FWC Commissioners need to hear from you on proposed tarpon rules

Vote yes on catch-and-release for tarpon.A very important meeting is coming up on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

It is the June 2013 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

On this Wednesday, the seven Commissioners will be voting on two very important issues: the draft rule for Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishing gear, and, the final rules for catch-and-release status for tarpon and bonefish.

Your voice is urgently needed to encourage the Commissioners to vote YES on both of these proposed rules.  There are two ways you are able to do this:

Contact the Commissioners via email.

or, Attend the meeting on June 12.

As always, the FWC Commission meetings are open to the public and have a public comment period in which you are given a few minutes to speak if you sign up to do so.

Here are the two rules pertaining to tarpon:

1. Draft Rule for Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Fishing Gear – The proposed draft rule would address the Commission’s definition of snagging in Chapter 68B-32, Tarpon.  The proposed draft rule would also consider prohibiting gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in order to reduce snagging of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Gear Draft Rule Presentation.

  • 68B-32.002 Definitions – The proposed draft rule would enhance the definition in the tarpon chapter of “snagging” or “snatch hooking.”
  • 68B-4.018 Boca Grande Pass Gear Restrictions – The proposed draft rule would prohibit the use and possession of gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in Boca Grande Pass.

and,

2. Final Rules for Tarpon and Bonefish – The proposed final rules would make tarpon and bonefish catch-and-release-only.  To accomplish this, the allowance for a tarpon bag limit would be eliminated and replaced with an allowance for possession of a single tarpon in conjunction with a tarpon tag for the purpose of pursuing an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record. In addition, all tarpon regulations will be extended into adjacent federal waters.  The existing bonefish tournament exemption that allows registered tournament anglers to possess a bonefish for the purposes of transporting it to the tournament scale would also be eliminated. Tarpon and Bonefish Presentation

Vote Yes for catch-and-release for tarpon.Tarpon

  • 68B-32.001 Purpose and Intent (NEW) – The proposed final rule would create a new subsection in order to convey the intent to manage tarpon as a catch-and-release-only fishery with allowable harvest and possession limited to possession in pursuit of an IGFA record.
  • 68B-32.003 Tarpon Tags: Required for Possession; Report; Annual   Issuance; Taxidermy; Limitation on Number of Tags Issued Annually; Limitation on Number of Tags Issued to Professional Fishing Guides – The proposed final rule would extend Florida’s tarpon tag requirements to federal waters and limit the use of tarpon tags to tarpon harvested or possessed in pursuit of an IGFA record.  The final rule would also eliminate reporting requirements and limit the number of tags that an individual can purchase to one per year.  NEW:  Staff is requesting permission to publish a  Notice of Change to create a placeholder for this rule to house any future  possible regulations.
  • 68B-32.004 Bag Limit and Gear Restriction – The proposed final rule would eliminate the two tarpon bag limit and require that all tarpon be    released without doing unnecessary harm and at the site of capture. Allowable possession of a tarpon within or without Florida waters, or elsewhere in the state, would be limited to anglers with the properly affixed tarpon tag who possess a tarpon in pursuit of an IGFA record.  The final rule would also create a vessel limit of one tarpon per vessel and limit the allowable gears when targeting tarpon to hook and line only.  In addition, the proposed final rule would state the intent to allow for temporary possession of tarpon for purposes of photography, measurement of length and girth, or scientific sampling, and any tarpon temporarily possessed would be required to be kept completely in the water if greater than 40 inches fork length.  These regulations would apply in all state and federal waters off Florida.
  • 68B-32.006 Sale Prohibited, Transport Regulated – The final rule would reduce the number of tarpon a person is allowed to transport or ship from two tarpon to one.
  • 68B-32 – The final rule would reorganize and reformat the tarpon rule chapter to conform to the style developed for Division 68B, F.A.C., during the marine fisheries rule cleanup process.

A trail of gaffed, dragged and dead tarpon – and you care about WHAT?

PTTS Protest May 19, 2013PTTS host Joe Mercurio has seemingly convinced himself the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers who were on hand Sunday to, in their words, “observe and report,” are going to rush back to Tallahassee where they will breathlessly report they observed someone yelling something through a bullhorn.

A bullhorn? Seriously? Sorry Joe. The FWC didn’t send those officers all the way to Boca Grande for bullhorns. These are trained and experienced professional wildlife officers. Bullhorns?

They are going to report on the tarpon they observed being dragged through the pass rather than, as you promised, measured immediately and released unharmed. They are going to report on the hook placements you, they, and everyone else observed and photographed. They are going to report on the two fish that didn’t make it. They observed that, too.

They are, of course, also going to report on the way your guys and your camera crews were observed “handling” those boats. This is what they are going to report. Because these are all problems they know the FWC commissioners can readily fix with a simple voice vote and a stroke of a pen.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon

This tarpon, snagged in the neck by a “Boca Grande tarpon jig,” was one of many fish documented by Save the Tarpon protesters. Although the PTTS rules clearly call for disqualification of any fish hooked outside of the mouth, this tarpon was still weighed for points.

As far as those bullhorns go, that’s a more difficult nut to crack. If you would rather make bullhorns the issue, the FWC officers won’t be left with much choice. If asked, they’ll have to tell the seven commissioners the truth. They will tell the commissioners, if asked, there’s really only one practical way within their power to get rid of the bullhorns. Because the FWC is a fish commission, not a constitutional convention, the only sure (and legal) way to get rid of the bullhorns, they’ll quietly suggest, is to get rid of what the bullhorns are pointed at.

And yes Joe, that would be you. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? But either is dragging those dead and dying tarpon on clandestine sightseeing tours of the pass. Either is breaking the promise you made to those seven commissioners to immediately measure and release those tarpon unharmed.

And, of course, those two dead tarpon might argue with your promise to the commissioners that your TV tournament is all about conservation. Don’t bother trying to promise away the foul-hooking. The folks who didn’t have bullhorns in their hands on Sunday were wielding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras. You did a good job trying to hide and sink the evidence. Just wasn’t quite good enough.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon - 2013

The lip-lock, aka clip-on gaff, moves in to officially weigh a foul-hooked tarpon in the opening event of the 2013 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. The leader was cut and the hook was left in the fish during the measuring process.

The “report” part of “observe and report” should make for some interesting reading. We’ll get you a copy. And who knows? Buried among the gaffing, the dragging, the dead fish, the foul-hooking, the wrap boats and REC Media’s full reverse slice and dice job on that tarpon, you might just find a few words about bullhorns. Don’t bet the gold chains on it, however.

The new PTTS is the same old PTTS – May 19th 2013 protest from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

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

Protest in the Pass

Protest In The Pass

Join Save the Tarpon and its supporters on May 19th at 6:45 am for “Protest in the Pass.”  We are showing up by water to protest the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) as it begins its 2013 season events.

Last year we were on the beach. But, this year we will be on the WATER! If you don’t have a boat, but would like to attend, please contact us and we will connect you with a captain.

All participating boats will meet up on what is known as the Hill. It is the area just East of the old phosphate dock. We will meet at 0645 on May 19th. Please bring your bullhorns and banners. The PTTS opening event is from 0700 to 10am.

WHY: 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.

If you’d like to RSVP, please do so by visiting the Save the Tarpon Facebook page.  Your name will not be visible to the public.

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.

Tell the FWC to stop running and hiding: Hold a ‘workshop’ in Boca Grande – where it matters!

NOTE: At the end of this post you’ll find a link that will put you in touch with the nice folks at the FWC. Take a moment – and that’s all it takes – to reach out to the commissioners and ask them to hold a workshop on their proposed tarpon rule changes where those rule changes will mean the most – in Boca Grande, the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” They love hearing from you – their “customers.” So, let’s make them a bunch of really happy people.

When you think bonefish, you naturally think the Florida Keys. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the Florida Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Commission to hold a “workshop” on proposed changes to bonefish rules in the “Bonefish Capital of the World.” The Keys.

That’s why it also makes perfect sense for the FWC to hold a “workshop” on proposed changes to tarpon rules in the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” You know – St. Petersburg. Or maybe it’s Dania Beach. Wait. What?

Tarpon Fishing Postcard

For the past century, word on the street has been, go to Boca Grande for tarpon fishing.

In April, the FWC will take its little “public input” show on the road for three one-night stands to get up close and personal with the common folk who will be most affected by the rule changes it’s proposing. On April 2, the FWC will be headlining at the International Game Fishing Association Hall of Fame and Museum in that Broward County tarpon hot spot Dania Beach.

The FWC tour then moves south to Key Colony Beach at Mile Marker 53.5 the following day. But the kickoff comes on April 1 when the FWC rolls into St. Petersburg – we think it’s the one in Florida, not the city in Russia – to spend two hours talking tarpon at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute on Eighth Avenue.

Dania Beach and St. Petersburg. Because when people think tarpon fishing, they naturally think Broward County and St. Petersburg. And if you’re the FWC and you want to talk tarpon with the locals, you need to go straight to the source.

Dear FWC,  Please click here for directions to Boca Grande. Thank you, Save the Tarpon

Dear FWC,
Please click here for directions to Boca Grande.
Thank you,
Save the Tarpon

You want to go where tarpon fishing is a tradition that’s been carried on for more than a century. You want to go to a place where tarpon fishing pumps more than $300 million annually into the regional economy. You want to go where generations of tarpon anglers have gone before you to fish for the mighty Silver King. You want to go where the whole notion of sport fishing for tarpon on rod and reel was born.

Which means, if you’re the FWC, you naturally want to go to Dania Beach. That’s right. Dania Beach. Can somebody please buy these people a map?

Boca Grande – 89 miles south of St. Petersburg (the one in Florida) and 194 miles to the west of Dania Beach – is known throughout the planet as “The Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” Tarpon migrate by the tens of thousands to historic Boca Grande Pass every spring. Nobody is entirely sure how this prehistoric species finds the place. Which is, apparently, a whole helluva lot more than the equally prehistoric FWC can do. Or, more likely, wants to do.

There’s a problem with asking people what they think. They might just tell you. And the odds are, if you’re the FWC, it won’t be what you want to hear. Not if you come to Boca Grande. What’s potentially worse, if you’re the FWC, is that the people doing the telling might actually know what they’re talking about. And when those people doing the telling can draw on generations of knowledge focused on the state’s largest and most important tarpon fishery, you can pretty much eliminate the “might.” They will know what they’re talking about. Scary stuff.

So you go to Dania Beach instead. Home to the nation’s largest Jai-Alai fronton. And then you go to the tarpon trophy hunters Hall of Fame. To rub shoulders and other body parts with your BFFs, your pals, your chums, the folks who asked for – and, of course, got – an exception to the rules. A nice little loophole in the catch-and-release regulations that will allow the record chasers to kill the very species the FWC wants us to believe it’s trying to protect. And don’t forget to stick around afterwards for the refreshments, the 50-50 drawing and the thank you gifts.

Perception is everything. By giving Boca Grande a wide berth, by taking a convenient detour over to Florida’s east coast where a friendly, grateful and potentially rewarding reception awaits, the FWC is sending a pretty clear message to those who have invested their time, their energies, their resources and their hearts into the serious work of preserving, protecting and growing the state’s most important tarpon fishery.

By ducking Boca Grande, the FWC is telling us – and, in this case, more than 17,000 of us here in Florida and throughout the world – that it really doesn’t care. Or maybe, just maybe, the FWC simply forgot to put Boca Grande on its 2013 tarpon “public input” tour. Maybe, just maybe, the FWC would be grateful for a little reminder.

So maybe it’s up to us – all 17,000 of us – to do the reminding. Fortunately, the public input-conscious folks at the FWC have made it easy. All you have to do is COPY, CLICK and PASTE.

Here’s the COPY part:

I’m writing to ask the FWC to hold a public workshop in Boca Grande on proposed changes to the state’s tarpon rules. Tens of thousands of tarpon find their way to Boca Grande each year. The FWC can and should do the same. To learn more, please visit http://savethetarpon.com/?p=2823

Here’s the CLICK part:

You will eventually click here. That was easy. But first, take a second to read the rest.  After clicking, you will find yourself on the FWC website. You will be asked to provide your name and email address. Under “Subject” you might wish to consider “Boca Grande Tarpon Workshop.”

For the PASTE part, click on the box provided for “Comments.” Then PASTE. Then click SUBMIT. You’re done. And the FWC will thank you for your interest.

OK. Now you can go ahead and CLICK! You can always drop a copy of the same message on the FWC’s Facebook page.

Florida Sport Fishing magazine takes a look at the PTTS

This article is featured in the recent issue of Florida Sport Fishing magazine.
By: Capt Mike Genoun, Founder/Editor-In-Chief of Florida Sport Fishing
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Sponsors, anglers, FWC asking $15,000 question: What other ‘promises’ will PTTS break?

When a man repeats a promise again and again, he means to fail you.  ~Proverb

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio

PTTS host Joe Mercurio performs one of his favorite Broadway show tunes for the cameras: “Promises, Promises.”

What’s a promise made by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series worth? As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Wildlife Research Institute will tell you, not much. Actually, not anything.

But that hasn’t kept the PTTS from making lots of them as the tournament scrambles to promise everything and anything to its handful of remaining sponsors and participants. And the PTTS is good at making promises. Delivering on them is, apparently, another story. Like we said. Ask the FWC. Ask the FWRI. And if you’re a PTTS sponsor or angler, ask yourself. It’s the $15,000 question.

In September, 2012, PTTS television show host Joe Mercurio, who doubles as vice president and general manager of Silver King Entertainment LLC, the tournament’s parent company, stood before the FWC commissioners and made a lot of promises.

He promised, for instance, that the PTTS would “voluntarily” replace its sacrificial gaff, drag, hoist, weigh, drag and dump “live catch and release” format with some mystery gaff, drag, measure, drag and dump “live catch and release” sleight of hand. He then instantly rendered his promise meaningless by begging the commission to disregard everything he just promised and keep the rules that make gaff, drag, hoist, weigh, drag and dump legal. Confused? So were the commissioners. But Joe had promised. And a promise is, of course, a promise.

Mercurio was in a promising mood that day. “I ask that you accept these changes as part of all of our responsibility to ensure the conservation and preservation efforts we have made in the past continue to have a positive impact on the fish and fishery,” Mercurio said of his gaff and drag promise made to the seven FWC commissioners.

He wasn’t finished. “We will continue to promote conservation and to conduct our activities while exercising the utmost respect for the fishery.” Mercurio’s pile of promises was growing faster than his nose.

Then came the payoff. Literally.

Noting that “our organization and anglers understand that we have a duty to conserve and protect the resource we enjoy so much, and to give back to the community by supporting conservation and preservation efforts,” Mercurio promised to put his money – actually, Gary Ingman’s money and the tournament’s sponsors money – where his mouth was.

Mercurio paused. He looked each commissioner in the eye. There was one more promise to be made by the PTTS that day in Tampa. Mercurio had a big finish he was about to drop on the FWC commissioners, a honking big finish, a jaw dropping “this guy means business” honking big finish wrapped in yet one more promise that made all his other PTTS promises look puny by comparison. It was a Take It To The Bank, May God Strike Me Dead, Mother Of All Promises promise. Joe glanced to his left. Joe glanced to his right. The moment had come.

“This year,” Mercurio promised the seven FWC commissioners as the Florida Channel’s cameras beamed his words live and in color to every cable subscriber in the state, “we pledge to provide $15,000 to further support the FWRI’s Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study.”

No more gaff and drag. We promise. We will continue to promote conservation. We promise. We will conduct our activities while exercising the utmost respect for the fishery. We promise. And to back up all our other promises, we will give you $15,000. We promise. We promise. We promise. We promise.

Kathy Guindon, PhD, is the FWRI’s lead tarpon researcher. She runs the institute’s Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study. The same Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study Mercurio promised the FWC commissioners would soon be cashing a nice, fat $15,000 check courtesy of the generous folks at Ingman Marine, Miller/Coors, Yamaha Marine Group, Sea Hunt Boats, Reactor Watches, Continental Trailers, Miller’s Ale House, Johnson Outdoors, Humminbird and, or so the promise went, the PTTS. Joe promised.

So where’s Joe’s promised $15,000?

“To my knowledge, the tarpon genetic recapture study never received money from the PTTS in 2012, or prior,” says Dr. Guindon. There is, in fact, no $15,000. Just a promise. One of many promises Mercurio made that day to the FWC, its sponsors, its participants, the people of Florida and, through his own words posted on his own PTTS website, roughly three billion people worldwide.

“To my knowledge, the tarpon genetic recapture study never received money from the PTTS in 2012, or prior.”

If nothing else, at least we all know – including the FWC commissioners Joe stood before that day in Tampa – what a PTTS promise is really worth.

End catch and drag. We promise.

Promote conservation. We promise.

Utmost respect for the fishery. We promise.

Fifteen thousand dollars? The check’s in the mail. We promise.

(Want to do something that will actually help the tarpon genetic recapture study? Join us Sunday, March 3 at the Boca Grande Community Center/Community House from 2 to 6 p.m. Our captains will be on hand to explain how the program works. We promise.)

FWC deals PTTS another setback; commission to move ahead on gaff and drag ban

fwc-LOGOThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Wednesday to move forward with plans to put an end to “gaff and drag,” PTTS-style fishing by making tarpon a catch-and-release only species. All seven FWC commissioners endorsed the measure.

The commission’s vote paves the way for new regulations governing tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass and throughout the state to take effect in June. The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series opposes the FWC’s plan, but did not make the trip to Orlando to speak against the measure.

The FWC’s action came after nearly two hours of debate over language contained in a proposed rule creating a broad “sport fish” designation for tarpon and other species. As a result, the commission opted to temporarily set aside action on the new classification while forging ahead with protections aimed specifically at protecting tarpon.

If language expected to be introduced next month is approved, the measure would sound a death knell to the controversial fishing tournament’s televised weigh-ins, a practice PTTS host Joe Mercurio told the FWC in September it continues to support but has agreed to “voluntarily” end. Under the current definition of catch and release, tournament competitors would be required to immediately turn loose all fish caught – where they are caught – or risk prosecution. Gaffing, or any other form of “possession,” would be unlawful. The tarpon “kill tag” program would also be scrapped.

Most of Wednesday’s debate focused on other species targeted for inclusion in the proposed “sport fish” program. There was no opposition voiced against the tarpon proposal backed by Save The Tarpon Inc. and other conservation groups. Save The Tarpon board members attended Wednesday’s FWC meeting to represent the group’s more than 12,000 members and supporters worldwide.

FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright said the decision to move forward now on the tarpon protections outside of the “sport fish” classification signaled the commission’s desire to expedite a package of measures aimed at protecting the tarpon fishery. The plan, as proposed, has the support of Save the Tarpon Inc.

Boycott Tires Plus Total Car Care

Boycott Tires Plus - Total Car Care(UPDATE: You did it! Tires Plus Total Car Care has announced it is ending its sponsorship of the PTTS. See related story.)

Tires Plus Total Car Care is a high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series sponsor. Its brand is associated with the tournament’s so-called “Tires Plus Release Team,” also known as the “Tires Plus Drag and Dump Crew” for its documented practice of dragging near-dead tarpon into the deepest part of the Pass and dumping them. In PTTS-speak, this is known as “reviving.” We tend to call it something else: Surgery.

Tires Plus Total Car Care, according to its website, was founded in 1972. Other sources put the date at 1976. In 2000, Tires Plus was sold to Bridgestone/Firestone by founder Tom Gegax. According to the company’s website, Tires Plus is based in Clearwater. Gegax serves as chairman emeritus.

Boycott Tires PlusUnder Gegax, the Tires Plus motto was “Changing the World One Tire at a Time.” This has, apparently, now been updated to “Wiping Out a Species One Tarpon at a Time.” Sponsorship of the PTTS isn’t entirely consistent with Gegax’s most recent interests, however. The former self-described Tires Plus “head coach” is actively involved through his family foundation in a number of conservation causes. Most notably, the Waterkeeper Alliance, a significant player in the aftermath of the April 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

He is also closely associated with John Robbins, founder of EarthSave, an international non-profit organization. Its stated mission is to raise awareness of “ecological destruction and cruelty.” The PTTS doesn’t quite fit the profile on this one. Mr. Gegax is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the company he founded. But his voice still carries substantial influence. He is likely unaware of Tires Plus Total Car Care’s association with the PTTS, and that this association clearly contradicts his otherwise pro-conservation efforts.

This is where your role as educator comes into play. We have every reason to believe Mr. Gegax would be more than a bit distressed to learn of his company’s substantial involvement with an operation like the PTTS. Once he is alerted to the tournament’s history and what the PTTS is doing in his company’s name, it’s a pretty good bet somebody’s phone is going to ring.

Tires Plus Drag And Dump Crew

Keep this in mind should you choose to reach out to Mr. Gegax. Contacting him, however, could be problematic. His Detroit-based Gegax Family Foundation is operated through U.S. Trust. There is no way to directly contact him through his foundation.

Mr. Gegax does, however, apparently have an email address through Tires Plus. It is tomg@tiresplus.com. No guarantees, but it’s certainly worth trying. If you do reach out to him by email, it’s important to remember he is most likely unaware of the PTTS and his company’s involvement. Accordingly, you may wish to provide a link to SaveTheTarpon.com in your correspondence after briefly stating your reason for writing.

Tires Plus Total Car Care can and should be contacted through its website or, if you wish, by phone. Tires Plus Total Car Care Consumer Affairs can be reached at (800) 440-4167. The company can be contacted online (check the box marked “General Comments and Questions) here: http://www.tiresplus.com/contact/.  Another option would be to leave a message on the Tires Plus Facebook Page.

Boycott Tires Plus