A ‘statistically insignificant’ tarpon

Sharks

No reason to be disturbed by this photo. It is, after all, “statistically insignificant.”

Researchers say the methods used by Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers more than double the time required to land and release a tarpon. The same methods, according to the same study, more than double the risk of foul-hooking a fish. Foul-hooking, of course, leads to substantially increased fight times. Which means a spent tarpon is less able to defend itself against predators. Like bull sharks.

But not to worry. The researchers who conducted the study concluded those doubled fight times and those doubled rates of foul hooking were “statistically insignificant.”

The photo is courtesy of WaterLine. It was taken during Sunday’s eight hour marathon “Sea Hunt Mega Money Tarpon Cup” PTTS tournament. The photo was shot moments after an exhausted tarpon was released into a pack of bull sharks following yet another prolonged PTTS-style fight.

And, in case you were wondering, this is what “statistically insignificant” looks like.

‘Homeless’ man ridiculed in PTTS Facebook ‘gag’ speaks out: ‘They failed’

PTTS participants mock recreational anglerChris Morelle says he’s just a guy who likes to fish. A guy who’s spent his entire life with a rod and reel in his hand. A guy who never sought the limelight, a modest kind of guy who’s never had a great yearning for the kind of “attention” he’s been getting these days courtesy of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the outfit the PTTS employs to produce its cable TV fishing show. Oh. And for the record, he isn’t homeless. Far from it, in fact.

Chris rose before dawn on May 19 to drive his center console boat from Cape Coral to Boca Grande Pass. “I sensed an injustice, that’s why I was there,” he says. He’d spent part of the night before transforming an old piece of cardboard he found laying around the house into a sign be planned on using the following day. He grabbed a can of lime green spray paint and went to work. There was nothing fancy about that sign, or the message it carried.

“PTTS: No Skill Needed,” it said. Chris and his handmade sign spent the next three hours quietly drifting in the Pass, all but lost among the nearly two dozen other boats that had turned out for Sunday’s protest. And, of course, the slimmed down field of wrap boats and Spandex “professionals” who made the equally long trek that morning to parade their sponsors’ logos (but not those two dead tarpon) before the cameras.

It wasn’t until nine days and a phone call later that Chris discovered the PTTS and REC Media Group had turned him and his simple cardboard sign into a bad Facebook gag. A photo of Chris standing alone on his boat with that simple cardboard sign had been posted to REC Media Group’s “Save The Tarpon” spoof page. The Photoshop Rangers at REC Media Group pasted one of those cartoon bubbles next to his head. “Time for another photo caption contest!” REC’s instructions read. “Winner gets 50 gallons of diesel fuel for the next protest.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Thud.

Protest Boat

Among the 56 eventual contenders was REC Media Group’s own entry. “Oh crap,” one of  REC’s junior high school interns wrote. “I just used my house to make a sign.” Jason King weighed in with “I shaved my balls for this?” Classy. Then along came David Harper, suggesting “Will protest for food …” Alligator meat, maybe? Peyton Powers contributed this gem: “Can’t wait to get home and see my wife. i mean sister.” Lee Longworth wasn’t quite up to the challenge. “What an asshole,” he wrote. And it appeared that noted “recreational angler” Craig Abbott wasn’t doing captions. He was doing chest thumps. Says Abbott, “we got close and he and I had a few words.”

“You know what? It could have been considered clever,” Chris says. “But if they are trying to get at me with this, they failed. They are only encouraging me more, they are only strengthening my resolve to see the day when people like me, average everyday guys like me, can return to the Pass and fish in peace. Anyone who would be on there (the Facebook page), anyone who would comment like that, I don’t value their opinion to begin with. So why should I care at all?”

Chris admitted he hadn’t seen what the PTTS crowd had written about him and his sign over there on that Facebook page spoof. And, he said, he didn’t much care. Yeah, he might take a peek. Maybe leave a message of his own. No, on second thought, why bother? Plus, he laughed, “they might ‘unfriend’ me.”

“It pretty much convinces me that this is all they have, you know … making fun of those who disagree. It tells me, and it should tell everyone else, that they know they are wrong. I mean, any rational person would have to wonder.”

Then there are those witty but bewildering homeless “gags” the crew at REC Media Group aimed at Chris. It seems Chris, his wife of 27 years and his two Brittany Spaniels (he left the pups at home on Sunday – “didn’t want them to get foul hooked”) are doing just fine, thank you. Today, at 52, he’s a successful self-employed inventory control consultant.

Home, he says, is Rhode Island. But no matter where he’s lived, from Cape Cod to Montauk Point to the smallest lake to the largest ocean, Chris has found a way to pursue his passion for fishing. It’s what would ultimately lead him to Southwest Florida. And to Boca Grande Pass shortly after sunrise on May 19.

“I’ve fished the Salmon River in New York, and I witnessed the snagging they were doing there first hand. It’s the same thing we see going on in Boca Grande. There’s no skill needed. That’s what the deal is. There’s no skill. Just like on the Salmon, they drop those bottom weighted hooks and snag the biggest fish that swims by. The state finally stepped in and stopped it on the Salmon River. The state needs to step in and stop it here. It’s criminal.”

(Here’s the anti-snagging rule adopted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation: “Weight shall not be added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lure in any manner such that the weight hangs lower than the attached hook, artificial fly or lure when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod.” Sound familiar?)

Protest Boat

He scoffs at suggestions those who turned out for the May 19 “Protest in the Pass” were somehow coerced or otherwise “bullied” into getting up before the sun that morning. “Nobody contacted me, I came of my own volition because of what the PTTS stands for is wrong. Not only to the fish, but to the average Joe. They are making it (the Pass) inaccessible to the guy who simply wants to take his kid out fishing. They disrupt the Pass so bad those fish are gone for the rest of the day. There’s no way they should be able to exclude the public for a TV show. They are ruining this fishery, and they are profiting from it.”

Really Chris? Nobody put a gun, or a bullhorn, to your head? “Hell no. You guys inspired me to do something about it. I started following this situation when I was looking for tips on how to fish tarpon. Save The Tarpon was the first site that popped up. I did a lot of reading. Then I came to Boca Grande to see for myself. I finally said enough. Fisheries, particularly this fishery, are something I care a lot about. I don’t want to be pushed around when I go fishing. And they make it impossible. Pardon the French, but it pisses me off.”

About that sign? “Just why should I invest more than a can of spray paint and an old piece of cardboard on those guys?” he asks. “Actually, one of the PTTS guys said they were going to take up a collection and buy me a nice piece of plywood for the next one. Guess it got lost in the mail,” he says with a laugh.

“You know, I love to fish. For just about anything. But I just won’t snag. That’s not fishing,” he says. “There were some things said in the heat of the moment by both sides, but this is about a lot more than just a sound bite. They have this ‘gotcha’ mentality going. This isn’t about ‘gotcha.’ This is about saving what’s left of a fishery. I hope the state is paying attention and outlaws the bottom weighted jig just as they did on the Salmon. There’s no reason the PTTS can’t use conventional and ethical fishing means.

“And if this doesn’t make for good TV, if that’s what this tournament is really all about, then I guess the PTTS will just have to go away.” That REC Media Group, PTTS Facebook pillory page was a bad joke in search of a punch line. Kind of ironic that the guy they were ridiculing would wind up delivering it to them. Nine days and a phone call later.

REC Media Group is located at 1227 W. Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida.  They may be reached at 407.283.7732.  Their list of clients include: the PTTS, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC)Bass2Billfish, Threadfin Boats, Skeeter Boats, Sea Hunt Boats, Scout Boats, and the World Fishing Network (WFN).  For the full list, please visit their “Clients” page.

A talk with Capt. Tom McLaughlin

This article was originally published in the May 23, 2013 issue of WaterLine Magazine.

By Josh Olive
Waterline Publisher

The Miller Lite Professional Tarpon Tournament Series season opener this past Sunday was protested by a locally based group called Save the Tarpon. I recently talked with Capt. Tom McLaughlin, the chairman of Save the Tarpon, about the protest itself and what the group has planned for the future.

WaterLine: Now that you’ve seen the PTTS’s new measurement system in action, what are your thoughts on what’s being done right and what’s being done wrong?

Capt Tom McLaughlin

Save the Tarpon Chairman, Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Capt. McLaughlin: Fish-handling related issues with the PTTS are not confined solely to the measurement system. There are welldocumented issues with the increased fight times required to bring a tarpon to complete exhaustion (a point at which it can be subdued on a 3-foot leader). Considering that the PTTS takes place in a pre-spawn aggregate area, during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of spawning tarpon. It’s about time they go to a catch-and-release format. While the idea of their measuring tools may be great under certain circumstances, they are simply not appropriate for Boca Grande Pass in May and June.

Little if any of the handling-related issues have been addressed by the new format. These changes seem to be more superficial and for political reasons rather than out of real concern for the well-being of the sometimes 50- to 60-year-old fish that bring the PTTS its revenue stream. Fish still had to be restrained using a gaff-like device, fish were still towed for extended periods of time, and handling was still excessive. At one point, a single fish was held for 29 minutes from the time the LipLock was attached until the time the fish was released. This included no more than 3 or 4 minutes of revival. The fish was immediately seen floating back to the surface, where an official PTTS camera boat accelerated hard in reverse while pointing at the fish in an obvious attempt to run the fish over. There was no attempt to retrieve the fish for further revival; rather, efforts were directed at concealing the fish using the vessel’s prop wash.

There were numerous fish that were sighted and photographed struggling, sinking or floating at the surface after being handled. Enough is enough — it’s time to start catch-and-release.

“…the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.”

WL: With so many Save the Tarpon supporters in the local area, why were there not more boats in attendance at the protest? Are there plans to bring in more boats for future protests?

McL: We tallied right around 25 boats for the protest. There were guides from various user groups, local community members, as well as recreational anglers who traveled for more than an hour and a half by boat to attend. We felt this was a sufficient number without being excessive. Our intentions were to disrupt the filming of the TV show and make those we feel are attacking our community as uncomfortable during their tournament as non-PTTS passgoers are. We did not, however, want to interfere with the actual fishing taking place. Based on feedback from FWC and independent onlookers, this goal was accomplished.

Though we have no ultimate control over the actions of those who attend a public protest, we do feel somewhat responsible for their actions. With that in mind, this was what we consider to be a manageable number.

Further, the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.

WL: Were the goals of the protest met?

McL: Absolutely. The filming of the PTTS was interrupted. The tournament was uncomfortable at times for participants and employees alike. Our boats operated safely, did not interfere with the fish or actual running of the tournament itself, and we captured a veritable mountain of footage showing many of the fish “weighed” in the tournament showing signs of extensive distress, likely resulting in death. Photos and videos were obtained of numerous fish hooked outside the mouth, not only in the clipper, but also in the septum of the throat (the area between the gills), the gill rakers and near the eye socket. According to official results, all of these fish were counted in the tournament.

Save the Tarpon Protest Boats

Protesters gather prior to the start of the 2013 PTTS opening event.

WL: Ethical objections aside, did STT observe PTTS participants doing anything that appeared to be illegal?

McL: Yes. There was at least one, and possibly two fish that appeared to be in severe distress, dead or dying that were transferred from the possession of participants who caught the fish to a non-participating boat, piloted by a participant of the tournament who was not fishing this day, for the purposes of being dragged away from the prying eyes of onlookers and our cameras. These fish were dragged away from the tournament area at a very high rate of speed. The vessel was approached, at which time they attempted to appear to be reviving the fish. However, this soon escalated to more high-speed circles in order to keep the fish on the side of the vessel where it would be obscured. The fish was eventually shoved under the boat into its prop wash. FWC officers on site agreed that the transfer of this fish was indeed illegal, but because they were not there to witness the actual transfer, they were unable to pursue any enforcement.

WL: To your knowledge, were any STT protesters subjected to harassment by PTTS anglers? By PTTS supporters?

McL: There was little harassment, if any, on the part of the PTTS participants or anglers. While there was some harassment by PTTS employees and contractors, it would be considered fairly minor. There were, however, numerous clear and direct threats of violence by PTTS anglers towards protesters, as well as encouragement by PTTS supporters, anglers, and employees to carry out these threats after the tournament.

WL: The FWC appears poised to rule that the tarpon jig is a snagging device. If that happens and the PTTS is forced to stop using it, will STT’s opposition to the tournament persist? If so, why?

McL: First off, the FWC is not poised to rule a tarpon jig is a snagging device. The best available science indicates that the rigging of any hook with a weight attached directly the beneath the bend or belly of the hook is likely being used to snag fish without a feeding or striking action on the part of the fish. Simply moving the hook to a location that is concurrent not only with laws of numerous other states and countries, but also a position that is found on all other jigs in the industry, is not the same as banning the Boca Grande jig. It is simply modifying the gear restrictions to eliminate the intentional snagging of tarpon through the use of the device the way it is being fished in PTTS events as well as outside the events.

Again, the best available science shows that these fish are not attempting to bite or strike the lure, but are being intentionally snagged. This avenue is the least intrusive to other anglers and has proven to have little, if any, unintended side effects on other fisheries.

The issues with the PTTS and the pack that was created by the tournament run well beyond the snag-hook (jig is in fact a misnomer) that is being used. The domination of the resource, encouragement of chaos for the sake of TV ratings, excessive fish handling, exclusion of other user groups, and the extensive damage done to the public perception of the community and the fishery all will likely take more time to work out.

The PTTS has shown a clear disregard for the destruction they cause, it is likely that elimination of the snag-hook will only serve as a single step in a very long walk to a peaceful and cooperative Pass that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

WL: If the jig is outlawed, do you think that will eventually bring peace back to the Pass?

McL: It will not be a silver bullet. The changes that will need to take place in terms of public perception, instilling respect for other users of the Pass, other anglers and the fish will not be an easy task to take on. It will likely take much more in terms of effort, education, and advocacy — but little in terms of regulation — to return some form of peace to the Pass.

WL: Besides the push to end the PTTS, is STT doing anything else aimed at improving the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery?

McL: We recently agreed to provide both logistical assistance as well as funding for the Rosenstiel School of Marine Biology satellite tagging program at Boca Grande for 2013. This will be the most extensive single satellite tagging effort in the history of tarpon research. Despite mounting legal fees, we feel confident that we will still meet our goal of raising an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for this program.

We are also working on creating a video archive of interviews with some of the area’s longest residents, fishermen, guides and community members. We are working to make these interviews, photos and documents easily accessible via the internet. This will serve as an important educational and outreach tool as well as an avenue to disseminate accurate and historically significant information.

WL: If someone wants to learn more about STT or become a supporter, what should they do?

McL: Please take the time to visit SavetheTarpon.com. You can read our mission statement and access articles, videos and photos.

To continue reading, please visit: http://wlf.eed.sunnewspapers.net/olive/ode/waterline_swflorida/

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.

The PTTS dead (err… we mean sleeping) tarpon cover-up

This video was filmed on June 17, 2012 during the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) Tarpon Cup Championship. Unlike all other PTTS events, no DNA samples were taken by the PTTS during this event. Here is a short explanation from a first-hand witness who was on the boat which captured this footage. For more of the story, read this.

“When I was asked to participate in the PTTS championship protest I didn’t know what to expect or what reaction I would receive from some of the PTTS participants as I had been a participant myself at one time. I expected to see some of the typical bumper boat type action the PTTS is well known for. Having not participated in the PTTS for some time now, I was completely unaware of what happens behind the scenes to the tarpon after they are weighed.

In years prior, the team that caught and weighed in a fish was responsible for reviving and releasing that fish. In my opinion, I feel the PTTS was under some pressure from the public for dead tarpon washing up on the beach the day after the tournament. The PTTS decided to use a “trained” release team to be in charge of all tarpon after they have been dragged to the scale and weighed in. I was fully aware of their new policy, what I was not aware of however was the blatant disregard for the tarpon once the release team took possession.

What we filmed that day was a total lack of respect for the the tarpon that were to be released. The PTTS crews were not happy about us filming their actions that day and they did their best to cover up the dead tarpon they were dumping by having other PTTS boats wake our boat. This is what happens at the PTTS behind the scenes.”

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.)

You did it! Tires Plus pulls the plug on the PTTS

Rodney Taucher, PTTS co-owner

Rodney Taucher, PTTS co-owner, stepped in a lot more than he figured when he struck a pose while stepping on a dead PTTS tarpon. Publication of the photo, along with your calls and emails, prompted Tires Plus to become the latest company to drop its PTTS sponsorship. Taucher was wearing a Tires Plus tee shirt in the original photo,

Tires Plus Total Car Care Inc.,  through its parent company Bridgestone/Firestone, has confirmed it is withdrawing its sponsorship of the 2013 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series as a result of efforts by Save The Tarpon’s more than 12,000 members and supporters worldwide.

“Tires Plus is not a 2013 PTTS sponsor,” according to Susan Steino, manager of public relations for Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC., which purchased the Clearwater-based tire and auto service chain in 2000.

Tires Plus had sponsored the controversial PTTS “Tires Plus Release Team,” which had become better known as the “Tires Plus Drag and Dump Crew” for its documented practice of dragging near-dead tarpon to the deepest part of Boca Grande Pass and dumping them. According to statements made on air by PTTS host Joe Mercurio, the team’s alleged purpose was to “revive” the fish.

Steino had earlier said Bridgestone was unaware its subsidiary was sponsoring the controversial tarpon tournament until the company began receiving phone calls and emails from Save The Tarpon supporters. Tires Plus was profiled January 21 as a PTTS sponsor.

Tires Plus is the second PTTS sponsor and the second Florida-based company to be “targeted” by Save The Tarpon’s “Do The Write Thing” awareness effort. The first, Costa Del Mar Sunglasses Inc., withdrew its PTTS sponsorship earlier last month in the wake of publication of a similar sponsor profile. Both former PTTS sponsors were part of a broader Save The Tarpon boycott campaign. Both have been removed from the list as a result of their decision to sever ties with the PTTS.

Boycott Tires Plus - Total Car CareTires Plus said a photo of a PTTS official wearing a company tee shirt while posing with his foot resting on a dead PTTS tarpon, along with other photographs and video at SaveTheTarpon.com and on Facebook showing roped tarpon being towed into the Pass by boats bearing the Tires Plus brand, hastened the company’s decision to become the latest sponsor to bolt the televised fishing tournament.

Daytona Beach-based Costa Del Mar Sunglasses Inc., a subsidiary of the A. T. Cross Company, was spotlighted by SaveTheTarpon.com in an online sponsor profile on December 28, 2012. Costa notified Save The Tarpon Inc. on January 13, 2013 that it, too, was cutting the sponsorship cord to the PTTS. Costa was subsequently removed from the Save The Tarpon boycott list. It has since received dozens of messages via Facebook alone praising the former PTTS sponsor for its prompt decision to end its affiliation with the tournament.

On February 4 the PTTS cited what Mercurio called “the persistent challenging economic operating environment” when it broke the news it was cancelling all but one of its women’s tournaments slated for 2013. The decision to abandon the women’s events came in the aftermath of Costa’s withdrawal and eight days prior to Tires Plus official announcement it was pulling the sponsorship plug. Sarasota-based Andros Boatworks ended its PTTS affiliation in June.

Save The Tarpon’s supporters reacted quickly and positively to news of Tires Plus Total Car Care’s decision to end its PTTS sponsorship. The company’s withdrawal was first announced to Save The Tarpon’s more than 10,600 followers on Facebook.

“This is where I will buy tires from here on!” Gregg Rodier wrote, just one of dozens of comments posted to the page. All echoed a similar theme. From Don Gable: “Thanks Tire Plus! Great move to preserve a great treasure!” Ditto Shane Sovan: “Way to make the right call!” And Vicki Lapple Hensley added: “Good going, now I might shop there again.” Save The Tarpon supporters have also posted comments praising the company’s decision on the Tires Plus Facebook page.

Facebook follower Ryan Hawks proclaimed “Victory!” and was among many who asked “Who’s next?” Stay tuned, Ryan. Stay tuned.

 

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

A Mostly True Account of What May Have Happened at the 2012 PTTS Tarpon Cup Championship

Actually, it’s completely true.

June 17, 2012 6:45 AM:  Today is not just the day of the PTTS Tarpon Cup, but it also marks the first time the community of Boca Grande has organized and come together to show their displeasure for this tournament and the actions of its participants in the form of a protest during filming of the season’s final event.

I’m dilly dallying just West of the Pass, trying to affix my “Stop the PTTS Tarpon Kill, SaveTheTarpon.com” banner to the t-top of a borrowed boat, wondering what today will bring.  The plan was to have a peaceful protest on the beach by community members, while a few guides attempted to interrupt some of the filming of the made-for-TV series by navigating our boats into a position where the banners could be seen on camera.  We hoped this would cause enough frustration for the show’s producers and owners that the pleas of the community, and sportsman from around the country, would stop falling on deaf ears.

The PTTS thought things would go smoothly for them today.  Scoffing at the idea that even a small group would actually show on the beach. Our newly formed rag tag not-for-profit thought things would go smoothly for us too.  Thinking the deep passion our community held for the cause would carry us far.  FWC apparently just thought we were all going to lose control and need to be arrested. I could already see their army of officers, complete with paddy wagon.  None of these things happened that day.  The truth is no one was arrested, no tickets were written, the paddy wagon left empty and things definitely did not go smoothly for the PTTS.  How would things turn out for us?  Well, lets just say that I couldn’t have pictured what would happen that day in my wildest imagination.

6:50 AM, still just West of the Pass: I glance up to see a twenty seven foot pink center console coming our way at high speed. Rusty Hooker approached, stereo blasting, belching smoke from its ancient twin outboards as they were pinned at full throttle in reverse, coming to just rest inches from my bow as I sat drifting and still fumbling with that silly banner.

“You ain’t fuckin’ goin’ no where,” said the captain as he took a swig from his beer…at 6:50AM.

Now, I know what your thinking, I should have expected things would not go quite as easily as I had imagined. But, I guess I just gave a little too much credit to the “P” in PTTS.

Rusty Hooker, belonging to PTTS participant Chris Molinaro, is seen here blocking the view of a tarpon being "revived and released" by the PTTS drag and dump boys.

Rusty Hooker, belonging to PTTS participant Chris Molinaro, is seen here blocking Capt. Tom’s  camera view of a tarpon being “revived and released” by the PTTS drag and dump boys.

Over about the next fifteen minutes a few more choice words were exchanged by both parties as the captain of the Rusty Hooker shifted frantically from forward to reverse, over and over, in a desperate attempt to keep us from interfering with the tournament that had now started.  I’m pretty sure the nearby FWC officer must have overheard my boisterous objections to this blatant disregard for Coast Guard navigational safety, as he made his way over to us and had a few words for the captain of the Rusty Hooker.   Who had, by the way, quickly stashed his now empty ‘breakfast of champions’ somewhere under his console where it appeared to have a few friends.  After a little more bantering he scurried towards the PTTS support crowd that was now gathering on the beach.

The tournament had started but the beach side protesters and other boats weren’t scheduled to show up for several more hours.  I hopped in the tower, cranked her up, and sped around the corner into the Pass.  Banner flapping in the wind, still not securely attached to the boat,  apparently upside down, and smoke billowing from my ears. But I didn’t care. I was absolutely fuming about the unprovoked little exchange that had just taken place.  If this was how we were going to play today, I was ready to blow off a little steam. To hell with the plan.

8:55 AM, Boca Grande Pass:  For nearly an hour, I had been expressing my extreme displeasure for the previous exchange, mainly in the form of heckling, complete with words only appropriate for a true sailor.  My four-letter word barrage was hap-haphazardly directed at anyone involved with the PTTS who was unfortunate enough to get within earshot, including a few participants of the tournament, PTTS owner Gary Ingman, host Joe Mercurio, the production crew for the show, and at one point, even the acting Captain for our region of the FWC (whoops).  It was starting to look like they might need that paddy wagon after all.  And then something brought me back. A grounding reminder of why we were here this day.

Up until now, I had jumped around, chasing the camera boat, getting in a few shots here and there, beaching next to the weigh boat for a short while, and generally just causing a little confusion.  On the outside it appeared to be a brilliantly orchestrated effort as we confused our newly adopted shadow boats with unpredictable and random movements.  But in reality, I was just really pissed off and had forgotten ‘the plan.’

We had been posting up a little West of the weigh boat, tight to the beach, and made a habit of following the Tires Plus “release boat” as they dragged once mighty fish slowly away from the crowd of proud PTTS family and friends.  As the Tires Plus “drag and dump” crew (as I had now dubbed them) came by, we quickly took position.

By this point, we had already followed more than a half dozen or so other fish as they had been towed away, watching as some of these fish would struggle momentarily, roll on to their sides, and quietly sink into the dark water and swift moving tide of Boca Grande Pass.  Others, not willing to show signs of life, were quickly stuffed underwater by the PTTS “trained professionals” in an effort to hurry back to the beach and pick up the next nearly-dead “live release” victim of television entertainment.

A few of these fish had briefly floated to the surface, and one was even deliberately run over by the drag and dump boys. I had managed to get a short series of still photos of that little gem, but after spending a few minutes to review them my heart sunk as I realized that I was holding a pretty poor excuse for a lens and lacked two vitally important things needed to accurately depict the gravity of what was unfolding before my eyes.  A polarizing filter and an even the slightest inkling of skill as a photographer.

If you ever had a bucket full of minnows as a kid you don’t need a PHD and a half-million dollar study to understand what happened to those fish as they swirled around.  I’m sure you would be able to recall what it looked like as the minnows spiraled out of control on the surface in ever tightening circles, rolled belly up, and sank to the bottom.  They were not napping.  They were dead.  Just think, giant minnows in a giant bucket.

But as this particular fish was pulled past my boat, something just felt different about it.  My interest was piqued.   It wasn’t the lifeless calm it exuded as the release team member held tight to its lower jaw. It wasn’t its size or who caught it. Quite honestly, there was really nothing notable about this fish, it wasn’t all that unusual. It was just a feeling I got.

Capt. Tom seen following the drag and dump boys as they are protected by the Rusty Hooker.

Capt. Tom seen following the drag and dump boys as they are protected by the Rusty Hooker.

Up to this point there had been nothing we could do except stare in abject horror and snap a few photos as fish after fish was hauled off and stuffed beneath the waves in what had become an obvious attempt to hide it from the view of the crowd.   But as the drag and dump boys pulled away and out into the deep waters of the Pass, the worn tarpon surfaced slowly in a feeble attempt to catch her breath.  It almost appeared like she had an expression on her ancient face.  I don’t know how to fully explain it.  I swear when I looked into her eye, she returned a fleeting look back as she sunk back beneath the surface. It was probably nothing, but I took it as a sign to pay close attention to this one.

As they eased by, bracing for the onslaught of insults I’m sure had now become nothing more than background noise for the PTTS drag and dump boys, I instantly transformed from a profanity wielding Tasmanian devil on the verge of being hauled off by the clam cops, to some type of big cat quietly stalking its prey. Or, something like that.

We trailed closely, jockeying for position with the BudgetHeating.com boat who was trying to keep us from taking pictures.  We finally got a solid position next to the donated Sea Hunt piloted by the Tires Plus drag and dump boys. We had to push in a little more closely than was probably comfortable for all of us, but if we gave an inch, tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher was sure to stick his BudgetHeating.com boat smack dab in between us to obscure the fish from the view of our prying eyes and cameras.  The feeling I had in the pit of my stomach about this fish made me press a little harder this time.  I was willing to take the risk as well as take full responsibility for anything bad that might have happened to any of us or our boats.

They dragged this one much farther down the beach in order to get a little bit more distance between themselves and their cheering section who seemed to have taken notice of the previous fish as it awkwardly thrashed about on the surface in obvious distress. What the crowd didn’t see from the beach was, after the gut wrenching display, the fish then rolled on its side and fell to the bottom like too many others had in just the past two hours.

I was well-aware ‘some’ of the fish in the PTTS did not fare so well after being released. I had stumbled onto enough evidence of that, bloated and rotting, on Monday mornings following the weekend events.  What I certainly did not know until this moment was that based on what I had already seen this day, and the calamity that was about to ensue, the carrion at the foot of the lighthouse after each event was just the tip of the iceberg.  Unless its normal for healthy tarpon to sink motionless, upside down, after being released, then fully half of the fish I had seen let go today today had perished.

My guess is that the wind, waves, current, and sharks take out most of the PTTS trash before it can become the all to familiar silver flotsam that turns the stomach of every true sportsmen or sportswomen unfortunate enough to run across it on Monday morning.

9:05 AM, still in Boca Grande Pass:  I continued to follow as closely as possible, without becoming a physical danger to the release team. I maintained my position despite the constant maneuvering and blocking by the Budgetheating.com boat, still captained by tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher, as well as our suds-guzzling friend from earlier in the morning aboard the Rusty Hooker, who was now accompanied by several friends as well as what appeared to be the vessel’s namesake.

The drag and dump boys in the Tires Plus shirts were taking us on a different route this time, running parallel to the beach and heading offshore instead of towards the middle of the pass.  It seemed that the spectators’ reactions to the prior struggling fish were not sitting well with whoever was calling the shots today.  Although we were surely headed for waters farther offshore, running along the beach allowed tournament detractors to follow us on foot and observe what was happening from the waters edge.  A fact that was visibly upsetting the drag and dump boys.

Despite efforts to make it out of sight of the growing crowd and much to the dismay of the drag and dump boys, we  had made very little headway due to the incoming tide. Only having moved a few hundred yards in about ten minutes.  The reality of the situation was sinking in with the two sorry bastards in the Sea Hunt.  The fish was looking worse by the minute, numbers on the beach were growing, and it had become painfully obvious that anyone with a Tires Plus t-shirt was going to bear the brunt of the crowds’, and our, growing frustration.

She made a feeble attempt at taking a breath, showing us that she was still alive at least. They seized their moment. Her head was quickly shoved downward while she was on her side, making her body into a plane and sending her head first towards the bottom.  It was over.  There was a quick and awkward high five aboard the Tires Plus sponsored Sea Hunt as the duo turned back towards the weigh boat.  Then we saw it.  A silver flash just off our starboard bow.  She materialized from the murky depths and laid on the surface, broad side to the sky.  She halfheartedly fluttered her tail and began to move towards the beach.  We knew what was about to happen, and I quickly jammed the throttle and headed straight for dry land.  As we approached, the cameraman for the day hopped off the bow and ran up a few yards up the beach.  The commotion had now drawn the attention of not only the Tires Plus Sea Hunt, but also of tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher.

Our cameraman stopped running and waded out into the water to about waist deep, putting the camera underwater facing the Pass.  I stared in bewilderment as she swam directly to him, floundering along the bottom on her side.  With a few weak kicks of her tail, she was belly up inches from the sand.  The crowd gathered, shouts such as “This is because of you!” and “Come get your fish! Take off your mask!” began to echo from what I’m sure will be described as an angry mob at some point by the PTTS.  Despite the rising anger, the drag and dump boys were making their way slowly towards the beach.  They were intercepted by Taucher, who had  a quick word with one of the masked fellows.  After the exchange, Taucher slowly idled towards the Pathfinder sponsored camera boat piloted by tournament owner Gary Ingman, as PTTS front man Mercurio slouched in the fighting chair on the bow with a cigarette hanging from his lip.

 

Click here to see the video shot of the dying fish during the PTTS protest.

 

After the chat, the drag and dump boys once again headed towards the fish.  They beached their boat, one of them hopped in the water, and then nonchalantly reattached their rope to the hole in the fish’s lower jaw. After a brief attempt at feigning concern they quickly dragged the fish off towards the relative safety of waters offshore.

Looking back at the video after being removed from the events for nearly seven months, I can honestly say that my feeling about that fish was right.  As I watched the events of that day rerun on the monitor in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel like she knew exactly what she was doing.

What happened to that fish next would further solidify in the minds of all those who came to show their concern for the fishery at  Boca Grande that there was a much bigger problem with what is going on in the Pass during May and June than a few dead fish.  The events of the next half hour would prove that the actions of the PTTS, its owners, and some of its participants were not just a minor annoyance to local fishing guides.  Rather, this was a direct assault on not only the history, culture, and community of Boca Grande but a threat to the continued survival of the worlds first recreational tarpon fishery and the literal birthplace of  big game sport fishing as we know it.

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.