Busted! DNA test links gutted, dead tarpon to PTTS

Capt. T.J. Stewart of Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats is a proud Professional Tarpon Tournament Series competitor. In fact, Stewart brought home first place in this year’s June 17 PTTS “Tarpon Cup,” the tournament’s Must See TV season-ending championship event. For his efforts, Skeeter boats forked over the keys to a brand new ZX-22 “Bay” with a Yamaha SHO strapped to the stern.

Stewart’s equally proud of his contributions to the ongoing Mote Marine/FWC DNA study. In fact, Stewart was recently recognized as one of Florida’s “top 10” DNA samplers. It’s a pretty straight-forward business. Anglers “swab” their tarpon, including those caught during PTTS events, and send the samples off to St. Petersburg where scientists do their science thing.

Dead Gutted PTTS Tarpon

This 124-pound tarpon, found gutted and floating in the Gulf of Mexico on June 4. It was cut open in a failed attempt to send the fish to the bottom so it couldn’t be DNA tested and traced back to the PTTS. This fish, with belly intact, had been sampled the previous day at the PTTS scales.

Just as Stewart did two weeks earlier when he boated, gaffed, dragged, hoisted and weighed a 124-pounder. “You just gotta try and take care of this fish, that’s why we’re here and … there’s nothing better.” Stewart’s tarpon was DNA sampled, of course, by the Florida Wildlife Research Institute. The next morning, Stewart’s fish was sampled again. But this time, Stewart’s fish was dead.

Very dead, in fact. Stewart’s 124-pounder was found floating near Boca Grande Pass in the Gulf of Mexico, a few hundred yards from shore. Last seen being hauled away from the scales behind the Sea Hunt-sponsored, “Tires Plus Release Team” boat, the “revived” fish had been gutted from tip to tail in an obvious attempt to send it to the bottom. A second DNA sample was taken. This, too, was sent to St. Pete.

Researchers say DNA doesn’t lie. There’s no question the gutted fish photographed and swabbed on June 4 was the same fish caught, swabbed and given to the PTTS “Tires Plus Release Team” on June 3 by Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats. To be revived, or so the PTTS claims.

“I don’t know why they would do that,” said FWRI Assistant Research Scientist Kathy Guindon. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t give the fish a chance to survive.” Guindon agreed it was likely Stewart’s tarpon was gutted after being turned over to the Tires Plus “Release Team.” Hiding the evidence? After viewing photos of Stewart’s eviscerated fish, Guindon said what happened to the tarpon wasn’t nature’s doing. It was intentional. And it wasn’t shown to the basic cable audience.

Early results of this year’s study show six fish that were originally DNA sampled during the tournament’s 2012 season were caught or found at a later date. Four, including the one that had been gutted after being placed in the care of the Tires Plus “Release Team,” were dead. Guindon characterized a fifth fish as “suspicious.” Guindon told Save The Tarpon that “research results did show the weighed in fish are more physiologically stressed. One can presume that mortality rates are higher in these weighed-in, longer-handled fish.”

PTTS Team Edgewater Boats Castaway Charters

With Capt. TJ Stewart at the helm, Team Castaway Charters/Edgewater Boats fights the tarpon that would be found gutted and floating June 4 in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of Boca Grande Pass.

The covert PTTS fish-gutting revealed by the DNA samples in the FWRI’s possession likely took place virtually under the noses of the same researchers the PTTS claims to support. In September, PTTS television host and spokesman Joe Mercurio stood in front of the seven FWC commissioners and boasted “the PTTS has worked closely with biologists from (the) Fish and Wildlife Institute to make sure we all benefit from the best science available.”

We know better. The FWC now knows better. It has the evidence. And there’s no way the PTTS can really get around this one. When that 124-pound tarpon’s guts were cut open, it wasn’t done for science. It wasn’t the “PTTS working closely with biologists.” It wasn’t “to make sure we all benefit from the best science available.” It was a desperate attempt to keep a lie alive. Or, as Mercurio wrote the day following Stewart’s “Tarpon Cup” victory: “We would like to especially thank the release teams that did such an amazing job releasing these tarpon healthy.”

Joe, look at the photo.

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  1. Rob Mellors says

    If what is being published about the PTTS competition is true, and to date I have no reason to doubt it, then this competition is an insult to caring “Brothers of the Angle”. We do not deny our “hunter/gatherer” genes, but we will never condone the killing of “the Silver King” for publicity purposes, or any other reason.

    Yes, all of us eat the odd catch here and there, but as Anglers we are the “Stewards” of maintaining healthy fish populations and their environments – fresh and saltwater. This “stewardship” is a great honour and allows us to view nature at its best. Izaak Walton would turn in his grave on this issue!!!

  2. Capt. Troy P. Sapp says

    MODERATOR NOTE: Capt. Troy Sapp and his wife Capt. Jill Sapp of Fins and Tails guide service of Odessa, FL are high profile participants in the PTTS. They rely heavily on the PTTS television series to secure the annual use of their Yamaha sponsored Skeeter boat in order to come to Boca Grande and run Tarpon charters on a seasonal basis. In case you didn’t make the connection, this is Capt. Troy:
    Capt Troy Sapp - Fins and Tails Guide Service

    Save the Tarpon is a Florida non-profit corporation. We have not sought nor obtained 501(c)(3) exempt status as the cost to do so would divert resources from our campaign and is not necessary at this point. We continue to function as a 100% volunteer organization with 100% of all proceeds, membership dues, and donations going DIRECTLY to our continuing efforts. There are no salaries, there is no compensation…unlike Capt. Troy’s involvement with the PTTS.

    Capt. Troy, You also failed to make any mention of why the fish was gutted? Don’t worry, we have plenty more evidence that it likely was done deliberately by the PTTS that has yet to be shared.

    From Capt Troy Sapp:
    You guys finally did it. Give enough rope and sooner or later it happens.

    I can’t wait.

    I’m also requesting all of the documents concerning your 501 status before i buy the 5 dollar button for the salaried real estate/ artist secretary of the STT.. NOT FOR PROFIT DOESN’T MEAN SOMEONE ISN’T GETTING PAID.

    For the poster above and Sir Izaak Walton, I suppose putting sharp objects into the water for the sole purpose to entertain makes more sense than those same objects to survive.

    More Tarpon die for the fun of it than for the food of it. If that is appalling to you then quit fishing with your buggy whip, spinning rod and so on. There is mortality in all forms of fishing. If you choose not to accept that don’t do it. And certainly, never bash those that catch and kill one or two and go home and eat them while you intend to catch and release hundreds. IF YOU CONDONE THAT YOU HAVE NO CLUE ABOUT FISHERY MANAGEMENT.

    Someone on here claims catches exceeding ten thousand Tarpon for clients. Just for fun , money and entertainment. With the known mortality rate this 1 sole has killed more fish than 150 anglers have caught in the PTTS in 10 years.

    Yea, go ahead and moderate this off here. The tactic lends itself to the credibility of this campaign.

    But, I will promise it will be repeated.

    • Rob Mellors says

      I’m not a Florida Guide or Captain with the intimate knowledge of the Boca Grande area, I’m a mere Angler and I choose to use a whippy flyrod, well in fact I personally like the stiffer tip flyrods designed for saltwater. To each their own including jigging!

      You can present all the arguments and rational that you like I simply observe what I see and read regarding the PTTS and whether it’s one tarpon or a hundred being dragged by ropes, and for whatever purpose, (be it scientific or otherwise,), this is not the way to conduct a tournament or to treat fish. Prove to me the photo is false and I’ll review my opinion.

    • STT Contrib says

      But, I will promise it will be repeated.”

      Repeated? What? More gutted fish? Capt. Sapp, four of the six ‘recaptured’ PTTS-released tarpon were later found dead. These tarpon were traced back to the PTTS by DNA samples taken from the fish at the PTTS weigh boat. One of these dead PTTS tarpon had been gutted in an unsuccessful attempt to sink it so it would not be discovered – and linked to the PTTS through its DNA.

      You promise it will be repeated? Yes, if no substantive changes are made, odds are we will see this repeated many times over when the PTTS once again hijacks Boca Grande Pass in May. This is one promise you can make with the absolute knowledge it will be kept.

    • says

      Troy, what is it that you can’t wait for? I really would like to know what Pat would say about your comments, being such a conservation minded member of the Florida Guides Association. Does money mean more than preservation of a fishery?

  3. says

    Capt. Troy,
    First off, thanks for your contribution. Secondly, lets be pretty clear this is not about catch and release. It is about a tournament that is NOT catch and release. The PTTS does not fit the description of catch and release set forth in statutes by the state of Florida, nor would most conservation oriented anglers consider it as such.

    Secondly, We are all aware that there is an incidence of mortality involved with fishing of any kind. That being said, when a fish is not caught for food, we do everything we can to ensure its survival. . Excessively handling, SPECIFICALLY TOWING the fish causes an increase in the rate of mortality in Tarpon. Kathy Guindon, PHD, Assistant Research Scientist at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute had this to say about the PTTS in March 2012:

    “Preliminary results from research conducted in 2010 shows that the tournament weigh in procedures of the PTTS physiologically stress the Tarpon moreso than catch-and-release recreational fishery that does not have a weigh in procedure that involves towing the fish.”

    And in June of 2012 Kathy had this to say:

    “One can presume that mortality rates are higher in these weighed-in, longer handled fish.”

    So lets get a couple things clear here Capt. Sapp.

    The PTTS handling practices in the past, and as described by Joe Mercurio for the future are not an intergral part to hosting a tarpon tournament. These additional fish, above and beyond the normal catch-and-release mortality rates are being killed simply to increase TV ratings and drive up profits for sponsors.

  4. Alan Williams says

    Hell-o….you fight and wear down a fish, tear a hole in it’s mouth needed for suction to eat and survive., tow it to a weigh site, tow it back out and this is good for science and survival? Or just entertainment and money for a few? Fishing in the pass at the time of there spawn is like bombarding any fish on the nest. It is NOT conducive for survival of a spawning area or species. I enjoy tournament fishing but this series has disturbed me from day one and for good reason. This is a cruel tournament. It’s like bombarding a Bass locked down on a bed during natures call. It may be legal under both circumstances but it is still unsportsman like and wrong. I’m not holier than the next guy, this is just my opinion and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  5. Shane Sovan says

    Troy, Why do you try to keep denying it when it’s black and white! So answer me this smart guy, why was the fish’s entire belly cut???? The least you could do is admit you are doing wrong and as a professional fisherman, try to do better, but instead you just keep turning a blind eye!!

  6. Tom Brocato says

    This another example of man exploiting a lifelong tradition and calling it sport. Y’all are not sportsman. I quit being a ‘fishing guide’ because most are gutless skunks. When you pee with skunks, you smell like ’em. There was a time when ‘captain’ was an honor. All of you involved in this are a dis-honor to the fishing industry. You should be stripped of your licenses by the Coast Guard, never to be allowed to charter or compete again. Now you have worldwide recognition in the ‘chumps hall of fame’. If it were up to me, I’d let the fish have a go at you after dragging you a mile or two, hooked and tied up…

  7. Save the TarponSave the Tarpon says

    The following is a quote from Capt. Troy Sapp of the Florida Guides Assoication:

    “The STT campaign who’s sole purpose is to run out of town guides off are the ones that gutted that fish after they found it floating to promote their cause. Yes It died after release, but no one needs to hide anything”

    Only one piece of advice Troy, you may want to wait until you have all the facts before you open your mouth next time. We have a whole lot more evidence to show a PTTS coverup and a LOT to hide on the part of your precious tournament that has yet to be released.

    • Frank Davis says

      Troy Sapp, Really!! That is probably one of the, lets try to do the best we can, to cover up what we have been doing for 7 years trick to make the FWC think we are still actually concerned about conserving a fishery. See ya tomorrow.

  8. Paul Voller says

    He must have heard on Faux News that tarpon are immortal and if you pray enough they will survive. This is a science issue in that a Boca Grande is THE spot for most of Florida for known tarpon spawning and migration, and the high boat traffic and environmental impact that this tournament is responsible for both during the tournament and off season has far reaching effects. The “extreme” fisherman clowns that promote catching and dragging onboard or for weigh-in shows how little their sardine really is . This is a moral issue in that these clowns are doing this merely for financial and egotistical gain. “Way to screw up a good thing”… idiot.

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