The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Wednesday to move forward with plans to put an end to “gaff and drag,” PTTS-style fishing by making tarpon a catch-and-release only species. All seven FWC commissioners endorsed the measure.
The commission’s vote paves the way for new regulations governing tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass and throughout the state to take effect in June. The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series opposes the FWC’s plan, but did not make the trip to Orlando to speak against the measure.
The FWC’s action came after nearly two hours of debate over language contained in a proposed rule creating a broad “sport fish” designation for tarpon and other species. As a result, the commission opted to temporarily set aside action on the new classification while forging ahead with protections aimed specifically at protecting tarpon.
If language expected to be introduced next month is approved, the measure would sound a death knell to the controversial fishing tournament’s televised weigh-ins, a practice PTTS host Joe Mercurio told the FWC in September it continues to support but has agreed to “voluntarily” end. Under the current definition of catch and release, tournament competitors would be required to immediately turn loose all fish caught – where they are caught – or risk prosecution. Gaffing, or any other form of “possession,” would be unlawful. The tarpon “kill tag” program would also be scrapped.
Most of Wednesday’s debate focused on other species targeted for inclusion in the proposed “sport fish” program. There was no opposition voiced against the tarpon proposal backed by Save The Tarpon Inc. and other conservation groups. Save The Tarpon board members attended Wednesday’s FWC meeting to represent the group’s more than 12,000 members and supporters worldwide.
FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright said the decision to move forward now on the tarpon protections outside of the “sport fish” classification signaled the commission’s desire to expedite a package of measures aimed at protecting the tarpon fishery. The plan, as proposed, has the support of Save the Tarpon Inc.