Project Tarpon on PTTS: ‘Virtually all of them die’

Team Sea HuntThe following is an unsolicited response from Project Tarpon‘s Scott Alford to Save The Tarpon’s earlier post “Study was a ‘win-win’ for tarpon, a ‘lose-lose’ for PTTS.” 

The PTTS crowd likely will attack me. They will link me to this group or that group but linking me to some group does not have anything to do with what stands for.’s only interest is tarpon. does not have a dog in the jig vs. no jig debate or in the use of the Pass by one group or the other. What I do know is Boca Grande tarpon swim all around the Gulf. That makes those females in Boca Grande important to tarpon everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. That makes it more than a Florida issue. It makes it an Atlantic tarpon issue.

From my satellite tagging experience (having participated in the tagging of all but a couple of the satellite tagged tarpon in Texas), I know which fish we released lived, which died and which were preyed on by sharks. Knowing if a release fish lived or died for sure lets you learn a few things about releasing tarpon. One of the things I learned (the hard way) is the type of handling being undertaken in the PTTS is not stacking the odds in the tarpon’s favor for survival. Do some live? Probably, but from my personal experience, I’d bet virtually all of them die.

After sending the letter and receiving absolutely no response from the PTTS, coupled with the reports that started to surface in the month following my letter, I became concerned with the possible hypocrisy of the PTTS. I have friends that fish in kill tournaments in Louisiana. I’ve never killed a tarpon in a kill tournament and never will, but at least when my friends go and fish a kill tournament they’re honest about it. Do I wish they wouldn’t? Absolutely. I am doing things to change that practice? Absolutely. Will that likely make me unpopular with some of my friends? Absolutely, but it won’t stop me.

My letter to the PTTS and making it public will likely make and me very unpopular with a number of folks involved with the PTTS. They may attack me, attack who I am and come after my website. I say bring it…. but if you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is… let me come tag some fish. I’ll give you the chance to prove me wrong. I’d welcome it. If you can prove the PTTS is not killing tarpon with its weigh and release program, I will be the first to stand up and say I was wrong and shake your hand for proving me wrong. However, if you never let me try….. well, then shame on you. Silence often is louder than any personal attack on me. The offer still
stands – let me tag and we’ll end this debate once and for all. Either way, tarpon win!!

– Scott Alford, Project Tarpon


  1. Rick Hirsch says

    Scott Alford’s article is perfect. Scott is well known to me and most of the serious people who spend most of their lives and careers studying tarpon. Scott has worked hard at conducting research, tagging and biology work regarding the tarpon’s life characteristics. When he adds his name to the growing list of people challenging the PTTS’s long list of lies and misdirections, we should all stop and consider his points. Our common sense, countless photos, videos and reports of dead fish appearing generally only after a PTTS events raises the bar for calling for either significant rule changes (i.e. no gaffing, roping, dragging & weighing) or IMMEDIATE TERMINATION of the entire PTTS operation. They kill fish and ruin the entire fishery of Boca Grande as well as threatenig the entire Gulf tarpon population. Thanks Scott.

  2. Capt. Troy P. Sapp says

    Mr. Alford,

    Seeing you have tagged a lot of Tarpon and you know which ones lived or died could you please post the Data and the post release mortality rates. I too have DNA, sonic tag sampled and PAT sampled a fairly large amount for BTT and FWRI.

    With the known post release Mortality rates it seems that the PTTS would have a very small impact on the fishery as a whole when you consider the total directed effort on the Tarpon fishery. The other thing that troubles me about the fishery we only know the mortality rates of the fish we tag.

    What happens to a tarpon that has been hooked and escapes capture? Could we presume that this escaped fish may have been hooked in a soft tissue area “Throat, Stomach” and the hook tore free. Tarpon are suction feeders and they don’t chew their food. What goes in their mouth is headed straight to their stomach and many times attached to a very sharp J hook. Just because a hook is in the bony area of the mouth on the fish we land doesn’t mean that is the first place that the hook came in contact with the fish.

    I also question what happens to a hooked fish when it jumps violently multiple times. Is this tarpon not subjecting itself to the same stresses as being hoisted out of the water? Have you not observed Tarpon shaking their head so violently that blood comes from their gills or that they excrete spawning fluids? How many times have you seen the heavy leader pulled back through the gill plates during the fight?

    I am asking these questions as there are many individuals that claim to hook several hundred fish a year. If they land 50% of them some are going to perish. If this is about saving tarpon we better come up with some answers and a different plan.

    Yes I participate in the PTTS. But the number of fish I handle and weigh is insignificant in comparison to fish I bring boat side either on my charters or recreationally fishing with my family and friends. I Tarpon fish in many regions and with a variety of methods. It is interesting how many juvenile “under 20 pounds” gut hooked fish I have landed in comparison to adult fish. Could it be that the smaller fish don’t pull hard enough to tear loose? Maybe that’s another factor we should consider when fishing natural bait.

    If Tarpon are truly in trouble there are many factors to be considered. Picking 1 event and 1 method of fishing and attacking it like it’s the cure all doesn’t represent well for trying to save Tarpon. I wish it were that simple but it’s not.

    It would be nice to advocate mandatory use of circle hooks.
    Know the dynamics and water quality effects now that the shipping channel in and out of BGP are no longer being dredged and are filling in.
    A stock assessment.
    Conditions of the estuaries where juvenile spend their youth.

    You know, the things that may make a real impact on a fishery where no intentional harvest takes place.


    Capt. Troy P. Sapp

  3. says

    Troy, I’ll work on getting the information to you on the exact numbers. The truth is, at one point in Texas, we had to examine and evaluate if we were going to continue PAT tagging tarpon because in one year we had a pretty high mortality rate (mostly due to predation)… but I’ll get with the statistical guys and work on the raw numbers to get you.

    If you noticed from my original post – these were all opinions based on personal experience. Nothing more.

    Also, FYI, I have talked with Gary Ingman and hope to work with him to help you guys with the PTTS get some of these issues publicly resolved. Gary seems receptive and hopefully he will remain that way. You have my commitment to work objectively to answer at least two of the outstanding questions (snag vs. no snag and the mortality rate of weighed fish). I will assemble a group of folks to be involved who will listen but in the end will present facts… for all to see. However, in doing this, one of our conditions has to be transparency, from both sides of these issues. I don’t think either side hamstringing this effort is good for anybody. And I will openly report if I think somebody is doing that.

    We’ve got a number of different things we are working on and will work with Gary to maybe help everybody in the fishery – Boca Grande and elsewhere.

    I assume many of your comments are not directed at me. I don’t advocate that the fishery is “in trouble”… I just don’t think we know or can accurately assess it. That is another area that is being discussed on how to better assess it. Seems money is always the limiting factor in these things. Being the best stewards of the fishery is all that I advocate. I just apply the common sense rule on that one.

    My thought is simply this – there are a lot of opinions, eye witness accounts and photos floating around. Some folks say one thing, some say another…. I’m willing to work with the PTTS, help answer those questions and where the chips fall, they fall. If most of the PTTS fish live – GREAT!!! I’d be delighted knowing that answer.

    Hopefully next year, we can get at least start moving toward a resolution of all these issues.

    Best wishes,

  4. Coby Pawlowski says

    A response from Save The Tarpon follows this comment.

    The PTTS is not even half of the tarpon fishing in Boca Grande pass each season, and that is just a small portion of the tarpon fishing that occurs in Southwest Florida each tarpon season, and that constitutes as just a portion of the tarpon fishing on just the Gulf Coast of Florida.

    Lets say throughout the course of the PTTS season they catch and release eight hundred tarpon, which in 2012 would have averaged two tarpon per team (two is around the average number of tarpon caught per team, since some teams catch none and others around 3-4 per event, and the number of teams in the team of the year race last season was 65). Now lets say every one of those tarpon dies. That would be eight hundred dead tarpon in Boca Grande throughout the six tournaments over six weeks. Most of these fish are quickly released and swim away fine. Do you see how ridiculous that number is? And we report a few tarpon dead.

    Then look at the tarpon fishing in Southwest Florida and in Florida’s Gulf Coast, and how the tarpon caught at the PTTS is a tiny portion of the fish caught. Think of how many of those fish are mishandled. I have seen many people take a tarpon onto the deck of a boat for many minutes just to take pictures and then dump it back into the water. I have also watched people just throw tarpon back into the water without attempting to revive them.

    The majority of Tarpon that die due to the PTTS is from time weighing the fish. Usually around ten teams weigh fish at each event, so on average sixty fish will be weighed each season. So if every one of those fish died, PTTS would cause sixty tarpon deaths a year. That is what all of this is about. 60 Tarpon. And the many of the fish will swim away fine.

    In 2007 FWC estimates that 0.8 Million redfish were harvested in the state of Florida. Eight Hundred-Thousand redfish were harvested. Do we see “declining stocks” and fisheries destroyed? Obviously tarpon stocks are not equivalent to Tarpon stocks, but do you see what I am saying? 60 fish is a high estimate and that is nothing in relation to the tarpon stock.

    What is happening with the PTTS in Boca Grande is just a tiny part of a big problem. It is frustrating that you focus on this little thing and blame them on the whole issue. If you believe in saving the Silver King, we need to focus on the big problem at hand, not this little piece of it. I am a young angler that is actively involved in my community and I believe that maintaining a sustainable fishery is a very important thing. Pointing fingers at the PTTS will not fix anything and disrupting these tournaments will not get anywhere in the end. We need to support the use of circle hooks, teach proper tarpon handling techniques, and practice sustainable fishing methods to start fixing this issue.

    Coby, thanks for your comment. Save The Tarpon shares your goal of maintaining a sustainable fishery. We believe you also share our goal, and understand the need, to go beyond “maintaining” our fishery by “growing” our fishery. And you don’t grow a fishery by slaughtering the fish, especially the large, breeding females routinely sacrificed by the PTTS for the entertainment of a cable TV audience.

    Our shared goal of preserving, protecting, respecting and growing the fishery is just part of Save The Tarpon’s story. Ours is a story, as Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lew Hastings recently noted, of a community that was witnessing its treasured tarpon fishery being hijacked and slapped around by Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio, Miller/Coors and the Wrap Boat Rodeo. This past summer, that community said “enough.” And more than 16,000 people throughout the world have put their names and voices behind that message.

    Enough. No more gaff and drag. No more hoist and dump. No more “organized chaos.” And no more surrendering public access to this storied public resource known as Boca Grande Pass. Ours is a simple message. Respect the fish. Respect the Pass. It’s a message Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio, Miller/Coors and the PTTS summarily rejected. “We will stop when someone tells us to stop.” It was their call. And eight months later, more than 16,000 people have given the PTTS an answer. It’s time to stop.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to comment.

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