It 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