Sometimes it requires a world-wide community of anglers coming together to speak out for our fisheries. Thank you to everyone who has “liked” our page and signed our petition. Your efforts have been instrumental to the Save the Tarpon campaign. This meaningful collaboration of support, concern and activism will ultimately Save the Tarpon of Boca Grande Pass. Keep up the great work!
The following column, written by Gary Dutery, was published in the December 7, 2012 edition of the Sun-Herald. Here’s a link to the original article.
It’s 9:53 a.m. in the city and, as they say on the radio, The! Hits! Just! Keep! On! Coming! Right now, they’re running about three a minute. From Argentina, Brazil, Spain — oops, there’s one from France and another from the United Kingdom. Wait. What? Angola?
Nope, not talking some 500 watt AM station bouncing tunes and static off the moon to a handful of listeners around the planet. And, technically, we’re not even talking hits. This is Facebook. And they’re called “likes,” the new cutting edge gold standard currency of today’s social media industry.
Sitting in her upstairs office just off Placida Road, Jennifer Scott McLaughlin is at the helm of what could easily pass for Mission Control. Her eyes shift from one monitor to another as she mentally parses the “metrics” being harvested from the World Wide Web, numbers that tell the story of a local effort gone beyond “viral.”
For the past few months, McLaughlin has been spearheading a social media and Internet campaign that began on a narrow strip of beach in Boca Grande in June, one that has since orbited the planet many times over. “We just hit 100 in Guatemala,” she says. As she’s speaking, the screen refreshes. “No, make that 105.” Yeah, it happens that fast.
The “We” is Save the Tarpon Inc., a homegrown effort to change the way business is done in Boca Grande Pass — aka “The Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” On Wednesday, the all-volunteer group scored a win as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission unanimously approved language the Florida non-profit organization hopes will ultimately result in tarpon becoming a strict catch-andrelease species.
Facebook says the group has piled up more than 6,065 “likes” with a global “reach” of 2.7 million people who have been exposed, one locally engineered way or another, to Save the Tarpon’s message.
The Pass, as the locals call the entrance to Charlotte Harbor, is no stranger to fish feuds. But the advent of social media has made this one different. It’s not just two bar stools grousing at each other these days. The whole world is watching this one play out.
At the center of the controversy is a locally owned televised tarpon fishing tournament, one that Save the Tarpon and its supporters are seeking to reform. Folks in these parts take their fishin’ seriously. In June, roughly 50 people stood on the shore near the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse to vent their frustration and opposition to nearly everything the tournament was doing. It was just the beginning.
At the top of the group’s list was a request — make that a demand — for the event to halt what McLaughlin calls “gaff and drag.” Larger tarpon caught by tournament competitors have their lower jaw pierced by a large stainless steel hook known as a gaff. They are then roped and, using her words “dragged” to a scale to be hoisted and weighed.
That’s how it used to work. Less than three months after that humble beach protest (organized through another Facebook page), the tournament abruptly announced it would voluntarily stop weighing tarpon. Instead, tarpon will now be measured right at the boat rather than weighed on the beach. The numbers will be plugged into a formula to determine the weight of the fish. It will then be released. No more gaff, no more drag.
“We were hovering at about a few hundred ‘likes’ back then,” McLaughlin says. “Our website was drawing more visitors than our Facebook page. But they, and the FWC, clearly saw something was happening.” In fact, by the time the tournament did its about-face in September, the commissioners had already signaled the direction they were ultimately headed on the tarpon release issue.
“We were pretty much stuck at around three or four Facebook likes a day,” she recalls. “I knew we could do better.” McLaughlin threw herself into the social media thing, temporarily setting aside the paints, brushes and easels that are the tools of her trade, to master the geek speak of “reach” and “exposure” and “optimization.” And, of course, “metrics,” whatever they are. It worked.
McLaughlin says she had hoped Save the Tarpon’s Facebook page would, perhaps, “go kind of viral.” Instead, it went totally pandemic.
“You reach one person who reaches 100 of their friends who reach thousands of their friends, and so on and so on until someone in Suriname is clicking the ‘like’ button.” Suriname? Hard to believe, until you see that Save the Tarpon’s Facebook “reach” in the Dutch-speaking South American nation recently topped 800.
“Three months ago, we didn’t have 800 of anything,” she says with a laugh. “The cool thing about this is that people who otherwise wouldn’t know a tarpon from tadpole are reaching out and asking questions. Or you get someone in Bogota, or wherever, who promises not to buy a certain brand of beer because the company that makes it is a tournament sponsor. Do they even sell it there?”
The page in front of her refreshes again. Four more “likes” in half as many minutes. Friends of friends of friends from across the planet. All tuned, via the web, to a tiny room just off the main drag in Cape Haze.
It’s a new world, one where the voices of 50 people can become 500,000 almost overnight with just a few clicks of a mouse. And, as McLaughlin will tell you, it’s all measured in mastering the metrics. Whatever they are.
Gary Dutery is a Sun columnist. A veteran journalist, he resides in Port Charlotte. Readers may reach him at gdutery@sun-herald .com or on Twitter @ GaryDutery.
Your financial support of Save The Tarpon Inc. helped us reach out and tell our story to those more than 2.7 million people. As a result, the world really is watching what’s taking place in Boca Grande Pass and in Tallahassee. Make no mistake, your voice is being heard. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished together, but much remains to be done to ensure the future of our tarpon fishery for generations to come. Want to learn how you can help? It’s easy. Just give us a click here. And once again, thanks for your support!