PTTS tarpon seen dying on the beach of Boca Grande

This video was shot on June 17, 2012 as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) was filming their final episode of the 2012 season–the Tarpon Cup Championship.  The tarpon seen in this footage had just been “revived and released” by the official PTTS Tires Plus Release Team after being caught and weighed during the tournament.  Instead of quietly drifting down into the deep dark waters of Boca Grande Pass as the preceding four fish had, this one swam towards the beach.  The final fight for life ended with the tarpon drifting belly up under the gentle surf of Boca Grande’s famous lighthouse beach.  The lifeless tarpon was later retrieved by the Tires Plus Release Team and dragged off shore and out of view of the onlookers as it was stuffed into the prop wash of cooperating PTTS participant boats in an apparent effort to hide the evidence.

More video will be released in coming days illustrating the tragic cover-up performed by the PTTS management and its participants. Please stay posted.

See comments from Capt. Tom McLaughlin at the bottom of this page for more info on the filming of this video.

It’s not just a “local” thing – End the PTTS

Moderator’s Note: This post was written by our newest savethetarpon.com contributor, Panhandle Fly Guide.  Please welcome him aboard the Save the Tarpon campaign.

Don’t you just love how if you oppose the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) or support Save The Tarpon you automatically get character-assassinated by Mr. Collecchio, Mr. Mercurio or some other PTTS crony?  Okay, I’ll bite—I’m guilty on both accounts so fire away.

End the PTTSHere, I’ll help you out: I think the PTTS is the ultimate example of fishing gone wrong and perpetually abuses the fishery, scoffs at conservation and stewardship and mishandles one of the noblest game fish on earth just for corporate profit.

I must therefore be one of those “left-wing environmental extremists” Mr. Mercurio loves to talk about on his Facebook page:

http://savethetarpon.com/ptts-attacks-supporters-of-tarpon-conservation-efforts/

Except that I’m not, I’m a sportsman.  I just don’t support all fishing practices.  You call me elitist because I don’t consider snagging fish to be sporting?  Do you consider dynamite fishing sporting?  If the goal of tournaments is just to “catch” the biggest fish with method being no object why don’t you just net them or better yet electroshock them then race to see who can get the biggest one that floats to the surface?  Sound absurd?—you extremist, you!  If you really don’t believe that pass-jigging snags fish then how about instituting a rule that each “catch” be evaluated by the FDW for hook placement?  To make it even more fun you could have the rule stipulate that any fish hooked outside the mouth automatically disqualifies the team (no biggie, remember that you don’t believe that jigging snags fish).

Well, obviously I must just have a thing against jig-fishermen.  I must be one of those local live-bait guides who’s just trying to start a turf war and only motivated by money.  Except that I don’t live in the area, I don’t fish with live bait nor do I guide in Boca Grande.  I just don’t want this donkey-show going in ANYONE’S backyard.  Furthermore, those same fish that get hounded by the PTTS around the pass at Boca Grande in May are the same ones I fish for up here in July.  So you’ll pardon me if I’m perturbed by the sight of dead tarpon in the water or washing up on shore in the wake of the PTTS and I roll my eyes at your insistence that the PTTS has nothing to do with it.

So clearly I must be an uneducated, unscientific, weak-minded person who’s been swayed into believing that the PTTS is harmful by an organization with an agenda.  Except that I’m not—as a physician I am actually quite adept at critically evaluating scientific evidence.  Remember that it took decades to scientifically prove that smoking causes lung cancer, meanwhile it became the number-one cause of cancer-related death.  During the interim life insurance companies charged higher premiums for smokers despite the lack of scientific proof not because of discrimination but because they realized that smoking was harmful and resulted in increased cost.  By the time the scientific proof was there the damage was already done, just ask the families of those who died from lung cancer while amassing the evidence—they are irreplaceably gone.  Just as by the time tarpon fishery and mortality statistics are amassed the damage is already done.

The bottom line is that Mr. Colecchio, Mr. Mercurio and the PTTS resort to the tactics they use because they feel threatened and rightfully so.  They’ve seen the rising tide of people like you and me who want to end the PTTS and they’re having a harder and harder time passing us off as extremists, elitists, exclusivists, ignorami or any other title that will marginalize us.  They’ve received a first-hand lesson in what happens when you abuse the system and a group of dedicated individuals decides to hold you accountable.  Six months ago they mocked Save The Tarpon and anyone that got in their way of doing things.  Now the times have changed: they’ve caved on their gaff, drag, hoist and weigh format, they’ve lost sponsorship and it’s harder and harder to portray the event positively on TV when there are so many people voicing their displeasure.  Keep up the hard work and make it your goal to make this the last year of the PTTS.  Don’t worry Mr. Collecchio, I’m sure there’s always work for you at big-tobacco—you clearly already have the rhetoric down.

New PTTS ‘economics’ angle flunks out with the FWC

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

While continuing to argue with itself over whether it supports catch and release (“We will no longer allow teams to gaff, tow, and weigh in their catch”) or whether it opposes catch and release (“We do not support eliminating harvest for tarpon”), the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its chief economist Joe Mercurio have apparently decided it really is, on second thought, all about money.

Not theirs. That’s understood. Suddenly, it’s all about yours. The people who once seemingly claimed fish actually like to be gaffed and dragged have subtly switched gears and are now touting their home video cable TV show as an economic engine rivaling the state’s aerospace industry.

Mercurio put his employer’s fabricated fiscal self importance on full view at September’s meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tampa. It didn’t fly.

“From its inception, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series has been conducted in a sporting manner with an emphasis on promoting conservation and the sport of tarpon fishing in Boca Grande.” There’s a trait the FWC commissioners have acquired over the years. The ability to keep a straight face. With Mercurio at the podium, it was about to be tested.

Mercurio’s mistake was a common one. He tried to be too clever. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you better be right. Mercurio clearly wasn’t. And it was obvious on the faces of the commissioners, especially when he began playing economic make-believe. Joe was selling. The FWC clearly wasn’t buying.

When you stand before seven politically sophisticated people trained in the fine art of reading between the lines as they’re being fed half-truths told by actual professionals, the strained and amateurish phrasing of something like “our television show that is broadcast throughout North America and available in over 44 million homes” won’t get you very far.

Mecurio saw it as a clever little twist on words. The commissioners saw it as an attempt to play them for a bunch of dolts. Not the best way to win friends and influence the very people with the power to turn off the lights and declare your little party over.

Mercurio smugly calculated they’d hear “available in over 44 million homes,” swoon at the size of the number and not have the brights to mentally call him out. “Available?” Mercurio didn’t think they’d catch on. While his little TV fishing show might be “available” in those 44 million homes wired for cable or satellite, it doesn’t mean anybody’s watching. But it sure makes you sound important. Or so Mercurio thought.

A little harmless half truth normally isn’t a big deal. Unless you make it the cornerstone for your case that the PTTS is a Southwest Florida economic powerhouse that’s the only thing standing between a chicken in every pot and the locals being forced to take up sharecropping.

Mercurio needed to get the FWC to suspend disbelief and buy into those 44 million homes with mom, dad and the kids glued to endless rebroadcasts of shark attacks and gill-hooked fish being dragged through the Pass. He was desperately reaching to bolster his fabrication that “the PTTS events and television show provide a significant economic boost to Florida, and specifically Boca Grande and the surrounding areas.” But with his nose buried in his script, Mercurio didn’t notice what the rest of us saw. The commissioners had already stopped listening.

Mercurio, quite simply, had out-clevered himself. For all the FWC cared at that point, he could have spent the remainder of his time tap dancing to Zippity Doo Da while balancing beach balls on his nose. But the PTTS host, who probably should have stopped at “Good Afternoon Commissioners,” wasn’t through. It was about to get worse.

Mercurio boasted the PTTS attracts over 500 participants during the two months it confiscates Boca Grande Pass. That’s a cumlulative total, of course. In other words, if the same 50 people were to each fish 10 events, you’d get 500 “participants.” This one is actually true. Just one problem.

As the FWC already knows, non-PTTS recreational tarpon anglers account for more than 268,000 “participants” locally. As recently reported in the Charlotte Sun, more than 26,900 people are repeatedly drawn to Boca Grande Pass from our four county area during the same two months the PTTS comes to town. While Mercurio might not think so, the FWC can count.

Mercuro said many PTTS participants “live 100 miles or more away from Boca Grande.” In other words, Tampa. Because his anglers travel these vast distances, Mercurio told the commissioners “local hotels, resorts, rental companies, and restaurants benefit from their need for lodging and sustenance. These tourists and their families often purchase food and drinks, fishing equipment, and other goods and services from local merchants.”

Maybe he was talking about the vending machines at the Placida Boat Ramp. The commissioners know our hotels, resorts, rental companies and restaurants aren’t staying afloat on whatever business the PTTS brings in. Those 26,900 other people are a different story, however.

The FWC staff and commissioners also understand the host community hasn’t exactly embraced the PTTS. It’s hardly a secret. They also know PTTS participants don’t go out of their way to embrace Boca Grande. Or, for that matter, much of anything south of the Sunshine Skyway. It’s fair to say Team Yamaha shirts are probably a poor wardrobe choice if you plan on stopping by most island watering holes for a post-tournament beverage. Not one Boca Grande business is a PTTS sponsor or advertiser. Why not?

When the FWC put Mercurio on “ignore,” the commissioners likely missed out on the message that because of the PTTS “millions of people are exposed to the incredible fishing and wonderful attributes the Boca Grande area and Charlotte Harbor offers to tourists.” While the number is bloated, the message is unfortunately true. Just ask the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this year, a chamber delegation traveled to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show to promote the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. They had five tarpon trips to give away. There were no takers. Not one. Seems the people who attend boat shows also watch fishing shows. Most were all too familiar with the PTTS. The commissioners know the story.

Nobody wanted anything to do with Boca Grande tarpon fishing. Not after seeing what goes on when the PTTS takes over the Pass. Mercurio says the PTTS cable TV show with its “controlled chaos” brings anglers to the Pass. The anglers and the chamber say otherwise. It’s keeping them away.

FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright made it clear that the protections envisioned through the proposed designation of tarpon as a “sport fish” here in Florida are designed to make sure we continue to attract a steady flow of recreational anglers to the fishery. Wright and his fellow commissioners are serious people who, contrary to the message Mercurio seemed to be sending their way in Tampa, weren’t appointed to the FWC because they randomly fell off some melon wagon.

They get it. They know Boca Grande Pass generates more than $100 million in economic impact just from Southwest Florida alone. They have seen the estimates showing our world famous tarpon fishery translates into more than $300 million from beyond our borders. The numbers, they know, are big. And the stakes are high.

The PTTS, with its clown costumed anglers and demolition derby wrap boats, has turned this vital economic resource into a comic strip creation that has distorted the world view of our historic tarpon fishery. The commissioners, like us, know what tarpon fishing is and what it’s supposed to be. They also know it’s not that traveling made-for-TV menagerie Mercurio and his carpetbagger carnival are piping into the upper reaches of those 44 million cable converter boxes.

They might be inclined to buy into some of Mercurio’s economic alchemy if this whole business wasn’t such serious business. But that, after all, is just one of many points the PTTS is missing. No amount of pretend conservation babble can wipe clean the stain the PTTS has left on public perception. The FWC clearly understands how this ultimately translates into empty hotel rooms, empty restaurants, empty shops, empty boats and empty pockets.

The FWC isn’t out to rescue our tarpon fishery. It isn’t out to sustain our tarpon fishery. It wants to grow our tarpon fishery. It’s part of the commission’s goal to make certain Florida remains the “Fishing Capital of the World.” It knows this doesn’t happen if the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” is allowed to become a perverse parody of the history and tradition that has made Boca Grande Pass the ultimate destination for generations of sport fishing enthusiasts.

The PTTS now says it wants to talk economics. It’s a conversation we believe is long overdue.

 

Fish feud: David tumbles Goliath – again

Here’s Gary Dutery’s column as printed in the Charlotte Sun, Tuesday, September 11, 2012. He spoke briefly with Tom, but this was completely unexpected. Nice to see someone in the media get it right. 

By: Gary Dutery

This is a fish story that began back in May as David versus Goliath II, but this one was fought with hooks, lines, Tshirts and Facebook pages. The biblical David has come to symbolize the abject underdog, the anonymous little guy whose faith and tenacity took down the Philistine Man Mountain with just a sling, a stone plucked from a nearby brook and one between the eyes. It was the ultimate bad day to be an Iron Age bookie.

David vs Goliath

David vs Goliath

The Davids haven’t fared all that well since chalking one up in the Valley of Elah. They’ve barely managed to cover the spread let alone bring home anything close to a win. But while the rest of us have been focused on the politics of pilfered yard signs and fact-checking the sensory onslaught of Mitt versus Barack, a small group of local residents decided that, perhaps, David was due.

They apparently didn’t know the odds. Aligned against them was the heavy machinery of state government, a Fortune 500 of corporate clout, two TV networks and 44 million cable television eyeballs. And that’s just for starters. But on their side they had, uh … well, nothing. Just a little band of fired up folks bent on making a bunch of noise on their inevitable journey to the land of crash and burn.

That sound you just heard was Goliath once again being dropped to the mat. Or, more precisely, tossing a sweat-soaked towel into the middle of the ring. And the setting was a bit closer than the Valley of Elah. This one quietly took place last week at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, a few minutes from Tampa International, where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave the improbable win to the Davids. In this case, a grass-roots group of locals who fashioned themselves into a movement of sorts that somehow morphed into what ultimately became a fairly sophisticated political force that the Goliaths never saw coming. Until it was too late.

The role of the modern David was played by a four-month-old organization known as Save The Tarpon. It has since tacked an “Inc.” to its name. It’s now a Florida nonprofit. Over in Goliath’s corner stood a handful of corporate for-profit entities that comprise a TV show known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. Standing behind Goliath were heavy hitters like Miller Beer, Yamaha and many of the major players in the fishing and boating industry. The overunder on this one came with a comma.

The feud over fishing in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass likely began within minutes of Ponce de Leon claiming Florida for Spain. The Pass, as the locals call it, isn’t just about tarpon. It’s about money. The strong tides at the entrance to our harbor bring us more than fish and bait. Two years ago the Everglades Foundation and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust funded a study that conservatively estimated the economic impact of tarpon fishing — just tarpon fishing, just Boca Grande Pass and just from Southwest Florida — topped $108 million. That’s here. Charlotte Harbor. Us. And this is annually.

Tarpon season lasts roughly two months. But during those two months, 26,900 anglers drawn from the fourcounty area surrounding the fishery made the trip to Charlotte Harbor with the idea of landing a tarpon. This figure translates into an incredible 268,000 days on the water and in our shops, our restaurants, our Kwiki-Marts, our hotels and, in one way or another, your bank account. Factor in money imported from the rest of the state (and the world), and we’re easily looking at an annual economic boost closer to $300 million. This isn’t just a fish feud.

In a nutshell, as Save The Tarpon’s supporters grew from a few dozen to well over 2,000, its call for the PTTS to end what many see as an obsolete, needless and downright harmful practice of gaffing and dragging tarpon to the beach — where they are hoisted from the water and weighed — began to resonate within the fishing community and the normally tone-deaf halls of Tallahassee.

Under current law, it’s legal. All it takes is a $50 “possession” tag purchased from the state. If, that is, you bother getting one. Save The Tarpon used the FWC’s own records to show that more than a few PTTS participants weren‘t bothering. The FWC was cornered into an admission that the whole tag thing — the foundation of the TV tournament’s defense — couldn’t be enforced.

But the PTTS stood firm. It would stop gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing, it said, only when “someone” made them stop. This past Thursday, the cable TV tournament more or less got its wish as the FWC commissioners laid out a plan to create a “sport fish” designation that would, ultimately, make tarpon a catch and release species. No more televised gaff, drag, hoist and weigh. To quote Bob Dylan, the PTTS Goliath didn’t need a weatherman to tell it which way the wind was blowing on this one.

“We will no longer allow teams to gaff, tow, and weigh in their catch. Rather, weights will be determined by a measurement of the fish’s length and girth,” tournament host Joe Mercurio pre-emptively told the seven-member commission. The same Mercurio who just three months earlier pledged to gaff, tow and weigh until “someone” told him to stop. Goodbye scales, hello tape measure. Goodbye Goliath, hello David.

David had the good sense to put four more stones in his pocket that day. And Save The Tarpon will be the first to admit this fight isn’t over. However it ends, it’s hard not to notice that people working together can, perhaps, still move mountains and, sometimes, slay giants. But then again, this is just a fish story.

Gary Dutery is a Sun columnist.  A veteran journalist, he resides in Port Charlotte. Readers may reach him at gdutery@sun-herald.com or on Twitter @ GaryDutery.

Off the gaff, but not off the hook

This article, written by Captain Tom McLaughlin on behalf of Save the Tarpon, Inc., will be published in the upcoming edition of WaterLine Magazine at the request of publisher Josh Olive.  We are posting it here first as submitted. WaterLine is published weekly and distributed in the Sun family of newspapers each Thursday.

Save the Tarpon, Foul Hooked Tarpon

Foul hooked? This hook placement is commonly seen in the jig fishery.

Just as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s was poised last week to move forward with a plan to make tarpon a catch and release species, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series suddenly and unexpectedly announced it would abandon the controversial practice of gaff, drag and weigh in the events it holds each season in Boca Grande Pass.

While obviously too late to compensate for the harm already done, the decision was welcomed by all Floridians with a stake in the health of our shared local tarpon fishery. While not entirely voluntary, of course, and accompanied by a chorus of protest aimed at the FWC from PTTS corporate management and tournament participants, Save The Tarpon Inc. sees the decision as a step in the right direction.

Thursday’s capitulation by the PTTS is even more significant as just three short months ago, as Save The Tarpon was still finding its footing, the tournament insisted it would continue to gaff and drag tarpon until told to stop. When it became apparent that state regulators were laying the groundwork to do exactly that, the tournament softened its stance and found what appears, in theory, to be an acceptable alternative. We are certain the PTTS is up to the challenge of making it work in practice. We will, of course, be there on your behalf to make sure this happens.

That’s just part of why Save The Tarpon Inc. and savethetarpon.com exists. Thanks to your efforts and the work of our more than 2,000 supporters here in Florida and throughout the world, we were able to provide the FWC with the assistance and encouragement it needed to begin work on a plan that will statutorily bring an end to the days of the beach-side corporately sponsored weigh boat and those now-vanished Internet glory shots of PTTS teams proudly posing with large, roe-laden tarpon cradled in their arms rather than in the water where common sense tells us they obviously belong.

Under the plan now proposed by the PTTS for the season to come, a tape measure and laptop computer will replace the gaff, the sling and the scale. As currently proscribed by law, the fish will be immediately released at the back at the boat rather than at a beach more than a half-mile and up to 30 minutes away. As we said, clearly a step in the right direction.

The initial concept of the Save the Tarpon movement was to act as an intermediary in the user group conflicts that have, unfortunately, become synonymous with Boca Grande Pass.  Our mission was (and still is) to act on behalf of all users by not only protecting the fish, but by also ensuring anglers equal and safe access to the fishery.

As input was compiled from  tarpon anglers and community members, it became apparent the problems in the Pass centered around the PTTS.  However, the goal was not to fight the PTTS, but to garner its support and cooperation. Working together was obviously the best way. Or so it seemed.

Possible changes to tournament policy were proposed by Save The Tarpon to Gary Ingman, owner of both the PTTS and Ingman Marine. Ingman flatly refused. “We will stop weighing those fish when the state ends possession of tarpon,” Ingman insisted. What a difference a few months and 2,000 voices speaking as one can make.

It was made apparent from day one that ownership and management of the tournament were concerned solely with how change for the better would impact their highly profitable cable TV show. There was no talk of the fishery, not other anglers, not our local economy, not even you.

The founding principle of Save the Tarpon back then was to save the tarpon by calling for an immediate end to the PTTS. It was, it appeared, the only option left. You told us that if the PTTS was unwilling to reform its gaff and drag policy, hyper-aggressive pursuit of the fish, exclusion of other user groups, unsafe boating practices and manipulation of gear, it was obvious the conflict in Boca Grande Pass would never subside. Most importantly, it was equally obvious the health of the tarpon fishery was at stake.

What goes on in Boca Grande Pass in May and June would appear to most to be more of a demolition derby on water than sport fishing. The PTTS agrees, promoting its tournament as a form of “controlled chaos.” If you’ve seen the TV show, you know. A pack of more than 60 boats will race to position themselves directly atop a pod of fish. As the tarpon are driven from the pass, the pack gives chase. You don’t want to find yourself and your family in their way.

There are those who say fish caught during PTTS events and other times on artificial devices are being deliberately “snagged” or foul-hooked by anglers using the so-called Pass jig. It’s hard to tell. PTTS participants routinely block attempts made by Save The Tarpon and others to figure out where on any given fish the hook has managed to lodge itself. The PTTS has now pledged to stop hiding its fish and have hook placement observed and recorded by a third party.

The PTTS has partially addressed some issues, but others remain. Save The Tarpon, for instance, is not entirely comfortable with the tournament’s continued opposition to the FWC’s efforts to make tarpon a catch and release species. It will be ending possession, it says, in the name of “conservation.” Yet in the next breath it insists there are no conservation issues with the status quo. It’s tough to have it both ways. We expect the PTTS will clarify its true position once it figures out what, exactly, it is.

Our members are also concerned with something else. Something not as tangible as catch and release or hook placement. It is, quite honestly, the culture of institutionalized, pack mentality disrespect the PTTS has created and apparently fostered simply to make better TV. It’s there. Fish the Pass during a PTTS tournament. You can see it, you can feel it, you can almost even smell it. There’s an implied sense of ownership of a public fishery taking place. Recreational anglers aren’t welcome. Just ask the competitors in their NASCAR style outfits and NASCAR style wrapped boats. They’ll tell you. If not, they’ll see to it you get the hint.

We remain concerned that despite the concessions promised by the PTTS in light of the proposed FWC action, the fishing public will still be denied access to the fishery and will continue to be bullied out of the Pass. Is PTTS behavior altering the habits of the fish? Honestly, we don’t know. What we do know is that the impact on the fishery as a recreational destination is clearly evident.

Save the Tarpon isn’t resting on last week’s victory in Tampa. It was a good start, but it’s just that. A start. It is our intention to work towards meaningful and enforceable improvements to special regulations the FWC already has in place for Boca Grande Pass. As we begin this effort together, we want your thoughts. Go to savethetarpon.com or look for us on Facebook. Give us your ideas. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Flip Flop? Mercurio, PTTS tell FWC they oppose, support tarpon catch and release

Tom McLaughlin speaks on behalf of Save The Tarpon at the FWC’s meeting Thursday in Tampa.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gathered in Tampa on Thursday September, 6 where it took the first steps toward creating a protective “sport fish” designation that would include tarpon.

If adopted, it appears likely to put an end to the gaff, drag and weigh of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series by making tarpon a catch and release species.

The PTTS was out in force to oppose any plan that would take the tarpon off the tournament’s scales by ending possession. It sent its supporters – most identified themselves as “professional” tarpon anglers – to the podium where they outlined their case against catch and release.

Catch and release, they claimed, meant no photos of fish (it doesn’t). Catch and release, they argued, would somehow take away your right to fish Boca Grande Pass (again, no). Catch and release would prevent 8-year-olds from living their dreams to someday land a Silver King. What?

Then Joe Mercurio, host of the televised  PTTS, stood before the FWC’s cameras and told the commissioners his tournament would be adopting catch and release next year. No more Millers Ale House weigh boat on the beach. No more sling. No more scales. No more “live release team.” The PTTS, Mercurio said, would be replacing all this with a tape measure.

Chairman Kenneth Wright prefaced the public comment period with a brief discussion of why creating protective designations for tarpon and other sport and game fish is an important step if Florida wishes to remain the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.”

The idea of a “sport fish” designation is new.  If adopted, it would include restrictions on harvest methods and limit commercial sale. It would also likely designate tarpon catch-and-release only, eliminating recreational possession.  Species proposed to be included in this designation are tarpon, bonefish, and permit.  This proposal has limited impact on the state’s tarpon and bonefish fisheries.

The “sport fish” designation “essentially makes the species catch-and-release only,” as explained by Jessica McCawley, Director of Marine Fisheries Management for FWC.

Chairman Wright explained the FWC proposal won’t change how we manage these species.  Instead, it centers around a groundbreaking shift in philosophy.  Harvest for personal consumption is near zero in the case of tarpon and bonefish, and most of us already consider this “sport fishing,”

As a result, he said, the FWC’s goal is growth. “Until we’ve got these species coming out of the water and injuring small children and eating farmers’ crops, we don’t have enough of them.” He was, of course, kidding about the children and crops. But his point was made. With these protections in place, if you come to Florida, you’ll catch a fish.

FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright

Wright said it’s his goal to keep Florida the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.”  Wright said “we all benefit from having as many of these ‘rock star fish’ swimming around as possible.”

Wright pounded home the point that a sport fish designation was in no way designed to infringe upon the rights of sport fishermen.  Wright was apparently aware that the PTTS and a newly formed group made up primarily of PTTS captains and participants, has recently resorted to playing the fear card to rally opposition to the FWC plan.

“This category of fish should be managed to abundance…until we’ve got these species coming out of the water and injuring small children and eating farmers’ crops, we don’t have enough of them,” Chairman Kenneth Wright explained as he introduced the Sport Fish designation.

“It’s not the intent of the tarpon advocates to change the way we fish, but to stop completely all the fishing within boundaries of Boca Grande Pass.” Craig Abbott, one of the founding directors of the organization, had previously claimed.

He apparently wasn’t paying attention when Wright said the purpose of the designation was to grow the tarpon population and increase fishing opportunities.

Speaking in favor of the designation were the Coastal Conservation Organization, the Florida Guides Association, the Organized Fishermen of Florida, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Mote Marine and the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association. Save the Tarpon Inc, of course, also addressed the commission.

NOTES: The “no photo” red herring was tossed at the commissioners by Abbott and several PTTS captains, sponsors, and participants. Wright made no effort to hide his bewilderment as he replied this clearly wasn’t the case, and that the existing definition of catch and release allows ample opportunity for snapshots – as long as the fish remain in the water.

Mercurio cited  “no scientific basis” for ending the gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing the PTTS broadcasts to a nationwide cable TV audience. As noted, in the same breath Mercurio said the PTTS would stop gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing – in the interest of conservation. He then repeated his opposition to any measure that would halt gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing.

The PTTS also argued Boca Grande Pass should be made a slow-speed zone during the months of April, May, and June. This isn’t likely. Boca Grande Pass, where the PTTS cable TV show is shot, is an international navigation zone. It is also a navigable and marked channel, as well as designated safety fairway. As such, it falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.

There are no major inlets – including those far more congested and confined than Boca Grande Pass – designated as slow-speed zones. It’s not likely the Coast Guard or the FWC would opt to go this route.

However, strict enforcement of the state’s existing safe boating laws would give us all an overdue and welcome break from the “organized chaos” Mercurio boasts is synonymous with the Pass and the PTTS.

PTTS supporters also called on the commission to include gear restrictions in the sport fish designation plan. They asked that a policy requiring circle hooks in Boca Grande Pass be adopted.

Chairman Wright said throughout the meeting that the proposed designation is not about gear. He said, and later repeated, that tackle isn’t on the table – even though the PTTS was eager to open this door for discussion.

Differences remain, but we have a lot in common

BY DONDI DAVIS

I have read many comments regarding the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in Boca Grande Pass. They range from the thought provoking to the downright rude.

It seems to me that supporters of Save The Tarpon and supporters of the PTTS have a lot in common. We all like fishing for tarpon, we all like boating and we are all family oriented. We even like to enjoy the same types of activities when we aren’t “on the clock.” For instance, scalloping in Homosassa, spending time with our families and enjoying what this great state of Florida has to offer.

The main difference between Save The Tarpon supporters and those who have chosen to support the PTTS is learning from past mistakes, standing up for what is right and having the ability to determine the difference between right and wrong.

Tarpon can only be fished recreationally in Florida. The majority of recreational anglers practice catch and release since the fish is not considered to be of any food value. However, anglers can possess them for trophy purposes at the cost of $50.00 per tag, per fish. Without this tag, possession is illegal.  The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) uses this “kill tag”  or “trophy tag” (as seen in the above photo) as a way to drag and weigh the fish for the television audience.

We all know that it’s common sense that when you gaff, drag and handle a fish as the PTTS does, it lessens their ability to recover.

Why won’t the PTTS go to a strict catch and release format? Is it all about TV ratings? Is it not enough to film the excitement of anglers and the mighty silver king as it jumps from the water?

The FWC clearly states “proper handling techniques ensure the best chance of survival. This includes returning the fish to the water as quickly as possible.”

The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust agrees “that research on catch and release fishing generally shows the amount and type of handling of fish after being caught and before being released is an important factor in determining the likelihood of survival after release. Fish that are kept in the water and handled minimally do best, while fish that are handled extensively and exposed to air for long periods of time don’t fare well.

So why does the PTTS insist on calling their tournaments “catch & release?”

Wikipedia defines catch and release as a “practice within recreational fishing intended as a technique of conservation. After capture the fish are unhooked and returned to the water before experiencing serious exhaustion or injury.”

Expertglossary.com defines catch and release as “catching a fish and immediately releasing it.”

Nowhere can you find a definition of catch and release that involves purchasing a $50 tag, gaffing a hole in the fishes bottom lip, attaching said tag, dragging it across Boca Grande Pass, weighing it, dragging it somewhere else and “reviving” the fish so it can be released.

Is it legal? That’s what the state says. But is it ethical? Is it preserving the fishery for future generations? I’ve listened to arguments on both sides. My conclusion is no, it shouldn’t be legal and it is definitely not ethical. Critics will say I wasn’t born here. That I don’t have the right to speak my mind. Nonsense. I live here. I see things with my own eyes. I have experienced catching – and immediately releasing – the mighty Silver King.

With all that we now know about fishing and conservation, the only answer for me is to DEMAND that the PTTS change its format and practice true catch and release. Catch the fish, release the fish. Not catch the fish, gaff the fish, drag the fish, hoist and weigh the fish, drag the fish again, and hide what’s left of the fish.

We have much in common. Let’s work together to preserve this fishery.

Senior Vice President of Florida Guides Association makes position clear

Captain Troy Sapp, Fishing GuideThe following is an email we received from Capt. Troy Sapp, senior vice-president of the Florida Guides Association, PTTS participant, and a seasonal Tarpon Guide in the Boca Grande Area in response to our posting of a letter by Scott Alford of ProjectTarpon.com:

Mr. Alford,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Capt. Troy P. Sapp

The Following is our response, sent directly to Capt. Troy Sapp:

Dear Mr. Sapp,
Thank you for your comment submission on SaveTheTarpon.com.  As I am sure you are aware, it was not approved for inclusion in the discussion. We felt the subject of your questions and concerns were better suited for Scott Alford’s site, ProjectTarpon.com.  Your questions have been forwarded to Scott Alford so he may address them directly. Again, thank you for your participation on our site.  We welcome any future comments you may have.  Please keep in mind we try to keep the discussion focused around the mission of our website–the preservation and protection of the Boca Grande tarpon fishery.

Regards, Jennifer McLaughlin

The following is the next contact we have with Capt. Troy Sapp, senior vice president of the Florida Guides Association:

How does a realtor/ artist become the moderator for a organization that claims they are about saving Tarpon? What are your qualifications or first hand experience concerning Tarpon? My comments did nothing more than raise some valid questions about the fishery you say you are trying to protect. Why would you not want your followers to engage in conversation where valid questions concerning tarpon are presented?

I already know the answer.
Your mission is very clear.

I have a feeling you are going to get what your asking for and then some. Myself and many other guides will be in the pass next year if anyone is fishing in there. We will also frequent the beach and harbor more. I have spoken to over 20 guides who will not be run off if their preferred methods of fishing are changed. Certainly the PTTS being there or not won't make a difference. There are many that have established a good bit of business in BGP. I really don't think any of my clients care how when or where they catch fish.

Good luck trying to save the tarpon of Boca grande pass, the same fish that swim around all over the state. No matter the outcome your mission will do nothing to Save the Tarpon. This issue isn't like commercial fishing.

You can't buy your way into it while locking out others.
Capt. Troy P. Sapp Fins and Tails Guide Servicehttp://finsandtailsguideservice.com/#welcome Florida Guides Assoc. Senior Vice Pres. Tsapp22334@aol.com WWW.Florida-guides.com

Well Capt. Sapp, no one at Save the Tarpon is looking to “lock others out.”  No one is asking any person who has come here to fish to  in the past not come here and fish in the future.  What we are asking is for an end to a made for TV series, turned charter booking service, that looks to exclude all others from fishing the pass by employing hyper-aggressive fishing techniques in order to protect “a good bit of business they have established in BGP.”  We are also asking that those that fish for Tarpon in the Boca Grande area use handling techniques that, to the best of their ability, ensure the highest chances of survival of the fish they are targeting unless they plan to harvest the fish. We also want those who are deliberately mishandling those fish in order to increase revenue for their TV show to stop both the mishandling, and the exclusion of all other anglers in order to further the success of their charter booking service, namely the PTTS.

If we are successful in that mission, then we will re-evaluate our situation and come up with a direction to take our organization that we feel best supports our stated mission and that is within our area of expertise and the scope of our organization at that time.

The constant threat from PTTS participants that “the pass will be closed to all fishing if you don’t stop this” will not stop us from supporting what we believe is right.  Should we stop calling attention to what you are doing if  we feel it is wrong simply out of fear of the repercussions? If the situation is so dire, shouldn’t the PTTS be doing more to help curb the user group conflicts and fish handling problems?  Why does the PTTS go to such great lengths to hide what they are doing from the public if there really is nothing to hide?

The mission of Save the Tarpon is very clearly established and can be found on the About Us page, along with a current list of our board of directors. There are no ulterior motives.  Any motivations you may assume we have are just that, assumptions.  We are not looking to exclude anyone from use of the pass, as a matter of fact we are fighting to STOP the exclusion of fishermen from the pass.  You can cling to your assertion that Save the Tarpon is simply a front for BTT or the BGFGA all you want, but I believe our board of directors makes up a representative sample of two members from virtually all of the user groups who have an interest in Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass or the surrounding area.  The universal support by all other user groups who have rallied on behalf of Save the Tarpon to stop the for-profit exploitation of the public resource in Boca Grande pass at the hands of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the Florida Guides Association certainly speaks volumes to the validity of our mission. The same cannot be said for those coming to the defense of the PTTS.

We have left the door open to your involvement in this discussion, as long as it pertains to subject matter that falls within the scope of our mission and our area of expertise.  We also invite you personally to involve yourself in our forum which is specifically designed to answer questions people may have, whether in support of our movement or not, in an open, public, and controlled environment.  you can read more at:

http://savethetarpon.com/save-the-tarpon-opens-forum-for-questions/

Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Save The Tarpon

They will never understand

By: Susanne Darna DudleyBoca Grande Pass

The PTTS will never understand how we feel.

The people who plunder for gain
will never understand
those who grew up loving it
and striving to protect it.

They will never understand
what it feels like to be a little girl
catching her first tarpon with her Daddy
nor the joy that it brought to her Daddy’s face.

They will never understand
the men
who come from generations of fishermen
who have captained these waters
and provided for their families
giving thousands of people the thrill of their lives
fighting the great Silver King.

They will never understand
the quiet pride these men have
for the Pass and for each other.

They will never understand
how considerate
protective
or passionate
these captains are.

They cannot understand
the look in their father’s eyes
when he realizes the truth of it’s deterioration.

They will never understand
the sense of community
or family
nor our fierce desire to protect it.

Because

they have done nothing
but come into the area
with a complete disregard for it’s history.

And so we keep fighting
until we conserve and protect our heritage.