FWC votes 7-0 to ban controversial ‘tarpon jig’ in Boca Grande Pass

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC's historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC’s historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

This time it wasn’t even close.

After narrowly surviving a preliminary vote in June, a regulation banning the use of bottom weighted “tarpon jigs” in Boca Grande Pass was adopted by a unanimous vote Thursday, Sept. 5 by the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola.

The new rule will take effect on November 1. Despite some initial confusion over which way Panama City lawyer Adrien “Bo” Rivard had actually voted, the final tally was eventually set at 7-0. Bottom line, it passed.

Before adopting the Boca Grande “jig” ban on Thursday, the commissioners shot down an 11th hour bid by Florida Tarpon Anglers Association lobbyist Lane Stephens who sought to delay action on the proposed rule by demanding the FWC first hold a series of public workshops and conduct an economic impact study prior to voting on the measure.

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

Stephens, speaking for FTAA vice president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott, unsuccessfully repeated his “economic impact” argument later in the meeting. “The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” Stephens said, adding that adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Responding to Stephens and his claim that “a ban on this tried and true method used by 65 fishing guides” could cost the state an estimated $8 million annually, Save The Tarpon Inc. Chairman Tom McLaughlin noted that the potential impact on a few dozen guides pales in comparison to the big picture.

“We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

“In my lifetime I’ve seen several regulations that decreased the effectiveness of certain fishing techniques,” he said. “We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

Commissioner Ken Wright agreed. “When you consider the effectiveness of a device or method, if it’s indeed snagging then it shouldn’t be a consideration at all,” Wright said. “This rule is not intended to change human behavior, it’s designed to protect a fish that lives to be as old as 80-years-old.”

But the jig lobbyist hinted that his clients might not be done despite losing Thursday’s vote. Stephens noted that state law “allows small businesses impacted by a rule to challenge (the FWC’s) findings.” In June, a lobbyist representing the same group and the PTTS threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit and budget cuts if the jig ban was adopted. That lobbyist, Tallahassee attorney Timothy P. Atkinson, did not appear at Thursday’s meeting.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were individual anglers or representatives of a number of groups who urged the commissioners to adopt the anti-snagging regulations. Representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association voiced their opposition to the measure.

Following the meeting, McLaughlin said a lot of hard work went into the effort to ban the jig. “Our more than 21,000 supporters and their combined voices clearly made a difference. This has been a long time coming, and our members and supporters, our core group of volunteers, the Boca Grande Community, the people of Florida and the people around the world who embraced this cause finally made it happen,” he said.

“The FWC’s action today is more than just a message, it’s a historic step forward in protecting this iconic fishery for generations to come.”

UPDATED: The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, via its Facebook Page, has issued a response to the FWC’s vote to ban the bottom weighted hook favored by its competitors.

In an apparent contradiction to the “economic impact” argument put forward by lobbyist Lane Stephens on behalf of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association and its vice president Craig Abbott, the PTTS statement predicted no economic problems for the tournament or its anglers.

“This ruling will have no impact on the future of the PTTS. As demonstrated during this past season, our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed that meet the new definitions. In addition, anglers will still be able to utilize live bait,” according to the PTTS.

Stephens, however, told the seven commissioners that “the assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.” Stephens also predicted adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Meeting Notes

What’s the score? 6-1? 7-0?

Florida has a long history when it comes to counting votes. Thursday’s FWC meeting was no exception – minus the “hanging chads,” that is.

So, was the vote 6-1 or 7-0? While the math wouldn’t have changed the outcome, the actual tally remained a mystery for about five hours on Thursday. It took FWC Marine Fisheries Management spokesman Amanda Nalley, who initially said 6-1 based on what she saw on the record, to solve the numbers puzzle by going directly to the source.

Why the confusion? When the vote was called, there was some question whether commissioner Adrien “Bo” Rivard had been a yea or a nay. Sensing this, Rivard apparently replied “no, I’m with you guys.” Unfortunately, the clerk only heard the “no” part, and Rivard became the “one” in a vote that was officially recorded as 6-1. Meanwhile, new FWC Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett was thanking the commissioners for their “unanimous” vote.

With her cell phone overheating from media calls all asking the same question, Nally said FWC staff eventually decided to take the bull by the horns. They asked Rivard. And the vote went from an official 6-1 to an unofficial unanimous. But even though the Boca Grande rule is a done deal, it appears Rivard will have  to wait until November 20 when the FWC meets in Ft. Lauderdale to correct his vote and officially close the book on this one.

So, if you read somewhere that the vote was 6-1, it was. Even though it was actually 7-0. It’s a Florida thing.

Are we still in Florida?

Many local supporters of the FWC’s rule banning the bottom weighted hook had no choice to make the 520 mile trek across the state to Pensacola for Thursday’s meeting. But for Ryan Hawks, the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel was little more than a commute. Hawks, an avid angler and supporter of Save The Tarpon’s efforts, lives in nearby Fort Walton Beach. Needless to say, his 41 mile drive was the envy of everyone with a Southwest Florida Zip Code.

Ryan made an effective local case – local for those in the Central Time Zone, that is – for the new anti-snagging rules. “On behalf of all the tarpon anglers in the area, we strongly endorse the proposed gear restrictions,” he told the commissioners. “We share the same fishery. As the Pass goes, so goes the entire fishery.”

On the other hand, when tarpon season rolls around next year, Ryan gets to make the 520 mile drive to Boca Grande Pass. But no matter. Pensacola, and those 520 miles, turned out to be well worth the trip.

Boca Beacon: FWC break-away jig study refuted by originating scientist

Boca Beacon May 17 2013

 

 

(The following was originally published in the Friday, May 17, 2013 edition of the Boca Beacon.)

By Marcy Shortuse
In the summer of 2004 Dr. Justin Grubich picked up the phone to take a call from a woman who said she was with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The woman, Kathy Guindon, talked with Justin for about 30 minutes foul-hooking tarpon, and he was asked to provide expert witness testimony on how tarpon feed.

He didn’t give the conversation much thought.

You see, while Justin is a Florida boy born and bred, he had never given much thought to using a piece of rubber or metal to catch a tarpon. And Guindon didn’t tell him that was what the study was about.

But he gave his opinion, for what he thought it was worth, all about how a tarpon’s mouth parts work, how they approach prey, and their feeding habits in general.

It wasn’t until this year that he realized just how important his offhand comments had become to tarpon fishing regulations in Boca Grande Pass.

After all, he thought he was just having a casual conversation.Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013

Justin is a fish-functional morphologist. He figures out how fish work, and he applies that knowledge to researching their evolution and ecology.

“I deconstruct how a fish eats, how they breathe, how they move,” he said. “But primarily how they feed.

My original work was based on tarpon suction-feeding kinematics, and my findings were in a paper I published in 2001.”

That may have been how the FWC tracked Justin down at the Field Museum in Chicago in 2004, or it may have been through his mentor, Dr. Phil Motta. Either way, when Justin picked up that phone and had a 30-minute conversation with an FWC representative, he didn’t even know what a Boca Grande jig was, or how it is designed to work.

It is abundantly clear he had no clue just how important his answers were to the Florida fishing community.

For years he didn’t know what had become of the research. He was out of the country for many years, studying Red Sea lionfish and Nile perch in Egypt and teaching biomechanics, evolution and environmental science at the University of Cairo. When he came back to the United States he served in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary Hillary Clinton, and as a foreign affairs adviser on scientific issues such as climate change, coral reef conservation and international fisheries to the Cairo Initiative unveiled by President Obama in June 2009.

So when he returned to the Field Museum in Chicago just weeks ago, it was out of sheer coincidence that author Randy Wayne White and angler Bill Bishop tracked him down there. They used his old email address, which wasn’t even re-activated until a couple of weeks ago.

Randy explained through his email to Justin that he just wanted to talk to him about his input on the foul-hooking study. When Justin looked up Randy’s web page, he found his name there … and not in the most positive light.

“Then I started to get inquisitive,” Justin said. “So Randy and I started an email conversation, I explained my brief involvement in the study, and how it was just a short phone call. Then they sent me the complete study.”

Justin was pretty shocked to see himself quoted in great detail throughout the study.

“Reading through it, to see how I was quoted … considering in 2004 I had none of the information available to me about what kind of jig was being used, what kind of place Boca Grande Pass was … I feel the information I gave to the FWC was used improperly,” he said.

Justin said that now that he knows more about the fishery, the jig, and the situation, he said it doesn’t seem to him that the tarpon are responding to the jigs with the intention of feeding. Because they don’t eat rubber or metal.

“They’re pretty discerning fish,” he said. “They wouldn’t have lasted 300 million years if they weren’t. With the scientific evidence obtained from tagging in the Boca Grande fishery, it shows the tarpon are down at deep depths during most of the day, then they come up and feed at night. Those guys who are fishing at night know that they’re feeding on the pass crabs coming in. So you can imagine how the fish feel during these tarpon tournaments during the day, these flotillas of boats dropping things on them.”

Justin likened it to the flossing situation with salmon on the west coast. “When the salmon are coming up the rivers they’re stacked so thick, they had to make rules to apply to foul-hooking there. That’s a more probable scenario of what’s going on here.”

He continued.

“I grew up in the Florida Keys, and have been fishing for tarpon since I was a teenager. I know how difficult they are to catch, and that every time you catch one it’s something special.”

As a sidenote, Dr. Phil Motta has also declared that the information he gave to FWC was improperly used in the study.

Justin has served as the Associate Director of Biodiversity Informatics at The Field Museum in Chicago and assistant professor of Biology at The American University in Cairo. He received his doctorate in evolution and ecology from Florida State University in 2001. He is a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he worked on reef fish biodiversity. 

In the summer of 2009, he was featured on the National Geographic Channel series “Hooked: Vampire Fish.”

The FWC will be meeting on Wednesday, June 12 in Lakeland to discuss Boca Grande Pass tarpon-fishing gear. The proposed rule would address the definition of snagging tarpon, and would prohibit gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook. It would also enhance the definition of “snagging” and “snatch-hooking” within FWC regulations for tarpon.

See page 5 of this week’s Beacon for Justin’s letter to FWC Commissioner Ken Wright.

Useful links:

FWC Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon 
in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004

2002-2003: Incidence of Foul-hooking in FMRI* Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study

Randy Wayne White: FISHING’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Critics say tarpon actually are snagged with this popular style of Boca Grande Pass fishing.

By RANDY WAYNE WHITE

(The following was originally published in the Sunday, April 14, 2013 edition of the Tampa Tribune.) Randy Wayne White is a New York Times best-selling novelist and resident of Pine Island, Florida. To learn more about Randy, visit his website or Wikipedia page

On Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) will consider a draft rule amendment to protect tarpon that, if approved, will be the first step in addressing among the most brazen cons in our state’s fishing history, and a dirty little fishing secret that has, for a decade, caused one or more FWC biologist to appear naïve or, at best, as an unwilling dupe or dupes.

It is an ugly story, dark with irony, but brighter days are ahead — if the commission takes that first bold step on Wednesday and designates  tarpon [but not bonefish] as a catch-and-release-only species.  The tarpon isn’t considered eatable, yet it’s an iconic game fish, so this sounds like a no brainer, right?

Randy Wayne White

New York Times best selling author, Randy Wayne White.

Wrong.   The sad fact is, this is the first incarnation of the FWC’s seven member commission to exhibit enough fishing savvy to acknowledge a problem exists.  By my reckoning, though, the amendment could be a vote or two shy of passage which is why I’ve decided to throw some sunlight on the dirty little fishing secret, expose the con, and hope that Florida’s thinking anglers will make their voices heard.

Here’s the ugly back story:  In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more (not counting side-bet calcuttas) two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon (even when tarpon were not feeding) and also fill their pockets with lots and lots of modern hundred dollar bills.

“Floss-fishing,” was the technique, a throwback to the days when European peasants fished for survival, not sport — a deliberate method of snagging trout and salmon in fast flowing rivers.  As the two innovators proved, floss-fishing worked equally well on tarpon that school in the fast tidal rips of Florida’s west coast.

“We thought we were being clever, but there’s nothing sporting about what we did,” Mark Futch, a third generation Boca Grande fishing guide, remembers now.  “A buddy and I grew-up fishing that pass.  There were days when tarpon would stack by the thousands in the deepest holes, but they wouldn’t hit a bait, no matter what you threw at them.  With so much tournament money on the line, I decided to try something different.”

For Futch and his boyhood friend, George Melissas,  it meant designing a specialized rig consisting of a heavy lead weight wired to the bend, or “belly” of a hook that had already been canted off-center with pliers.  To disguise the rig’s true intent, a colorful rubber adornment was added to make it look like a legitimate fishing lure.

“Mark still has the prototype, ” Melissas (now one of the country’s foremost experts on sea mollusks) told me.   “We named it ‘The Prom Dress’  as a joke because it came off in a hurry when we hooked tarpon.  Personally, I didn’t go out there with the intent of snagging fish, but I’d guess about ninety percent of tarpon landed using that technique are snagged.”

Seahunt Ptts Tarpon Jig

Something else the men did was name their creation a “break away jig,” which added to the illusion of legitimacy because actual jig lures (which are weighted at the eyelet, not the belly of a hook) are used world-wide, and considered among the most benign of artificial lures.

The ruse worked, and so did floss-fishing.  Futch and Melissas won or placed in the next fifty consecutive tarpon tournaments using their homemade “lures”, and piled up more than a quarter million dollars in prize money.

“We were landing tarpon when no one, I mean no one, could even get a bite,” Futch told me, “and good fishing guides aren’t dumb.  They saw what we were using, and saw that every tarpon we landed was hooked outside the mouth, not inside the mouth.  Soon, there were a hundred boats in the pass using rigs similar to ours, and we were seeing more and more dead tarpon floating or on the beach.  I know I’m partly to blame for this mess, and that’s why I’ve been working so hard to make it right.”

Because I was a Sanibel fishing guide during that era, I knew Capt. Futch only by reputation (although he is now a good friend) but I can tell you from personal experience what happened next, and how that dirty little secret was transformed into a purposeful con.  Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money in what is a very tough business.  The technique wasn’t illegal but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical, so a do-it-until-they-banned-it approach was embraced by some, rejected by others.  How do I know this is true?  Because, as a fishing guide, I DID it.

In 1998, a half million dollars in winnings, and three years later, Futch and Melissas returned to traditional methods when the Boca Grande Guides association did, indeed, ban “jig fishing” in tournaments.   Instead of following suit, however, the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission (which became the FWC 1999) dismissed the growing animus between traditional tarpon anglers and those who used belly-weighted hooks as “a user conflict.”  Worse, the FWC remained indifferent to the fact that Florida’s legal definition of a “snagged fish” (compared to states such as Washington, Oregon and Michigan) offered enough wiggle room to energize a whole boutique industry based on snagging tarpon — and that’s exactly what happened in Boca Grande Pass, in my opinion.

Sea Hunt Boats Snagged Tarpon

This photo, captured by a guest to a local boat show earlier this year, features a Sea Hunt Boats advertising banner picturing a tarpon snagged just outside the eye.

Enter Silver King Entertainment LLC which, in 2002, came to the area to video thirteen TV episodes of its Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).   The show featured fast boats and “pro” anglers, in NASCAR-like garb, who used a run-and-gun, pack approach to chasing pods of tarpon around the pass — a water space where, for unknown millennia, Florida’s sport-fishing cash cow, Megalops atlanticus, has schooled to rest and fatten before migrating off-shore to spawn.  For viewers (and sponsors) the dramatic payoff was video of sharks attacking tarpon that had been played to exhaustion, and “official weigh-ins” after tarpon had been gaffed, dragged to the scale, then  hoisted in transparent body bags.

All perfectly legal by Florida law, but the Boca Grande Guide’s Association — never a warm and fuzzy group when it came to outsiders (myself included) — filed a law suit, and appealed to the FWC to send biologists to do a hook placement study that, local guides felt certain, would confirm that “jigging” is actually snagging.  Such a study, of course, would also return a boomerang of bad karma into lap of the snag-rig’s creator — something no one, by now, wanted more than Capt. Mark Futch.

Finally, our Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responded.  The commission earmarked $250,000 in funding, and assigned a biologist to lead what would result in a three year, eight page document entitled, Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004.

Hello happy ending, right?

Wrong again.

According to data from the FWC’s study, in 2004, 74% of tarpon landed using so-called “jigs” were hooked outside the “buccal cavity” or mouth — including a tarpon that was boated after being snagged in the tail — yet the study (after ignoring other statistical red flags) concluded, “While more tarpon [10%] were foul-hooked using artificial bait than live bait, percentages were not unusually high and did not contribute negatively to the survival of tarpon.”

Huh?

That’s right, our FWC biologists fell for the floss-fishing con — hook, line and sinker.   The authors, in my opinion, accepted the fiction that a belly-weighted hook is a legitimate jig lure, then contorted other definitions (such as what constitutes a fairly-hooked fish) as needed to prop-up their own flawed premise.

An example:  Picture yourself holding a spoonful of cereal.  You swing it toward your mouth but, instead, stab yourself in the forehead, the throat, the cheek, the nose or the eye socket.  By the definition of the FWC study, you have successfully hit your target, and are now chewing your cereal compliments of your head, your cheek, your outside maxillary (in terms of tarpon physiology) but not your mouth as it is used by primates and fish alike.

Absurd!  Tarpon are an ancient species; a marvel of evolution that have outlasted dinosaurs, survived global cataclysms, all due to their ability to hunt, forage, ambush and feed successfully.  With its giant Megalops eyes, its sensitive lateral line, this is an apex predator — an animal that has NOT survived the eons by whacking its head, throat and cheeks against prey it intended to eat.

But that’s what the study claims to be true.  As a result, Florida is now stuck with a document that has, in my view, done more to endanger our tarpon fishery than the twenty years of snag fishing the study, in fact, implicitly endorses.

Honest naivety is to blame, I hope.  If not, all particulars and circumstances regarding the creation of that study should be examined under the sharpest lens of a journalistic microscope.

Ultimate Tarpon Book - Randy Wayne White

Before you can understand how badly flawed the FWC’s 2002-2004 study actually is, you must first understand how floss-fishing works:

Imagine a school of tarpon stacked 40 feet high, mouths pointed into the tide. This mass of fish is then transected by nearly-invisible fluorocarbon fishing lines, heavily leaded-hooks attached, a process repeated hundreds of times over a day. Hooks attached to these lines may be oscillating up and down, but are actually more effective as snag hooks if they are held motionless, allowed to drift quietly near the bottom of the column of fish.

These tarpon aren’t feeding (in this scenario) nor are they unaware. Even so, the jaw structure of a tarpon is such that the side-flaps of its mouth (the maxilla or ‘clipper plates’) are exposed targets, as are the fish’s gills. These flaps are hinged and flair slightly outward, not unlike an overgrown thumbnail, or the backside of a human ear. When fluorocarbon line makes contact with this bony flap, the line is sometimes funneled (flossed) toward the inside hinge of the mouth (clipper plate), or through the gill. The hinge, as it narrows, becomes an effective guide. Soon, as the boat or the fish moves, the flow of line is halted by an abrupt collision: The hook (given additional mass by the heavy sinker) either loops and buries itself outside the tarpon’s mouth or gill plate, or it bounces free. If the hook does stick, the startled tarpon then panics, which causes other tarpon to panic, often through a haze of multiple hooks and lines which can create the illusion of a sudden feeding frenzy.

Shrewd, huh? Key elements to this technique:

1. A heavy (3-6 oz.) sinker must be attached directly to the belly of a hook.

2. Tarpon must be stacked in a contained area (which is why this technique is so effective in Boca Grande, but useless off-shore, or in our back bays.)

3. The hook must be extremely sharp and is more effective if it is a circle hook canted slightly using pliers. (I’ve done this, keep in mind.)

4. Low visibility fishing line –fluorocarbon — and a gray sinker are best because deception is imperative.

5. A high speed reel (to rocket the hook upward through schooling tarpon) and a good boat handler all add to the likelihood of success.

The most devious thing about this technique is that, if you are being paid to produce fish, your clients (if inexperienced) will never question why the tarpon they landed is hooked outside the mouth after “bumping” or “nibbling” at the hook.

Obvious, once you understand how it works, right? Not if you’re an overworked, underpaid biologist, apparently – nor if you’re a fishing guide who has wrestled with the ethics of flossing. Capt. Andy Boyette, a top money winner in PTTS tournaments and an accomplished Charlotte County guide, is a vocal example of just how convincing the floss-fishing con can be.

“It took me awhile to figure out that jigging tarpon is the biggest hoax in the history of fishing,” Boyette told me recently. “I jig fished for eight years [2000 to 2008] and didn’t understand, at first, why almost every fish we landed was hooked outside the mouth. I remember trying to think up new stories to explain it to my clients. Finally, I got sick of lying to clients who I liked and respected, and that was the end of jig-fishing for me. I was good at it – my boat won the last PTTS tournament in 2008 – but I’d rather have a clear conscience.”

I asked Boyette if he believed that all accomplished tarpon “jiggers” knew the truth.

“All I’ll say about that is I think there are new fishermen out there who don’t want to believe it, or have been told the same lie for so long that nothing will convince them. But the best clients, actual sports-fishermen, don’t want to catch a foul-hooked tarpon. That’s what these new guides need to think about.” [Click here for Capt. Andy Boyette’s detailed assessment of “jigging”]

Boyette nails a key point: Florida risks a negative economic backlash by tolerating (in fact, endorsing) floss-fishing, and failing to re-define our own vague snagging laws. In1885, when New Yorker W. H. Wood, fishing in the backwaters of Sanibel, boated the first tarpon ever taken on rod and reel, the destiny (and economy) of Southwest Florida was forever changed by moneyed sportsmen who took the ethics of fishing seriously.

Guess what? Serious anglers still do. But Florida has dropped the ball in comparison to destinations such as Oregon, Michigan, Washington and Alaska which have set an example by honoring sporting ethics via articulate legislation. Our state is guilty of another oversight, too: We pay bargain basement salaries to the biologists and law enforcement people mandated to maintain our multi-billion dollar fishing cash cow, when we should be luring the best and brightest in the country. That doesn’t mean we don’t have good biologists and first rate FWC law enforcement people. We do. But it’s bad business not to reinvest profits in order to maintain the source of those profits.

For now, though, the seven member FWC commission can take a step in the right direction on Wednesday by designating tarpon a catch-and-release-only species (but omit bonefish, which would unfairly burden ethical and responsible tournaments in the Florida Keys.)

Let the FWC hear from you, thinking anglers.

Email the Commissioners at FWC.

Visit the website of Randy Wayne White.

Chamber director: Time to respect, preserve and defend our fishery

Boca Grande Chamber of CommerceLew Hastings is executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce and host of Gulf Coast Business Spotlight. Take a moment to read the message he shared with us on March 3.

There is a responsibility we all have to fulfill. The responsibility we all bear. To protect, preserve and defend our natural resources.

Boca Grande has a very unique and storied history when it comes to tarpon fishing. Indeed, this is the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World. There is nothing we won’t do to ensure that we retain that distinction. Most importantly, the way in which we can do that is to educate residents, visitors and vacationers alike as to how we can work together to create and maintain a sustainable fishery.

We first have to acknowledge and respect our blessings that we have been placed in this unique environment. That we have the specific ingredients in this region that the tarpon can to migrate to, pre-spawn, create a nursery and grow to maturity. I have been lucky enough to get involved in current scientific studies that are the only type of their kind anywhere in the world to ultimately try to understand why tarpon are attracted to this place, our backyard, to grow and perpetuate their species. We would be irresponsible and naive to minimize the importance of our place in their life cycle and the importance of our actions on their behavior in their habitat and in their home.

Mr. Lew Hastings & Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce (left), and Capt. Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save the Tarpon (right) at the 2013 Save the Tarpon Shindig on March 3.

So make no mistake. This is not about a fish. There are millions of fish and species that deserve their day in the sun. That deserve attention. That deserve respect. This is about an ecosystem. Our ecosystem. Their ecosystem. And what is unique to our area. And the role we play in the entirety of the tarpon life cycle and it’s effect around the world. This is not about any one man, woman or group.

There are plenty of people who think they know what is best for the environment. But some are really only concerned for themselves … they like to hear themselves talk. They talk a big game. But when it comes to actually doing something, they really don’t deliver. This is not about an organization or a club. Because both or either can become myopic and focus on the things that benefit only their concerns and goals and promote only their views and beliefs. When that happens, people see through it as false concern, background noise … self serving tactics. And no one is taken seriously. And nothing , in the end, gets done.

Community. Community is what matters. Community working together. Grassroots up is powerful. Impactful. When the community says, like ours has, enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate the abuse of our natural resources and the misrepresentation of our community. Someone … everyone has to listen. And that is what is happening today.

The citizens and friends of the Boca Grande community have come together to say unequivocally everyone is invited to come and enjoy the beautiful God given natural resource we have to offer to the world. But you will respect it and you will help preserve it – not just for us but for generations to come.

The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce has been dedicated to that end as long as I have been executive director for the last two years and I hope it will be long after I am gone.

We didn’t have to revive the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. As far as the Boca Grande Chamber and everyone else was concerned it was on an extended hiatus for 7 years. But on it’s 30th Anniversary there was a reason to bring it back more than just for the historical significance of the heritage of Boca Grande … but for the new mission.

World's Richest Tarpon Tournament

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013.

Conservation. Education. Sportsmanship.

These three words define what the residents of Boca Grande and surrounding communities have been promoting and encouraging for years upon years. Generations in fact. Employing conservation tactics and recommendations to ensure a healthy fishery.

Education of the public both residential and visitors on the importance of our role and location in the life cycle of tarpon and other marine species. And the adherence and maintenance to the tenets of sportsmanship.

Somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten the meaning of the word sportsman and the responsibilities and expectations that go along with being a sportsman. We need to make sure we not only bring this teaching back, but make sure that it is not forgotten. Not now or in the future generations.

So what is next? What do we expect from our visitors, our residents and ourselves? Put simply – respect. Respect the fish, Respect the Pass.

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013 is combined with the 3nd Annual Gasparilla Island Kid’s Classic will be held on May 25th hosted by Gasparilla Outfitters. The weekend long events will be combined with a downtown festival that will include music, food and games for the kids.

Contact the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce by phone, email, or visit their website for more information.

March 3, 2013: Save the Tarpon Shindig!

Save the Tarpon ShindigEvent: Save the Tarpon SHINDIG!

It’s a PARTY, it’s a RALLY, it’s a FUNDRAISER…it’s a time for us to come together and celebrate tarpon fishing in Boca Grande. Don’t miss it!

Date: Sunday, March 3, 2013

Time: 2 to 6 pm

Location: The outdoor grounds of the Louise duPont Crowninshield Community House

Address: 131 Banyan St., Boca Grande, FL 33921 (adjacent to the Boca Grande Community Park Grounds)

Directions click here.

 

Event Details:

Free entry and door prizes!
Complimentary food and refreshments.
Fish chowder/stew cook-off by local captains.
Raffles, games and projects for kids.
Special guests, including a captain meet & greet.
Live & silent auction.

SavetheTarpon.com was launched only eight months ago as a platform for anglers and community members to speak out and demand accountability from those whose actions are threatening the sustainability of the tarpon fishery of Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor.  Since then, we have evolved into a Florida not-for-profit organization representing the combined voices of more than 12,000 people world-wide who have joined the effort to protect and preserve this historically and culturally significant public resource.

The Save the Tarpon Shindig,  on Sunday, March 3, 2013, from 2 to 6 pm,  is an event for us all to come together as we celebrate our solidarity and dedication to protecting the future of tarpon fishing at Boca Grande.  We will review our achievements thus far, and look to the future as we plan our 2013 successes.  It will be a time for supporters to rally, meet the Save the Tarpon Directors, bump elbows with most of the local captains and community members as well as enjoy the company of a few special guests.

It’s completely free to attend and open to the public, so bring the kids to this family-friendly event.

Complimentary food and beverages will be served, including Budweiser products!

And, of course, we will be raising some funds for our 2013 projects (and we have some GREAT ones in the works).  So make sure you are there for the live auction featuring tarpon fishing charters from highly respected captains including Capt. Tommy Locke, Capt. Rhett Morris and Capt. Willie Mills, a seaplane oyster trip with Capt. Mark Futch, and a red snapper offshore fishing charter with Capt. Tom McLaughlin.

There will also be an incredible silent auction full of fine dining, exclusive lodging packages for a quick getaway, fine art, jewelry, and much much more. As the lists is finalized we will be posting more info here.  But trust us when we say, you won’t want to miss it!

Click here to see the list of auction items!

If you are on Facebook, visit our Save the Tarpon SHINDIG event page.  Click the “Join” button at the top to let us know you’ll be attending.  Click the “Invite Friends” button to help us spread the word about this important event.

As always, thank you for your support, and we can’t wait to see all of you there!

PTTS fires off Facebook attack on ‘extremist’ supporters of FWC tarpon conservation push

As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is poised to adopt language endorsed by Save The Tarpon Inc. and other groups that would pave the way to make tarpon a catch-and-release species, a spokesman for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is leveling harsh words against those who support the measure as well as the FWC’s other efforts designed to grow the state’s tarpon fisheries.

Joe Mercurio, VP & Host of the PTTS

Joe Mercurio, VP, General Manager and Host of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

Joe Mercurio, host of the PTTS cable TV show, responded to a Facebook poster’s question on Monday by calling those supporting the FWC’s tarpon conservation efforts victims of “left wing, environmental extremist propaganda.” Mercurio added that those backing the FWC plan, which is expected to be approved by the seven-member commission on Wednesday, don’t have “the facts” and are “disgruntled and disenfranchised individuals.”

In September, Mercurio told the FWC commissioners that the PTTS is opposed to regulations that would force the tournament to stop gaffing, roping, dragging and weighing tarpon, a practice FWC researchers have labled “excessive handling” that leads to observed higher mortality rates.

Mercurio’s Facebook remarks are the tournament’s first in the wake of the FWC’s disclosure of preliminary results of its 2012 tarpon DNA sampling program. FWC researchers said last week that six fish weighed and DNA sampled during this past summer’s PTTS events had since been “recaptured.” Four of the recaptured PTTS tarpon were discovered dead within days of being caught and hoisted onto the tournament’s sling. A fifth PTTS sample was labeled “suspicious” by the FWC. Just one PTTS fish was recaptured alive.

Among the four dead tarpon that have been DNA-linked to the PTTS was a fish that was gutted in an apparent botched attempt to cause it to sink. The gutted fish was photographed and its DNA sampled by a passing boater. The fish was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico near Boca Grande Pass on June 4, a day after it was caught, weighed and originally DNA sampled during a PTTS event.

FWRI Assistant Research Scientist Kathy Guindon, PhD, who oversees the tarpon DNA program and had seen the photo, agreed the gutting was suspicious. “I don’t know why they would do that,” she said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t give the fish a chance to survive.” The fish, a 124-pounder, was last seen after being turned over to the tournament’s Tires Plus “Release Team” to be “revived.” Guindon said the incision, which ran from the tarpon’s tip to tail, wasn’t the result of natural causes.

Later Monday, in a Facebook posting authored under the alias “Professional Tarpon Tournament Series,” the PTTS anonymously challenged the observations made by the FWC researchers as “baseless.” Mercurio had earlier discounted the FWC observations, suggesting instead that people “rely on credible news organizations and sources.”Joe Mercurio's Cash Cow

“EVERY weighed fish, over 80 were DNA sampled. More were sampled that were caught & released. We’ll present the full facts & figures in regards to the DNA sampled fish, and will address the baseless allegations & claims that have been made,” the PTTS said in its unsigned Facebook post.

The PTTS has otherwise remained mum concerning the gutted fish. FWC researchers have said that recapture rates in this type of study are, understandably, very low. Recaptures of less than one percent aren’t uncommon. So far this year, using the PTTS claim of 80 sampled fish, PTTS tarpon were recaptured at a rate of 7.5 percent – well above the numbers scientists say they would normally anticipate and need to conduct meaningful research.

Below is a screen shot of the PTTS Facebook page. It was made Monday, Dec. 3. Unlike that gutted tarpon, PTTS web content has a habit of vanishing. 

PTTSTV Facebook Dec 3 2012

 

Sign the Petition

The first Tarpon ever recorded caught on hook and line was caught in 1885, just miles from Boca Grande Pass. That achievement marked the beginning of what has become a world-renown fishery that seasonally stretches all over Florida and from Virginia through Texas and the Caribbean.

Biologists believe that Tarpon use Boca Grande Pass as a meeting place before and after offshore spawning migrations. The Pass also provides an abundance of food giving the tarpon a better chance of healthy survival after the rigors of spawning. The fish come to the area from throughout the region. Since we know Tarpon can migrate long distances, we also know that what happens to tarpon in one location is important to tarpon in other locations. What happens in Boca Grande has implications for the regional Tarpon fishery from the Keys to the Panhandle.

The recent and alarming inception of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS), a high-impact, season-long for-profit tournament in Boca Grande Pass, is causing significant negative impacts to the Tarpon fishery. Tarpon have changed their movement, feeding, and spawning behaviors. The change in these patterns has altered the quality of the fishery.

Additionally, by the glorification and promotion of unsafe boat operations by the PTTS contestants on television, the safety of all anglers and boaters in Boca Grande Pass and the surrounding waterways is now threatened.

The actions of the PTTS, its sponsors, and participants show total disregard for the historically and culturally important tarpon fishery in Boca Grande Pass. The PTTS has purposely adopted unethical fishing practices to help facilitate higher TV ratings and profits–fishing practices that have long been known to the angling community as outdated and unsportsmanlike.

I, the undersigned, support the Save the Tarpon movement and call for the immediate termination of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS). This must be done to preserve the fishery for anglers of today and for the future health of the fishery.

Boycott the PTTS

We strongly oppose, and call for the immediate termination of, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) in Boca Grande, Florida.  Our opposition stems from the destructive, unethical fishing practices and unsportsmanlike conduct promoted by this six week long, for-profit fishing tournament television show.  We believe the disruptive fishing methods endorsed by the PTTS and employed by its participants are likely causing the Tarpon to change their movement, feeding, and spawning behaviors and is threatening the survival of  the fishery.  The hyper-aggressive culture of disrespect created by the PTTS has, and continues to severely hinder fair and equal access to the fishery by all other user groups for the sole purpose of generating increased revenue for shareholders of the tournament and its associated production.

2015 Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Fishing Regulations

Tarpon

Florida Regulations:

Tarpon is a catch-and-release only fishery.One tarpon tag per person per year may be purchased when in pursuit of an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record. Vessel, transport and shipment limited to one fish.

Fishing with gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited. This change will apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass. If this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed. Natural bait is not considered to be a weight. If the jig fishes in an illegal manner it is prohibited. Any jig that allows the attached weight to slip down the shank so that it hangs lower than the hook while the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited, and must be stowed so it is not readily accessible.

Boca Grande Pass Regulations:

  • During the months of April, May and June, no more than three fishing lines may be deployed from a vessel at any one time.
  • During the months of April, May and June, no person shall use, fish with, or place in the water any breakaway gear.

FWC law enforcement is patrolling the waters in Boca Grande Pass, assessing what types of gear are being used and educating anglers about the recent changes. Without properly inspecting it, it is impossible to know with 100 percent certainty if the gear in question is legal or not.

Unsure if the gear is prohibited? Call the FWC regional office at 863-648-3200.

Map of Boca Grande Pass

Boca Grande Pass Map

 

Gear Requirements:

  • Legal Gear: hook and line only.
  • Snagging, snatch hooking, spearing and the use of a multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait is prohibited

Which rigs are prohibited?

When fishing for tarpon, gear is limited to hook and line only and you cannot use multiple hooks in conjunction with live or dead natural bait. When fishing in Boca Grande Pass (for any species, year-round), gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited. For the purposes of this rule, live or dead natural bait is not considered to be a weight. If this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.

This is an example of prohibited gear:

bottom weighted jig

What rigs are legal?

Here are some examples of gear that are considered legal.

Jig tied to weightJig with bead

These jigs would be allowed so long as the weight cannot slip down the shank to the bottom of the hook while being fished.

But if the weight can slip down the shank to the bottom of the hook, as demonstrated in this video, it is prohibited.

 

Examples of other gear that are allowed:

Jigs

Jigs, such as the ones pictured, are still an allowed gear.

Hi-Lo Rig

Hi-Lo or Chicken Rig used with live or dead bait to target bottom fish and reef species.

Bottom-rig

Bottom rig used to target a variety of fish species with live or dead bait.

Jigs_and_spoons_2013.jpg

Butterfly jigs and spoons used to target a wide variety of fish species.

These regulations were pulled directly from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee website on 5-4-15. Here is a link: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/tarpon/.
Please check for updates.