Slapping back at the SLAPP-happy PTTS

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A SLAPP suit is a perversion of the legal system eagerly embraced by Gary Ingman and the PTTS.

Eighteen months ago, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and their big money lawyers lodged a retaliatory lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, its directors and a number of people they seemingly picked at random from the phone book.

The PTTS action quickly revealed itself to be little more than a transparent ploy – one largely bankrolled by Gary Ingman, his Port Charlotte boat emporium and its unwitting customers – commonly known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

A SLAPP Suit is a tactic of last resort typically employed by deep pocket plaintiffs, a maneuver designed to spend advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon into submission by endlessly dragging them through the court system – and keeping them there until they ultimately run out of money.

Two counties and two judges later, that’s where Save The Tarpon finds itself. The people who brought us gaff and drag, the Boca Grande Pass snag hook, the wrap boats, the Spandex ballet and, of course, the “controlled chaos,” have now brought us dangerously close to the point where our ability to SLAP(P) back could be in jeopardy.

The Public Participation Project is a non-profit coalition dedicated to enacting anti-SLAPP laws. The group has assembled an excellent primer entitled “FAQs About SLAPPS.” Take a moment to check out why these PTTS-style lawsuits are so potentially destructive:


1. What is a SLAPP?

The rights to speech and petition are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.  SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice.  Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

(Read More …)

Miami Herald: Controversial PTTS goes on with added scrutiny

This article was originally published in the Sunday, April 13, 2014 edition of the Miami Herald. 

By Sue Cocking
scocking@miamiherald.com

When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided last year to ban the use of a popular type of fishing tackle for pursuing tarpon in Southwest Florida’s Boca Grande Pass, many thought that would be the end of the zany reality show/fishing contest known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

PTTS Tarpon Tournament

A common scene in Boca Grande Pass when the PTTS circus comes to town.

The FWC decided that the “Boca Grande jig” — where the weighted part of the lure hangs below a circle hook — effectively snagged tarpon in the face and body instead of enticing them to strike, and outlawed its use in the Pass. The decision was hailed by a grassroots organization called Save the Tarpon, which had waged boisterous on-water protests and a tireless social-media campaign against the PTTS. Several South Florida guides got involved because many tarpon caught and released in Southwest Florida are recaptured later in Southeast Florida and the Keys.

The tournament reacted by filing suit in Charlotte County Circuit Court against Save the Tarpon, accusing the group of defamation and costing the televised contest some major sponsors. The suit is pending.

Meanwhile, the PTTS is embarking on its 11th year, albeit with fewer sponsors and participants, planning to conduct three men’s and three women’s tournaments beginning May 17 and culminating with the season-ending Tarpon Cup, where a boat, motor and trailer will be awarded to the top overall team. The series will be broadcast later on the World Fishing Network.

“Since the inception of the tournament, there has been a faction of folks against what we are doing,” PTTS founder Joe Mercurio said. “We’re not going to let the decision the FWC made daunt us at all. Our anglers are ready to go out and follow the letter of the law and compete.”

Two of the top competitors vowed to do just that, declaring they don’t need the Boca Grande jig to catch and release big tarpon.

Veteran Tampa fishing guide captain Dave Markett of Team Power Pole, which finished third last season, said he used a “slider” jig most of the time, which allows the weight to slide up and down the line above the hook. He said he also caught and released fish using live bait, such as squirrelfish and crabs, and had success with soft plastic jerkbaits.

“There are no shortcuts to success,” Markett said. “Every captain thinks he has an idea and he thinks it will work.”

Jill Sapp, who fishes on Fins & Tails with her guide/husband captain Troy Sapp, said their team has always fished a combination of lures and live bait.

“We’ve fished all of it,” she said. “The guys that have been doing this a long time, this isn’t their first rodeo. The newer people to it, maybe they won’t hook as many. It is what it is.”

Save the Tarpon members plan to monitor the pass on tournament days with video cameras to see if PTTS competitors are following the law, according to the group’s chairman, Boca Grande captain Tom McLaughlin.

“The part of the jig law that’s important is that the fish pursue the gear and not the gear pursue the fish,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all about preserving sport fishing in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a historical fishery and it should be protected.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/13/4056127/controversial-ptts-goes-on-with.html

Best-Selling Author Randy Wayne White Crusades to Protect Tarpon

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine.

Written by Sarasota Magazine contributing editor, Tony D’Souza.

Randy Wayne White

Best-selling Southwest Florida thriller writer Randy Wayne White crusades to protect the region’s tarpon.

To hear author, restaurateur and angling activist Randy Wayne White tell it, as he recently did at his Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Sanibel Island, all of us Southwest Floridians are here because of a fish. Because of its fight, the lightning-quick way it rolls and leaps when it strikes, and because of its strength and beauty. That fish is Megalops atlanticus, an archaic, cow-eyed, thick-jawed feeding machine that can reach eight feet in length and weigh 250 pounds. Tourists call it “tar-pon.” The rest of us say “tarp-in.” No matter how you pronounce the name, the tarpon with its silver-dollar scales has always meant money, and that’s at the heart of a recent controversy that embroiled White and the organizers of a high-stakes fishing tournament down in Boca Grande.

“When the first tarpon was landed on rod and reel in 1885 in Sanibel,” White, sitting before an opened laptop in his bar where I’ve caught him writing, tells me, “it made headlines. This was the only big game fish that one could land in a rowboat. Industrialists began to come to this pioneer mangrove coast. Thomas Edison wanted to catch a tarpon, he came here. The Charlotte Northern Railway extended its service to Boca Grande; that began hotels. The tarpon changed the destiny of this coast.”

White is an amicable guy, a youthful 63, a baseball-playing Midwest farmhand who came to Sanibel in 1972 with a high school degree and a yen to write. He earned his salt as fishing guide and adventure magazine columnist, raised two sons and wrote every day. After churning out 18 novels under pseudonyms, he finally found a character, a former NSA agent and marine biologist named Doc Ford, which led to a best-selling series of thrillers, the first of which was 1990′s Sanibel Flats. The series’ popularity has allowed White and his business partners to commercialize the Doc Ford name into three restaurants, a hot sauce line, T-shirts and golf visors. And last year, White used his literary muscle to weigh in on what many here see as the ugliest chapter in the tarpon’s history.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

In a special commentary in the Tampa Tribune in April, White wrote, “In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more, two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon and also fill their pockets…. Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money…. The technique wasn’t illegal, but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical…How do I know this is true? Because, as a fishing guide, I did it.”

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical "Boca Grande jig" to snag tarpon and earn valuable "face time" on TV for their sponsors.

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical “Boca Grande jig” to snag tarpon and earn valuable television “face time” for their sponsors.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

“Snagging is taboo in the world of sport fishing,” White tells me as he leads me around his restaurant. “It’s the equivalent of harpooning or using dynamite.” The island-themed Doc Ford’s is packed for dinner, the genteel patrons dressed in polos and khaki. White spends a few minutes chatting with two couples from Kansas City, Dee and Frank Mana and Kathie and Phil Ziegler, who tell me they’re here because of the Doc Ford series. White signs a book, “Dear Dee, Doc’s Pal!,” then urges the group to, “Try the hot sauce.”

Out in his truck, White riffs on the surreal success of his books and the restaurants, which has come later in life for a writer whose early days often did not include hot water or A/C. “I did many years with no safety net,” he tells me as we pause to let some beach tourists scamper across the road. “Every day now, it just feels dreamlike. Peter Matthiessen [the National Book Award-winning author of the Watson Trilogy] gives me a hard time about being commercial. He says, ‘So, Randolph, are you going into real estate?’ I say to him, ‘A Killing Mister Watson oyster bar. Think of the T-shirts.’”

Soon we’re at Doc Ford’s on Captiva Island, a cavernous 400-seater, and White winds his way to the back bar, greeting fans and staff alike. At the bar, I ask a red-haired lady sipping a cocktail if she reads the Doc Ford series. She takes a hard look at the man beside me and says, “Are you the Randy White?”

“If you knew me, you’d run like the wind,” he tells her. Soon, he’s posing for a picture, and then we’re talking tarpon again. White says, “When they first started using [the Boca Grande jig], I had a client who would book me every year during tarpon season. I told him about it and he said, ‘Let’s go out and try it.’ I wired a very heavy weight, probably three ounces, to the hook. He landed two fish; one was hooked under the lateral fin. They’re almost all hooked outside the mouth [using the Boca Grande jig].”

The practice might have continued if not for the 2003 entry of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series into Boca Grande Pass. Hosted by Sarasota’s Joe Mercurio, the PTTS and its sister series, the Women’s Professional Tarpon Tournament, have the richest tarpon purses in the world. This year, they’ll offer more than $500,000 in prizes.

From the beginning, the PTTS drew criticism. “The Pass’s characteristics are such that the tarpon are contained in an area and must stack up,” explains White. “To snag fish effectively, you need a very fast boat, and during the tournaments we’re talking a hundred or more. It’s day after day of these high-speed pursuits of these fish who are there to feed and fatten and do this little-understood ceremony that’s prelude to their mating. It’s just a circus.”

Like White, the PTTS and Joe Mercurio are commerce-savvy, though the tournament targets a different audience. Its marketing videos highlight the very things White and other PTTS critics abhor: teams of sponsorship-clad fishermen in sponsorship-wrapped boats, all in a frenzied pursuit of fish. The videos’ background music is high-octane synthesizer, the feel is NASCAR. “The PTTS pits 50 teams in a head-to-head gunnel-to-gunnel battle,” the announcer intones in the 2010 video. “The playing field can only be described as controlled chaos.” The PTTS TV series reaches 42 million viewers and is co-hosted by a Sarasota-based blond bombshell, Sheli Sanders. Prominent in the videos are bull and hammerhead sharks chomping through tarpon even as the anglers reel them in.

What White and groups like Save the Tarpon of Boca Grande Pass argue is that the tournament uses the doctored jig and harasses the fish at a critical time in its breeding cycle. Bowing to pressure from Boca Grande guides, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) conducted a $200,000 foul-hooking study from 2002-2004. Surprisingly, the FWC did not find that the Boca Grande jig was hooking tarpon outside the mouth.

White says: “In the study, 75 percent to 80 percent are hooked in the mouth. But people did not ask what constitutes ‘mouth.’ The study’s definition is essentially this: Any bone in the tarpon’s head connected to its mouth [is its mouth]. The study has done more to harm tarpon in the last 10 years than any number of tarpon fishermen.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Waterline publisher warns ‘defiant’ Mercurio, PTTS: Don’t ‘skirt the rules’

Josh Olive, Waterline Magazine, Southwest Florida

“That’s just not true,” Waterline Publisher Josh Olive tells PTTS host Joe Mercurio in response to Mercurio’s repeated complaints the FWC banned the jig “in spite of any scientific data.”

The publisher of an influential Southwest Florida outdoors magazine says the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series needs to do some “soul searching,” admit the now-illegal bottom weighted “jig” was, in fact, used by PTTS anglers to foul hook fish, and distance itself from what he says are efforts to “skirt the rules” designed to put an end to years of tarpon snagging in Boca Grande Pass.

Josh Olive, publisher of the Suncoast Media Group’s widely read weekly “Waterline” supplement, used his Thursday, Oct. 10 column to refute PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio’s repeated allegations that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned the controversial device “in spite of any scientific data … that indicates an abnormal amount of fish caught using the Boca Grande jig were being foul hooked or snagged.”

“That’s just not true,” Olive replied, noting that instead of accepting the opinions of recognized experts and the resulting 7-0 FWC vote to ban the device, Mercurio’s “tone has been rather defiant” and that the PTTS continues to base its opposition on an obsolete hook placement study that has been widely discredited by the scientific community and renounced by those it cited. (Read Joe Mercurio’s September 19th letter to the editor here.)

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

Read Joe Mercurio’s Sept 19 letter to the editor following the recent FWC ruling.

Olive, once a booster of both the PTTS and the jig favored by the TV tournament’s participants, used his weekly column to call for  Mercurio and his tournament to heed Save The Tarpon’s message. “Tell us you’re going into 2014’s tournament season with the right attitude: Respect the fish. Respect the Pass,” he wrote.

“Well, now we know. The Pass jig snags tarpon. The Pass jig snags tarpon! What remains to be seen is how former jig anglers cope with the loss of a very effective fish catching tool. Will they try to skirt the rules and develop new devices that adhere to the letter, but not the intent, of the law? Much of their reaction may depend on how the PTTS chooses to proceed,” Olive warned.

Olive might have reason to be concerned that a “defiant” PTTS could be attempting to “skirt the rules.”

Shortly after his pro-jig, pro-PTTS “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association” lost a pivotal procedural vote on the new regulations in June, the group’s vice-president Craig Abbott posted a photo to a PTTS-backed social media site that purported to show a jig clone Abbott claimed had caught two tarpon in 12 minutes.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, spoke out after the September FWC ruling.  Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, commented on the PTTS Facebook page after the September FWC ruling. Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

A week later, part-time fishing guide Mike McCarty followed up with a post alleging “a start of full production is a couple of months out in order to have them for next season. There’s discussion of letting the PTTS reveal this new bait first. No worries there (sic) coming.”

Since then, the internet has been buzzing with rumors of experimental and “totally legal” lures designed to take over for the banned jig when the PTTS resumes next year.

On September 5, in the aftermath of the final FWC vote, the PTTS boasted on its Facebook page that “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.”

On the same day, Tampa fishing guide and Team Sea Hunt angler Rick Silkworth wrote “we are not going anywhere, the new jig is coming, mold is being made to poor (sic) new jig head.”

Capt. Dave Markett

Outspoken jig proponent and PTTS Team Power-Pole captain, Dave Markett, spoke out September 20 on Facebook.

More recently on September 20, high profile PTTS Team Power-Pole leader Dave Markett claimed the next generation jig was already on the market. Markett said the devices were being sold by a Tampa area tackle shop. He thanked the store “for already having a full rack of brand new and totally legal Boca Grande tarpon lures already on their shelves.”

“Welcome “Knockers” to our world,” Markett wrote. He then added “And the FOOLS thought we were whipped. Not quite, Not EVER!!”

Olive said that he had “searched his soul” as his opinion of the jig, the PTTS and Save The Tarpon evolved.

“The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series intends to go on, and I’m concerned that tournament organizers may not have done the same level of soul searching,” he wrote.

(Read Josh’s column here.)

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

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

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

By Carl Hiassen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, of course, won’t happen either.

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

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

Somebody who votes.

 

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

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

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

Here is the letter:

August 14, 2013

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

Dear Commissioners, 

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

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

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

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

Best,

Tweed Roosevelt 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boca Grande Pass Chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Is a bottom weighted hook a snagging rig?

By: Norman Duncan

Boca Grande tarpon "jig"

The Boca Grande Pass tarpon “jig.”

The controversy regarding the use of the “Boca Grande Pass Jig” or “jig rig” has become contentious, vociferous and sensational in the communities of the region and on line. It has social, cultural, conservation and political / legal impacts that are guided by the socioeconomic relationships that exist there.

There can be more scientific studies of the interaction of a loaded hook and a tarpon’s jaw that will give some degree probability as to whether the fish was intentionally / unintentionally snagged. On the other hand, the mechanics / physics of any rig that has a weight attached below the bend of the hook should be analyzed to determine the snagging ability.

Let’s start with the leader, if the leader engages any protrusion or ledge it will slide along until the hook eye also engages. If there is any bulbous mass in the area of the hook eye the hook would be deflected and most likely not snag. If there is a weight on the hook shank at the hook eye, as most conventional jigs are configured, the hook is also less likely to snag. However, if a mass / weight is attached directly below the bottom of the bend of the hook the rig becomes an efficient snagging tool.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

Snagging is a very old method used around the world to capture fish. It could be eels in a mud bottom or schools of mullet on the surface. The usual device employs a multiple (treble) hook or gang hook with a weight or mass at the bottom. This mass forces the alignment of the point of the hook out past the hook eye and therefore enables it to snag more effectively. This can make any rig with this configuration a snagging tool if used properly.

Mullet run sngging rig for snook.

Mullet run snagging rig for snook.

During the fall mullet run on Florida’s East Coast the most effective way to catch large snook is on the bottom where the fish are busting up from below through the schools of bait. The “rig” used for this was a 7/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook on a four foot wire leader to a swivel. The hook must have a ¼ ounce or ½ ounce sinker wired to and hanging below the bend of the hook. This rig is cast out into a school of mullet and jerked through the school, if your hook is filed sharp you can snag a mullet 9 out of 10 times. With the same rig the mullet is hooked up through the lips with the sinker riding below the throat. When the fish are being busted, the mullet is cast out and worked slowly along the bottom. When a fish takes, you quickly try to lip hook it so they will be easier to release. My best morning was 12 snook over 20 pounds and 2 over 30 pounds.

Several groups of fishermen from Miami fished Boca Grande Pass in the 1960s using the same lures and jigs that are successful in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami’s Government Cut; we had very poor results unless we used live bait. The artificial lures that are successful elsewhere don’t seem to work as well in the Boca Grande Pass area unless you fish the beaches and bay side flats.

This “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook.

These large snook were harvested during the "mullet run" in October of 1964.

These large snook were harvested during the “mullet run” in October of 1964.

The point here is that this “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook. In my opinion, the Boca Grande Pass and PTTS Tournament “jig rigs” are used with the primary intention of snagging tarpon, and that this type of rig should be regulated throughout the State of Florida.

Read the full article from Norman Dunan at flylifemagazine.com.

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.