FWC changes tarpon rules

Sun Pix

SUN FILE PHOTO
This tarpon was caught using a Boca Grande Pass jig. The jig has become the focus of a major debate in the fishing community.

This article was originally published in the June 13, 2013 edition of the Englewood Sun.

By JOSH OLIVE and LEE ANDERSON
SUN STAFF WRITERS

LAKELAND — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to move forward with new rules that would change the definition of snagging as it relates to tarpon and would limit a specific type of fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass.

Wednesday morning’s draft rule hearing in Lakeland was attended by an estimated 250 people, most of whom left shortly following the commission’s vote later in the afternoon.

The proposed change to the snagging definition is intended to eliminate fishing methods that hook tarpon without the fish being enticed or attracted to the hook. Most anglers consider snagging or intentional foul-hooking to be unsporting. The gear restriction would prohibit the use of a weight attached to and suspended from the bend of a hook, with the rationale being that such a rig is more likely to snag fish. The rig commonly called the Boca Grande Pass jig fits that description.

About an equal number of people spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed regulations. Many who wanted the draft rule shot down called for additional scientific studies to prove that tarpon are being snagged.

Gary Ingman, owner of Ingman Marine and a founder of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, was among those speaking to commissioners.

“We need a study once and for all to find a solution,” he said. “Our community is fighting. If you don’t conduct a study, there will still be a rift in our community. Right now there isn’t enough evidence to make a decision. Our community needs your help to settle this rift. We need to increase tourism, and we need your help.”

A study already was done in 2002-2004, looking at both foul-hooking and post-release mortality rates. That study has been under fire because two of the experts quoted — Philip Motta and Justin Grubich — since have said their statements in the study are not correct. However, outgoing FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright didn’t offer much hope that a new study would be forthcoming.

“We do not have to put ourselves to the burden of proving … this device is snagging fish,” he said. “I think we’ve got evidence that is compelling that we need the rule. I have the opinion, and so do two Ph.D.s (Motta and Grubich), that this device is more likely to catch a fish by snagging it than by fish eating it.”

Commissioner Ron Bergeron disagreed.

“I think we need more scientific evidence in order to dictate the gear we can use for tarpon. To me, it’s a big enough issue (to warrant a new study) — it affects the economy, it affects businesspeople.”

One of those who would feel the pain is a small Florida tackle maker.

“I sell these jigs for a living,” said Red Flower, owner of Outlaw Jigs. “These jigs give me 40 percent of my income, and without them I’ll lose my business.”

But a shortage of money is a big part of the problem for the FWC as well.

“There’s no $250,000 for an additional study,” Wright said. “If we don’t fix this now, we will be putting it on the back burner. It’s been 10 years since we looked at it, and it will be another 10.”

However, as Commissioner Brian Yablonski pointed out, the only change that actually would be required to make the Pass jig compliant with the proposed rule would be moving the hook.

“We’re talking about centimeters and inches,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be able to move the hook if you’re enticing the fish (to bite)? With a small tweak in the gear, I’m thinking we can eliminate a lot of the social conflict here.”

Approval of the draft rule will have no immediate impact on tarpon fishing. Commissioners will investigate such data as they have available to them before their next meeting in September. A final rule will be presented — and voted on — at that time.

“We still have some work to do from now until September,” said commissioner Leisa Preddy. “I have never been involved in something like this. This debate has pitted people against each other who have known each other for decades. It has split friendships. This was an extremely difficult decision, but our number one goal is to protect the resource. Everybody here can agree that we have to protect the tarpon. It’s just that each side has a slight difference of opinion.”

Email: jolive@sun-herald.com
Email: landerson@sun-herald.com

Here’s a link  to the Sun’s e-edition story. As the Sun will be the first to admit, the e-edition format can be a struggle. Accordingly, we’re reproducing the story here.

Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford: ‘Coon Pop’ vs. the bottom weighted ‘Pass Jig’

Lance “Coon” Schouest

Lance “Coon” Schouest, inventor of the “Coon Pop” lure.

The following question concerning the “Coon Pop” lure and any possible similarity to the bottom weighted Boca Grande tarpon jig was presented to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford on Saturday, June 1 by M, Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm of SCG Governmental Affairs. Stephens has confirmed he has been retained to lobby on behalf of the  Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.  The organization’s board is comprised entirely of Professional Tarpon Tournament Series participants.

Mr. Stephens’ former and current clients include the Florida Airboat Association and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series sponsor Miller Brewing Company. PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett serves on the Airboat Association board.

Markett is an outspoken opponent of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Commission’s proposed rule banning the use of bottom weighted lures in Boca Grande Pass. In a press release announcing Mr. Stephens’ affiliation with the Florida Airboat Association, the organization noted Mr. Stephens’ experience providing “governmental consulting services” on issues before the FWC. (UPDATE: A spokesman for the Airboat Association says Stephens is no longer employed to lobby for the group.)

Alford’s Project Tarpon is based in Texas where the Coon Pop lure is commonly used.

Tarpon snatch hook

Unlike the Coon Pop, the “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig” (above) is fished vertically and is rigged with a weight below the hook making the hook point the first point of contact with the fish.  Historically, any lure weighted at the belly or bend of the hook has been defined as a “snatch hook” or “snag hook.”

Here is the text of Mr. Stephens’ email to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford:

I was reading some of your posts on Youtube regarding the different use of the Coon Pop in Boca Grande Pass vs Texas and Louisiana. I understand it is generally slow trolled or cast in Tx and LA. However, I’ve read some articles about fishing for tarpon (in) Texas that talks about presenting the lure in a vertical jigging fashion in deeper water in Texas. You seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject and I’d appreciate information you have on the vertical technique used in Texas.

Thanks
Lane Stephens
SCG Governmental Affairs

Here is the text of Scott Alford’s reply:

There really isn’t much “vertical” usage of the jig in Texas in deep water or in Louisiana for that matter. The coon-pop is not really jigged. There are a number of ways it is used over here. I’ll go through each of them with you and explain how it is very different than the Boca Grande Pass.

"Coon Pop" Hook Placement

In this photo you can see the most common hook placement when a tarpon eats a “Coon Pop” fishing lure.

(1) Trolled – we troll up to seven baits with gas inboard boats or with electric trolling motors. The baits are staggered by letting them out for 30 seconds down to 5 seconds (i.e. 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 seconds – then a three second line sometimes – they are staggered with odd counts on one side and even counts on the other.) The five second line is only about four feet under the water and we are fishing in 35-45 feet of water usually in the open Gulf. The fish are in schools but the fish come to the baits. Most fish get hooked from the inside out, not on the outside of the face – the majority are hooked in the button. The speed these baits are trolled is between 1.5 to 2.5 knots. The rods don’t get picked up until after a bite.

(2) Drifted – this is really just drift trolling. Set up the same except the baits are set on the side of the boat and drifted and we don’t use as many baits. This is just a slow troll. Rods are in rod holders, not held. Same is true for hook sets etc.

(3) Casting – the bait is thrown and then reeled in. Again, this is in the open Gulf and the baits are usually retreived in the upper half of the water column.

Coon Pop Hook Placement

Another example of the most common hook placement found when using the “Coon Pop.”

(4) Use in Pass Cavallo – there is only one natural pass along the Texas coast that frequently has tarpon in the pass where you can fish for them consistently. The pass is relatively narrow and only about twenty feet deep. One guy fishes the pass using coon-pops. He does not hold the rods. The baits are suspended from a few feet off the bottom almost to the surface in rod holders the entire time. Tarpon do not get in the pass in schools as they do in Boca Grande and these fish are usually all post spawn, late summer fish that move into the pass in late afternoon early evening to feed. The fish move in in usually as singles. The fish are eating the jigs from below and the rod is not picked up until the fish is hooked. The boat drifts with the tide, is not maneuvered on top of the fish and the boat drifts over a fish as it goes in or out with the tide. No tide and you have no fish.

The reason a coon-pop works is because a tarpon comes from below and behind the bait to eat it. It can’t see the hook. On trolled baits, I use 150 lb piano wire leader. Casting baits, we usually (use) 120+ lb. mono leaders.

This is not to say that a tarpon won’t eat a jig in Boca Grande Pass. Likely they will.  But as I’ve seen the jig fished, I am skeptical that it is regularly eaten. I’ve seen the hook-up numbers on jigs versus using live bait. A tarpon is more likely to eat a live bait presented than a jig (coon-pop or otherwise). If the jigs are working more consistently than bait, that should be a red flag.

I have advocated that there is a simple way to solve the issue. Get a number of tarpon photographs showing hook placement in tarpon caught with coon-pops in Texas and Louisiana and take a similar, unbiased representation of tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass using the jig. If there is a difference, you’ll have your answer. Personally, I think they’ll be an obvious one.

Bottom line, our fish are not as concentrated and not vertically concentrated as they are in Boca Grande Pass.

Scott Alford
Project Tarpon

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook?

Waterline Magazine June 6, 2013This article, written by Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, was originally printed in the June 6, 2013 edition of the magazine.

Tired of tarpon yet?

We’ve been talking a lot about tarpon fishing in the past few editions of WaterLine. For those of you who have no interest in these fish, I apologize. However, we’re smack in the middle of tarpon season, and our silver king obsession will continue for a little while yet. Hey, that’s why we have 32 pages — even though there’s an abundance of tarpon talk, there’s still plenty of other information and entertainment for those of you who just don’t get all the fuss about an oversized sardine.

This coming Wednesday will be a big day for anyone with an interest in local tarpon fishing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be meeting in Lakeland to (among other things) hold a public hearing for draft and final rules that affect tarpon both statewide and locally. The final rule would make tarpon a catch-and-release-only species, with possession legal only in pursuit of an IGFA record, and then only with a $50 tarpon tag. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in favor of no one keeping tarpon, but the record exemption is silly and unfair — why just tarpon? If you catch a record redfish or snook, law says it’s got to go free.

The draft rule is in two parts: First, it would change the definition of snagging only for tarpon. The gist is if the tarpon does not actively participate in being hooked, it’s snagged. I’m OK with that, and I would think any other sportsman would be as well.

Tarpon snagged with a circle hook in Boca Grande Pass.

This tarpon was snagged with a bottom-weighted circle hook under the pectoral fin during a PTTS tournament.

Second —and this is the part that’s got a whole bunch of people in a tizzy — the draft rule would ban the use of a weight attached to a hook and hanging lower than said hook when the rig is suspended vertically. It’s a big deal because that’s exactly how the Boca Grande Pass tarpon jig is commonly rigged, and the jig is fished by a fairly large number of people. I’ve always said that there’s no proof the jig is snagging tarpon. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how that device works, and talking with people on both sides of the debate about why it works. Absolute conclusive evidence that favors either camp is hard to come by, but I’ve got some questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered.

See, I’m certainly no expert on tarpon or tarpon fishing. In fact, I still have yet to actually catch one (came close, though). So I have to ask those who do this day in, day out, all tarpon season long. And a lot of what I hear just isn’t adding up.

Why does the jig have to be fished so close to the bottom? In jig fishing, you drop your rig to the bottom and then reel up 2 to 4 feet of line. The schools of tarpon you see on the fishfinder while you’re doing this are stacked sometimes 20 or 30 feet from the bottom. What I’ve been told is that the fish at the bottom of the school are the ones that are feeding. Why, then, is the traditional presentation of a live bait above the school of fish, not below them? Many jig fishermen switch over to live bait in the afternoon. Why don’t they put those live baits right on the bottom, if that’s where the fish are feeding?

Why does it take so long to feel the fish after you get a bite? I’ve jigged the Pass on a handful of occasions. After you drop the jig down, you wait to feel tiny taps on the line. When you feel that, you reel like crazy. I’ve only hooked two fish doing this. One of them took about four reel cranks — let’s call that 20 feet — before I felt the weight of the fish. The other took about two cranks (still 10 feet). I’ve been told it’s either line stretch or the fish racing toward the surface with the jig. I know monofilament stretches, but 20 feet of stretch fishing straight down in 50 feet of water? It’s fishing line, not a gummy worm. And what possible reason does a not-yet-hooked tarpon have to race toward the surface, jig in mouth?

Jigs OK to use if FWC moves forward with gear restrictions.

All of these jigs would remain legal under proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass. In fact, there is not one commercially manufactured rig we would find which would be banned if the proposed rule is made law.

Why are jig fishing leaders so short? Most anglers use tiny leaders, maybe 18 inches long. Perhaps it’s because they don’t need long leaders, but in the tournament — where leader touches count for points — wouldn’t a longer leader be an advantage? The anti-jig guys say it’s because the knot spooks fish as it runs across their bodies, so they know they must be very close to the hook. I don’t know if that’s really true, but if it isn’t, why not use longer leaders and prove them wrong?

Why does the jig only seem to work on tightly packed schools of fish? Obviously, you’ll have a much better chance of hooking a fish of any kind if you present a bait to a bunch of
them, but I’ve watched jig anglers choose to not fish because the schools of tarpon weren’t thick enough. I would rather find a school of redfish to cast on, but if I can’t I’m still going
to fish. Why would you not fish at all — surely if the jig is mistaken for food, you have a reasonable chance of a tarpon spotting it and pouncing on it even when the fish are scattered very thinly.

I’d love to have verifiably truthful answers to these questions. But there’s one more, and it’s the one that matters the most:

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook from above the weight to behind it? The guys who are saying the Pass jig snags fish say the only reason it can do that is because when the line is reeled past the fish, the hook is the first thing that makes contact. OK, that’s plausible. The guys who defend the jig say that the fish are biting it. OK, that’s plausible too.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook.  By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed FWC rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook. By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

So why not shut the anti-jiggers up for good by moving the hook? The anti-jig crowd’s entire argument falls completely apart if you can move the hook literally two inches and continue to catch fish. Several people have told me they’re working on just this type of rig, but I’ve not heard from anyone that they’re actually using it successfully. Of course, they might be doing just that and not talking to anyone about it. But I can tell you that if I were one of those guides whose livelihood depends largely on being able to jig fish for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, and I had a rig that would catch tarpon as efficiently as the jig but couldn’t be accused of being a snagging device, I’d be on the 6 o’clock news that night crowing about it and telling them all to stuff it.

The fact that this hasn’t happened lends credence to the argument that jigs snag fish. It makes it harder to believe the anglers who say they’re not snagging but can’t explain why minor changes — changes that don’t affect the jig’s presentation in the water — render it ineffective. Many jig fishermen have told me they don’t believe that they’re snagging tarpon. And I believe that they’re being sincere. But it seems to me that not looking for real explanations is a problem. Saying, “I know I’m not doing anything wrong because I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” just doesn’t cut it.

When I first became involved with the jigging debate, it seemed very simple to me: It just couldn’t possibly be that all these fishermen were somehow snagging tarpon in the mouths. Anybody who said so must be carping about sour grapes. Besides, the state had done a study that didn’t find tarpon were being snagged. Anyone who said tarpon were being snagged would have to prove it.

Things have changed a little. The study has been cast into doubt, with two of the quoted experts now saying they didn’t say what the study says they said. One of them, Dr. Justin Grubich, has provided a plausible (that word again) explanation for how at least some of the tarpon might be snagged in their mouths. Other fisheries have turned up that snag fish in the mouths — admittedly, salmon fisheries.

But still, there are all these unanswered questions. I have little doubt the FWC is going to move forward with the draft rules — perhaps with minor changes, but probably to close loopholes rather than open more. If they do, a final vote will probably be held in September. The new regulations would likely go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The burden of proof now lies on those who fish with the jig. If the commissioners look solely at the evidence they currently have — which, taken as a whole, says it’s more likely jigs are snagging tarpon than not — I don’t see how they would have any choice but to outlaw the Pass jig.

If anyone has that evidence, I’m sure it will surface at the meeting this Wednesday. And let me tell you, I would be very happy to see it. I don’t at all like the thought that jig fishermen, many of whom I know well and have formed close friendships with over the past few years, are knowingly or even unknowingly doing something as unsporting as snagging not just any gamefish but the ultimate Southwest Florida gamefish. Unfortunately, I have a heavy feeling in my gut that says that might be exactly what’s happening.

Read More from Waterline Magazine >

Read the Boca Grande Pass: Tarpon Gear Review and Discussion by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission >

Caller are you there? ‘If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter’

When you’re finished reading, make sure to watch the video following the post. 

Capt. Chris O’Neill, host of The Reel Saltwater Fishing Show on WENG-AM, spent 47 minutes of airtime Friday shilling for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the virtues of the bottom weighted “tarpon jig” in an interview with PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett and Florida Tarpon Anglers Association vice president and PTTS booster Craig Abbott.VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

Along with FTAA president, PTTS captain and FWC auxiliary police officer Mark Maus, they spent their 47 minutes of local radio fame deriding the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposed rule designed to curb the foul-hooking epidemic in Boca Grande Pass.

FWC staff supports doing this by requiring the jig’s weight be attached above rather than below the hook. At various times during those 47 minutes, O’Neill’s “new friends” even attempted to equate their “association’s” opposition to the FWC plan with the same principles that drove the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Seriously.

Tarpon snatch hook

Often referred to as a “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig,” this weighted hook is nothing more than a snagging device used during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of tarpon.

As his show neared its end, O’Neill opened the phone lines and uttered four words he would instantly come to regret.

“Caller, are you there?” In less than 30 seconds the voice on the phone wiped out those previous 47 minutes of hype with one simple, unprompted, direct and apparently innocent question.

“If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter how the hook was placed. Would it?”

Oops. Maus and Abbott, who obviously weren’t expecting the obvious and who likely figured listener questions were being screened as carefully as the show was scripted, were caught off guard.

Agree,” said one. “You’re absolutely correct,” said the other.

Their mouths had momentarily gone rogue, ‘fessed up and allowed the truth to slip out. Taken by surprise, you can hear what happens when Maus and Abbott weren’t able to duck the question with yet another pre-fabricated civil rights reference. Yes, they both admitted, it doesn’t matter where the weight is located. Not if the tarpon are really biting the jig.

“Well that was my point,” the voice on the phone managed to say before O’Neill could kill the call. “We’re going to have to step out and go to break,” the quick-thinking and clearly rattled host jumped in, cutting off the caller and rescuing Maus and Abbott from themselves as he watched 47 minutes of infomercial airtime circle the drain.

O’Neill’s show was taped, complete with background chatter soundtrack, at the Waterside Grill at the Gasparilla Marina, conveniently located next to PTTS operator Gary Ingman’s Ingman Marine boat dealership in Placida, Florida.

Because those 30 seconds of “Caller, are you there?” near the tail end of the broadcast likely aren’t going to find their way into the next PTTS highlight reel or onto the Florida Tarpon Anglers’ website, here’s what happens when the best and the brightest are confronted with “if they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter …”

Considering O’Neill’s panicked reaction – and Maus and Abbott’s unrehearsed and candid response – it apparently does.

FWC Commissioners need to hear from you on proposed tarpon rules

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

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

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

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

Contact the Commissioners via email.

or, Attend the meeting on June 12.

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

Here are the two rules pertaining to tarpon:

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

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

and,

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

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

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

‘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.

A decade later, expert cited in FWC study speaks out: The jig snags tarpon

A decade ago, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission researcher and doctorial candidate Kathy Guindon was under the gun. She had just spent two years and more than $200,000 of taxpayer money on an abortive Boca Grande Pass tarpon mortality study that had been hurriedly reshuffled and morphed into a hook placement project that focused on live-baiting, jigging and, of course, snagging.

In a recent letter to FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright, Dr. Justin R. Grubich – one of the world’s leading authorities on tarpon feeding habits – implodes the myth Guindon’s hook placement “study” created when it was rushed into print a decade ago. A copy of Grubich’s letter has been obtained by Save The Tarpon Inc. In his letter, the associate director of biodiversity at Chicago’s respected Field Museum provides a revealing glimpse into how $200,000 worth of research was warped into $200,000 worth of junk science. And how the jig went from an obvious snagging device to a legitimate fishing lure as a result of a brief 30 minute phone call.

Dr. Justin GrubichIn 2004, Guidon  (her emails would later become public)  understood the numbers she had collected weren’t going the way the jig community wanted. The data showed a significant difference between the two methods of fishing. The data Guindon had gathered in the Pass clearly showed the live bait technique employed by Boca Grande’s traditional tarpon guides wasn’t foul-hooking fish. The same data made it equally clear the jig was. Guindon’s jig angler “friends,” who were leaked the study’s unpublished results in advance, weren’t very happy. And when the media went after Guindon’s raw data, they panicked.

Emails later obtained and published by a local newspaper showed the young doctorial candidate was being bombarded with pleas from jig guides begging her to find a way to “massage” the data to bring the foul-hooking numbers under the threshold the FWC commissioners had previously said would trigger a finding that the jig was a snagging device. Guindon couldn’t change the data. It had already been made public. But she could change the message the data was sending.

Enter Dr. Grubich. “I was contacted by the FWC (Guindon) sometime around 2003-4 because of my 2001 research publication regarding the strike kinematics and jaw functional morphology of juvenile tarpon,” he writes in his letter to the FWC chairman. Grubich was a recognized expert. He was the authority. He was the scientist anyone researching tarpon feeding habits would want to undertake a thoughtful and analytical “peer review” of  their findings. It’s a process that can take weeks, if not months, to do right. Guindon, under pressure to “publish or perish,” gave Dr. Grubich a half hour. Over the phone.

Even as recently as May 10, 2013, The PTTS has defended the use of "tarpon jigs" by citing the FWC 2002–2004: Tarpon Catch-and-Release Mortality Study, Boca Grande Pass

Even as recently as May 10, 2013, The PTTS has defended the use of “tarpon jigs” by citing the FWC 2002–2004: Tarpon Catch-and-Release Mortality Study, Boca Grande Pass as can be seen by this Facebook comment.

“My recollection of that phone call was approximately a 30 minute discussion where I was briefly informed of the Boca Grande jigging issue and asked a series of questions of how tarpon jaws work during the strike and whether it’s possible these jig’s hook placement in the clipper could be the result of feeding behavior.”

Possible? To his credit, Dr. Grubich answered the question honestly. Possible, yes. Anything’s possible. That’s pretty much all Guindon needed, or wanted, to hear. It was “possible” the foul-hooking observed with the jig, but not with live bait methods, was the result of normal “feeding behavior.” The jig, her study concluded, wasn’t really snagging those snagged tarpon. Dr. Grubich said so.

Since its hasty publication, the study and Dr. Grubich’s phoned-in observations have  been repeatedly offered up as “proof” by jig anglers and the PTTS that the jig doesn’t, as its critics contend, snag tarpon. (The hits just keep on coming. The Friday, May 17 edition of the Boca Beacon reports that University of South Florida tarpon expert Dr. Phil Motta has said the information he gave to the FWC was also improperly and incorrectly used in the study.)

Fast forward to May, 2013. Dr. Grubich is contacted by author Randy White and noted tarpon angler and artist Bill Bishop. Dr. Grubich, who had never reviewed the data Guindon collected and whose opinion was cherry-picked from what he was told during a rushed phone call, was urged by White and Bishop to take a closer look at the study. He did.

And an entirely different story emerged.Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013

First, about that quickie phone call that formed the basis for the study’s eventual conclusions: “At no point in time was any background material of the break-away jig issue, the tarpon fishery at Boca Grande Pass, or the initial 2002-2003 results of the catch and release mortality study ever provided to me before or after my interview.”

But now he’s seen the data. He’s been given the time to study it. And a decade after the fact, he’s formed an opinion. A real opinion. One based on his training, his experience and his expertise. His conclusion leaves little room for debate. The jig, he says, is snagging tarpon.

“The evidence,” Dr. Grubich writes, “indicates break-away jigs result in higher foul hooking percentages.” And, “the results show that break-away jigs still have significantly greater foul hook placement in other parts of the tarpon compared to live bait.” What percentage of foul hooking did the study actually uncover? Was it 10 percent? Maybe 15 percent? Dr. Grubich’s examination of the data puts the number well above what the FWC once said was acceptable. “The percentage of foul hooking associated with break-away jigs would be 27 percent for the 2003 results.”

The jig anglers and the PTTS have spent the last 10 years demanding science. Read Dr. Grubich’s letter to the FWC chairman. It’s called science.

Useful links:

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

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

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

Boca Beacon May 17 2013

 

 

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

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

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

He didn’t give the conversation much thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful links:

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

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