor bring us more than fish and bait. Two years ago the Everglades Foundation and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust funded a study that conservatively estimated the economic impact of tarpon fishing — just tarpon fishing, just Boca Grande Pass and just from Southwest Florida — topped $108 million. That’s here. Charlotte Harbor. Us. And this is annually.

Tarpon season lasts roughly two months. But during those two months, 26,900 anglers drawn from the fourcounty area surrounding the fishery made the trip to Charlotte Harbor with the idea of landing a tarpon. This figure translates into an incredible 268,000 days on the water and in our shops, our restaurants, our Kwiki-Marts, our hotels and, in one way or another, your bank account. Factor in money imported from the rest of the state (and the world), and we’re easily looking at an annual economic boost closer to $300 million. This isn’t just a fish feud.

In a nutshell, as Save The Tarpon’s supporters grew from a few dozen to well over 2,000, its call for the PTTS to end what many see as an obsolete, needless and downright harmful practice of gaffing and dragging tarpon to the beach — where they are hoisted from the water and weighed — began to resonate within the fishing community and the normally tone-deaf halls of Tallahassee.

Under current law, it’s legal. All it takes is a $50 “possession” tag purchased from the state. If, that is, you bother getting one. Save The Tarpon used the FWC’s own records to show that more than a few PTTS participants weren‘t bothering. The FWC was cornered into an admission that the whole tag thing — the foundation of the TV tournament’s defense — couldn’t be enforced.

But the PTTS stood firm. It would stop gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing, it said, only when “someone” made them stop. This past Thursday, the cable TV tournament more or less got its wish as the FWC commissioners laid out a plan to create a “sport fish” designation that would, ultimately, make tarpon a catch and release species. No more televised gaff, drag, hoist and weigh. To quote Bob Dylan, the PTTS Goliath didn’t need a weatherman to tell it which way the wind was blowing on this one.

“We will no longer allow teams to gaff, tow, and weigh in their catch. Rather, weights will be determined by a measurement of the fish’s length and girth,” tournament host Joe Mercurio pre-emptively told the seven-member commission. The same Mercurio who just three months earlier pledged to gaff, tow and weigh until “someone” told him to stop. Goodbye scales, hello tape measure. Goodbye Goliath, hello David.

David had the good sense to put four more stones in his pocket that day. And Save The Tarpon will be the first to admit this fight isn’t over. However it ends, it’s hard not to notice that people working together can, perhaps, still move mountains and, sometimes, slay giants. But then again, this is just a fish story.

Gary Dutery is a Sun columnist.  A veteran journalist, he resides in Port Charlotte. Readers may reach him at gdutery@sun-herald.com or on Twitter @ GaryDutery.

Off the gaff, but not off the hook

This article, written by Captain Tom McLaughlin on behalf of Save the Tarpon, Inc., will be published in the upcoming edition of WaterLine Magazine at the request of publisher Josh Olive.  We are posting it here first as submitted. WaterLine is published weekly and distributed in the Sun family of newspapers each Thursday.

Save the Tarpon, Foul Hooked Tarpon

Foul hooked? This hook placement is commonly seen in the jig fishery.

Just as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s was poised last week to move forward with a plan to make tarpon a catch and release species, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series suddenly and unexpectedly announced it would abandon the controversial practice of gaff, drag and weigh in the events it holds each season in Boca Grande Pass.

While obviously too late to compensate for the harm already done, the decision was welcomed by all Floridians with a stake in the health of our shared local tarpon fishery. While not entirely voluntary, of course, and accompanied by a chorus of protest aimed at the FWC from PTTS corporate management and tournament participants, Save The Tarpon Inc. sees the decision as a step in the right direction.

Thursday’s capitulation by the PTTS is even more significant as just three short months ago, as Save The Tarpon was still finding its footing, the tournament insisted it would continue to gaff and drag tarpon until told to stop. When it became apparent that state regulators were laying the groundwork to do exactly that, the tournament softened its stance and found what appears, in theory, to be an acceptable alternative. We are certain the PTTS is up to the challenge of making it work in practice. We will, of course, be there on your behalf to make sure this happens.

That’s just part of why Save The Tarpon Inc. and savethetarpon.com exists. Thanks to your efforts and the work of our more than 2,000 supporters here in Florida and throughout the world, we were able to provide the FWC with the assistance and encouragement it needed to begin work on a plan that will statutorily bring an end to the days of the beach-side corporately sponsored weigh boat and those now-vanished Internet glory shots of PTTS teams proudly posing with large, roe-laden tarpon cradled in their arms rather than in the water where common sense tells us they obviously belong.

Under the plan now proposed by the PTTS for the season to come, a tape measure and laptop computer will replace the gaff, the sling and the scale. As currently proscribed by law, the fish will be immediately released at the back at the boat rather than at a beach more than a half-mile and up to 30 minutes away. As we said, clearly a step in the right direction.

The initial concept of the Save the Tarpon movement was to act as an intermediary in the user group conflicts that have, unfortunately, become synonymous with Boca Grande Pass.  Our mission was (and still is) to act on behalf of all users by not only protecting the fish, but by also ensuring anglers equal and safe access to the fishery.

As input was compiled from  tarpon anglers and community members, it became apparent the problems in the Pass centered around the PTTS.  However, the goal was not to fight the PTTS, but to garner its support and cooperation. Working together was obviously the best way. Or so it seemed.

Possible changes to tournament policy were proposed by Save The Tarpon to Gary Ingman, owner of both the PTTS and Ingman Marine. Ingman flatly refused. “We will stop weighing those fish when the state ends possession of tarpon,” Ingman insisted. What a difference a few months and 2,000 voices speaking as one can make.

It was made apparent from day one that ownership and management of the tournament were concerned solely with how change for the better would impact their highly profitable cable TV show. There was no talk of the fishery, not other anglers, not our local economy, not even you.

The founding principle of Save the Tarpon back then was to save the tarpon by calling for an immediate end to the PTTS. It was, it appeared, the only option left. You told us that if the PTTS was unwilling to reform its gaff and drag policy, hyper-aggressive pursuit of the fish, exclusion of other user groups, unsafe boating practices and manipulation of gear, it was obvious the conflict in Boca Grande Pass would never subside. Most importantly, it was equally obvious the health of the tarpon fishery was at stake.

What goes on in Boca Grande Pass in May and June would appear to most to be more of a demolition derby on water than sport fishing. The PTTS agrees, promoting its tournament as a form of “controlled chaos.” If you’ve seen the TV show, you know. A pack of more than 60 boats will race to position themselves directly atop a pod of fish. As the tarpon are driven from the pass, the pack gives chase. You don’t want to find yourself and your family in their way.

There are those who say fish caught during PTTS events and other times on artificial devices are being deliberately “snagged” or foul-hooked by anglers using the so-called Pass jig. It’s hard to tell. PTTS participants routinely block attempts made by Save The Tarpon and others to figure out where on any given fish the hook has managed to lodge itself. The PTTS has now pledged to stop hiding its fish and have hook placement observed and recorded by a third party.

The PTTS has partially addressed some issues, but others remain. Save The Tarpon, for instance, is not entirely comfortable with the tournament’s continued opposition to the FWC’s efforts to make tarpon a catch and release species. It will be ending possession, it says, in the name of “conservation.” Yet in the next breath it insists there are no conservation issues with the status quo. It’s tough to have it both ways. We expect the PTTS will clarify its true position once it figures out what, exactly, it is.

Our members are also concerned with something else. Something not as tangible as catch and release or hook placement. It is, quite honestly, the culture of institutionalized, pack mentality disrespect the PTTS has created and apparently fostered simply to make better TV. It’s there. Fish the Pass during a PTTS tournament. You can see it, you can feel it, you can almost even smell it. There’s an implied sense of ownership of a public fishery taking place. Recreational anglers aren’t welcome. Just ask the competitors in their NASCAR style outfits and NASCAR style wrapped boats. They’ll tell you. If not, they’ll see to it you get the hint.

We remain concerned that despite the concessions promised by the PTTS in light of the proposed FWC action, the fishing public will still be denied access to the fishery and will continue to be bullied out of the Pass. Is PTTS behavior altering the habits of the fish? Honestly, we don’t know. What we do know is that the impact on the fishery as a recreational destination is clearly evident.

Save the Tarpon isn’t resting on last week’s victory in Tampa. It was a good start, but it’s just that. A start. It is our intention to work towards meaningful and enforceable improvements to special regulations the FWC already has in place for Boca Grande Pass. As we begin this effort together, we want your thoughts. Go to savethetarpon.com or look for us on Facebook. Give us your ideas. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Olive & Waterline Magazine, are you ignoring the recreational angler?

Save the Tarpon, Inc was recently contacted by Nick Garbacz, a local resident and recreational angler.  He provided us with a copy of a letter dated July 16, 2012 which he sent to Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, a weekly publication distributed in the Sun family of newspapers each Thursday.  As you can see from his message below, Josh Olive did not acknowledge, reply to or publish his letter.

To: Save the Tarpon
From: Nick Garbacz

Message:

Below is a letter I sent to Josh Olive that he did not acknowledge. I wasn’t openly aware of your organization at the time, but felt I had to respond to his ridiculous editorial so in my amateurish way I responded as forwarded.

I have signed the petition and encourage the right fight to Save the Tarpon.

Respectfully yours,

Nick Garbacz

 

July 16, 2012

Mr Josh Olive
Publisher, Waterline Magazine
23170 Harborview Road
Port Charlotte, Fl 33980

Dear Mr Olive,

I consider myself to be an average sportsman and conservationist and have been able to hunt, fish, and observe nature in various places in the world. I do not presently belong to any conservation or sportsman’s organization and have no ax to grind with those that do. I do however take exception to your articles concerning the PTTS and those that oppose its concept and execution. Your attempts to gain the middle ground in my opinion fail miserably. I must also confess I do not view the PTTS in a favorable light even though I know and respect many of the participants in the event.

As everyone knows the tarpon gather each year in the May to July timeframe to seek and accomplish pre-reproductive activities and this occurs in a very small area with the Boca Grande Pass so it seems like the old saying “LIKE SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL” has meaning in the case of the PTTS. Could you picture the FLW Tour staging a BASS Tournament in a Four Acre Farm Pond stocked with 10 pound bass? I would also ask any sportsman to view the PTTS TV show or boat around the pass during the event and truthfully say this looks like a true sport fishing event – maybe a Daytona 500 crash. I am especially fond of the one where the participant holds the DNA swab and says ”Just doing our bit for preservation of the species” for a fish he just caught that has less than a 70% chance of living.

If the show must go on, why not have it after the tarpon have accomplished their goals for being in BG Pass . Of course the obvious solution to preserving the fishery, would be to close Boca Grande Pass to all fishing during May and June, isn’t that a novel idea ? You could still fish for tarpon just not in a very small area.

If you believe that most fish in the pass are not foul hooked you are a very light thinker. The last time I fished the pass I was 3 for 3 foul hooked and that is why I stopped, but have fished the walls, beaches and other areas with crab, lures, and white bait with great success. Also, just because a tarpon is hooked in the jaw does not mean it wasn’t foul hooked. Almost 100% of Sockeye Salmon are legally snagged in the mouth with sockeye fly rigs and techniques as they do not eat upon entering the rivers. (It is yet to be proven if tarpon actively eat in pre-spawn pass activities)

In answer to your question “It’s all about saving the tarpon – right?” In the case ot the PTTS it certainly is all about the M_O_N_E_Y that is the one fact all can agree on.

Respectfully yours,

Nick Garbacz

Other Recent Articles by savethetarpon.com regarding Josh Olive:

Josh Olive and The WaterLine Magazine: A Disgrace to Journalism and Conservation

Waterline Magazine’s Josh Olive tosses out some questions

Differences remain, but we have a lot in common

BY DONDI DAVIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterline Magazine’s Josh Olive tosses out some questions

Many feel as though “paid advertising section” should be clearly labeled at the top of every article or commentary found among the pages of Waterline Magazine any time the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) is mentioned.  After all, Gary Ingman of Ingman Marine, who coincidentally is also a majority stakeholder in the PTTS, is one of their largest advertising accounts.

As we prepare our answers to Josh Olive’s questions (found on the second page of this editorial), we felt it was fair for us to ask a few in return.  We invite our readers and supporters to ask your own questions in the comment section found at the bottom of this page.  These may be questions for us, questions for the PTTS, questions for Josh Olive, or just questions to the public.  We will use your contributions, in addition to our own questions, in an upcoming response to Mr. Olive’s editorial.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Turf War, Snagging Tarpon, and A Crash Course on Boca Grande Pass Etiquette by FWC

With all the talk about the Save The Tarpon movement being simply a turf war, you can’t help but acknowledge that there must be some validity in the argument.  There is some truth behind the accusations, but that truth may not be as clear as has been described.  There is no denying that which side of the pro-jig/anti-jig movement you fall on often has some correlation with where you live.  A vast majority of the jig guides and PTTS participants come to town for the months of May and June, and once the Tarpon head offshore to spawn, that same majority return home to either continue fishing in their home waters or pursue other occupations.  They have very little tie to the local community during the rest of the year. I don’t think there is any denying this fact by either side of the argument.

The notion that the fight over Boca Grande Pass Tarpon fishing is about a group of traditional  pass fishing guides wanting to stop all others from fishing in their “private fishing hole”  is the battle cry of most who oppose the Save The Tarpon movement.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  This is absolutely a turf war, but not in the way so frequently described by participants of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and board members of the Florida Guides Association.

FWC at PTTS Protest  - Save the Tarpon

FWC overlooks the PTTS weigh boat during the June 17th protest.

The fact is that the jig fishing “pack” is supported primarily by the PTTS and the Florida Guides Association.  These two groups often point fingers at the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association as being behind the Save The Tarpon movement, and proclaim that they are looking to exclude jig fishermen from the Pass because the jig fishermen are “stealing their charter business.”  How can this be the case when you have a grassroots movement, not yet sixty days old, that has more than seventeen hundred supporters? A number that grows by an average of thirty per day.  At last count the Boca Grande Fishing Guide Association had less than fifty paying members, could they be the sole purveyors of such compelling “propaganda” as the Florida Guides Association representatives love to call it?  Could the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association really “brainwash” that many folks on a regular basis?  Even if they could pull off that feat, could they do so with some of the most experienced and well respected fishermen in Florida, and nation wide?

There are some facts in the arguments levied by the PTTS, Florida Guides Association, and its supporters that need some clarification.  First off, the “authorities” on jig fishing related information that they love to reference are not in fact the first generation of jig fishermen, they are the second.  There was a time when Capt. Dave Markett, one of the most outspoken supporters of the jig fishery, Florida Guides Association West Florida Representative, and self proclaimed jig fishery expert, was struggling to keep up with the likes of Captains Ed  Walker and Chris Klingel. These two were not only catching a LOT more fish on charters, but they were also sweeping nearly every tarpon tournament throughout the year.  That’s sweeping, not just winning.  As a matter of fact, those two talented individuals account for more total dollars of winnings between them then every single first place prize from the PTTS to date combined!  Where are the two ‘kings’ of the jig fishery now?  Well they quit jig fishing long ago of course.  They both have also spoken out against the jig fishery and the PTTS.  But wait, weren’t those people who were against the jig fishery and the PTTS only holding firm to that position because the “experts” in the jig fishery were more successful?  Why then would the two most successful jig captains in history, financially speaking, choose to hang up their beloved tiger shad?  They both seem to think that the jig is nothing more than a snagging device, and that the jig fishery in general is damaging  Boca Grande pass both biologically and socially.  Whats their motivation?  If I answered it would only be conjecture, maybe Capt. Markett should ask them.

So if people are not coming out against the PTTS because of money lost, then why are so many speaking out against it and rallying for not only an end to the tournament but often to the jig fishery as a whole?  The answer here is both extremely complex and exceedingly simple.

The only real supporters of the PTTS and the jig fishery are its participants, owners, sponsors, and the Florida Guides Association.  This is a fairly small group of individuals with a common interest in that they all benefit financially, either directly or indirectly, from the PTTS.  The same cannot be said for the group rallying behind the Save The Tarpon movement, as they are much more diverse group of individuals, with even more diverse interests both financially and socially. Although some are fishing guides or make their living upon the waters of Florida, very few have a financial stake in the game.  This group claims that the PTTS, and correspondingly the jig fishery as it has evolved to date, is causing irreparable harm both biologically and socially to the Boca Grande Tarpon Fishery.  How exactly they are causing these problems is where we start to get into the complexity as not all members or supporters of the movement seem to agree.  They all agree that there is a problem and the PTTS and the jig fishermen are damaging the fishery, but they do not agree on exactly how or why.

The effects of culling out large females, handling them excessively and, as the state and all conservation oriented groups describe as “inappropriately” during the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series has been discussed at length.  For now we will leave that argument to rest as we should not lose sight of the other half of the problem at hand and the crux of the argument against the jig fishery as a whole.

Some say that the jig does nothing more than snag fish.  This is an argument supported not solely by the traditional pass fishermen of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, but also by many of the most winning captains ever to fish with a jig in Boca Grande History.  As a matter of fact, you will not find ANY of the original guides or participants who were instrumental in bringing the jig to Boca Grande Pass and perfecting its use still using the jig today.

The assertion that the jig snags fish, that they are not actually choosing to eat the jig, means that users of said jig are able to aggressively pursue tarpon to a point at which they are more attacking the fish than they are coaxing them to bite. If they had to rely on the fish to actually open its mouth and bite the jig, this hyper aggressive pursuit would prove fruitless.  Case in point, during nearly all times when the jig is yielding a nearly instant hookup, it will prove virtually impossible to catch a Tarpon on anything else regardless of the skill of the captain, the type of bait or lure, or the way in which it is rigged.  If the fish are feeding so aggressively, how can this be so?  Anglers supporting the use of the jig have come up with a myriad of explanations, but none has yet proven to take hold as the official position of the PTTS or the Florida Guides Association.

A 2002-2004 hook placement study, conducted by the significant other of one of the most high profile participants of the PTTS at the time, proved “inconclusive”.  The findings did not vindicate the jig as a snagging device, but did not find sufficient evidence to ban the jig in its entirety.  Remember the FWC is a reactive agency, not proactive.  Mote Marine Laboratory holds a similar position as their official statement is that “more research is required.”

So at this point we are stuck.  We have anecdotal evidence presented by the most experienced among the jig fishermen, as well as  the most winning captains ever to use a jig stating it is nothing more than a snagging device.  On the other hand we  have the current participants of the PTTS, Florida Guides Association representatives, and jig fishing guides saying it does not.  The data to this point has proved “inconclusive” and there is even question as to what exactly constitutes a “foul hooked” Tarpon.  So we are at a bit an impasse.  But is this the whole argument?

If it were simply about snagging or foul hooking a fish in the corner of the jaw, the reactions of participants on both sides would not be so visceral.  AfterBoca Grande Tarpon Fishingall, if one hooks a  fish’s mouth from the outside in, or the inside out does it really make such a large difference in the fish’s survival that guides on both sides of the fence will literally come to blows over it?  Absolutely not!  So why is the battle so heated?  Could it be that there is a little more to the story than just a shift in charter business and overcrowding?

Here we are, back at the complexity of why so many people, from so many walks of life, with so many diverse interests in the fishery and community of Boca Grande are rallying together to fight the PTTS and some say, the jig fishery as a whole.  We often get lost in the complexity of this argument, and at times it seems so complex that proponents of the jig jump to no other conclusion than it is all a farce played out by traditional pass fishermen looking to exclude everyone else from fishing in Boca Grande Pass.  While this may or may not be their agenda (I am not, nor have I ever been a member), it is becoming increasingly clear that this is absolutely a turf war where one user group is excluding all others. However, the description of this turf war has been a bit skewed by those looking to protect a significant stream of income they derive both directly and indirectly from the jig fishery at Boca Grande Pass.  It is the PTTS, Florida Guides Association board members, and the jig fishery guides who are effectively excluding all other fishers from pursuing Tarpon in and around Boca Grande Pass during daylight hours in May and June.

Boca Grande Pass is a very congested place during May and June, and rightfully so.  It offers Tarpon fishing opportunities that are not found elsewhere in North America.  Unfortunately this is not a problem of simple overcrowding, as that would be a much less heated and easier solved debate.  Rather, it is a problem of a culture of disrespect that has become synonymous with the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the jig fishery as a whole. Disrespect not only for the fish and fellow fishermen, but also for the community, its inhabitants, and its heritage.  That is not to say that everyone who jig fishes or participates in the PTTS is guilty, but rather refers to the actions of the group as a whole.

No other fishery specifically excludes others from their pursuit of Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. The relentless, hyper-aggressive pursuit of tarpon while jig fishing is having obvious and devastating affects on other sectors of the fishery.  Further, once these fish leave the pass, these same aggressive and exclusionary tactics carry over to other areas of the fishery, compounding the issue dramatically.  For lack of a better term, no place is safe from the invasion of the horde when the fish leave the pass.  Could the pass and the surrounding fishery support the number of boats currently fishing? Absolutely.  But as the numbers of fishermen and boats increase, and correspondingly pressure increases on the fish, successful continuation of the fishery relies upon increased cooperation among participants in the fishery.  The jig fishery as a whole represents the antithesis to this very need.

So why do we have such a large and diverse group calling for an end to the PTTS?  To put it simply, the PTTS has created and fostered the disrespect for the fishery, its history, and culture. It can be seen publicly from the lowest level participant to the top rungs of management and ownership. Just as the scraps of what once were magnificent fish wash away upon the outgoing tide after each PTTS event, so too will the Boca Grande tarpon fishery as a whole disappear once the respect for the fishery, the community, and the fish are lost, only to be replaced by a relentless pursuit of increased revenue.

Why are many among the Save the Tarpon movement also calling for an end to the jig fishery as a whole?  I cannot speak for all of them, but the consensus among them is that this fishery means to much to us as a community and as the fishing public to be denied access to the fishery by a small group of individuals who are out simply to pad their pocketbook.  Is it a turf war? Absolutely.  The PTTS and the jig fishery are fighting to maintain the strangle hold they have had on Boca Grande Pass for the last decade, and they can feel it slipping away.  The charade is coming to an end, and too many questions and accusations are being levied by too many people for it to continue to simply be ignored.  How large will our numbers have to grow before they stop claiming our actions are those of a small group of local traditional guides seeking to secure a financial interest in Boca Grande Pass?  How long will they cling to the historic slaughter of Tarpon at Boca Grande Pass at the hands of the traditional guides years ago as justification for their own slaughter they commit each and every weekend in May and June to this very day?  How long will they continue to ignore the pleas of conservation minded anglers and organizations to stop what they are doing? Will it take closing Boca Grande Pass to all tournaments or even all fishing in May and June as so many among their ranks have claimed?  Maybe it will, I don’t claim to be an expert, only to have my own informed opinion.

I leave with a parting gift.  The following excerpt was taken from the current FWC brochure published on Tarpon Fishing at Boca Grande Pass.  Keep in mind the arguments of those against the jig fishery when you read the following. The next time you watch the PTTS on TV or happen to be driving through the pass in May or June  ask yourself “are these the actions of the jig fishery participants?”  Maybe you will begin to see why the PTTS, Florida Guides Association, and the jig fishery as a whole have all other user groups of the Tarpon fishery so upset.

Taken from http://myfwc.com/media/2077379/Tarpon_brochure.pdf

 

Tarpon Biology

The majority of tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass are of reproductive age; therefore, extra care should be taken when handling these fish so they remain healthy to spawn and produce the next generation of tarpon. Practicing good conservation and fishing ethics when tarpon fishing will help ensure a sustainable tarpon population.

Safe Boating and Pass Etiquette

• Operate your boat at a rate of speed that does not create a wake.
• When approaching the fleet make note of the direction of drift, and begin your drift at the head of the pack (up-current side).
• When finishing a drift, move to the head of the fleet by going around, not through the fleet.
• Boat operators should always avoid interfering with another boat’s drift.
• Do not rush over or chase a school of tarpon you see rolling at the surface.
• Do not run through a school of tarpon. Go around them and start your fishing in front of the school.

The same FWC that owners of the PTTS falsely claimed “support” their event seems to realize there is a need for etiquette among fishermen in the pass in order to avoid conflicts. I guess these only apply to everyone  who is a not a “professional” in the Tarpon Tournament Series.

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.

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