Drum roll, please…

Need a bedtime story for the kiddies?  Or perhaps some bathroom reading material?  Well, we’ve got you covered.  Enjoy.

(Click here to see the PTTS Complaint as a PDF)

 

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PTTS claims $500,000 boycott loss, wants court to silence Save The Tarpon

PTTS LawsuitClaiming it has lost more than $500,000 in sponsorship, TV advertising, entry fees and other revenues, the company that owns and operates the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has gone to court in an attempt to silence Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its more than 20,000 members and supporters.

Silver King Entertainment, Inc., which operates the PTTS, is seeking an emergency injunction against the organization in a 235 page civil complaint filed April 29 in Sarasota County Circuit Court. In addition to the injunction aimed at restraining Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its board members from speaking out on issues concerning the PTTS and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery, Silver King Entertainment, Inc. is seeking unspecified damages from the non-profit advocacy group and selected members of its board of directors.

Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon, Inc. and one of the defendants individually targeted in the complaint, said that he is not particularly surprised that Silver King Entertainment, Inc. filed the PTTS lawsuit given the apparent effectiveness of the group’s efforts in making the voices of its members and supporters heard.

McLaughlin, who referred legal questions to Save The Tarpon, Inc.’s attorneys, said the PTTS charted its own course nearly a year ago when tournament organizers told the fledgling organization it would continue engaging in practices the conservation group considers harmful to the fish and the iconic fishery until “someone tells us to stop.”

Noting Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s claim that it has since lost more than $500,000 attributable to the actions of Save The Tarpon, Inc., McLaughlin characterized the tournament’s stated injuries as “self-inflicted” and contrary to Silver King’s prior public comments that the group’s efforts were having no impact on the PTTS, its sponsors, or its participants.

“They refused to listen to the voices of those whose only goal was to preserve, protect and grow this storied fishery,” McLaughlin said. “And now they want to make those same voices shut up and go away. As the courts have repeatedly and clearly stated, this isn’t how it works in this country.”

Save The Tarpon, Inc. is represented by Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, P.A. Beason declined comment, noting that the lengthy PTTS complaint is still being reviewed. According to court records, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Silver King Entertainment, Inc. by Tampa attorneys Mitchell L. Feldman and Dennis A. Creed.

In addition to McLaughlin and Save The Tarpon, Inc., board members Lew Hastings, Frank Davis, Chris Frohlich, Mark Futch, Walton “Tommy” Locke Jr. and Rhett Morris are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Richard Hirsh, who no longer serves on the Save The Tarpon, Inc. board, is also listed as a defendant. Hastings, recently appointed executive director of Save The Tarpon, Inc., also serves as executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

McLaughlin said Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s lawsuit and its request for injunctive relief ask the court to invoke the rarely successful legal tactic of “prior restraint,” a maneuver designed to prohibit Save The Tarpon, Inc. and the individual defendants from publishing or voicing opinions or concerns that could potentially cast the televised tarpon tournament in a poor light.

McLaughlin noted that former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in the Supreme Court’s 1976 landmark Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ruling that declared the tactic unconstitutional, wrote that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Pointing to a lengthy list of sponsors who have withdrawn their support of the tournament in recent months, Silver King Entertainment, Inc is also asking the court to force Save The Tarpon, Inc. to end its member-driven online boycott of businesses that support the controversial event. McLaughlin said the legality of the group’s voluntary boycott efforts was affirmed in yet another landmark ruling, one that dates to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that a peaceful boycott was a constitutionally protected form of legitimate free speech under the First Amendment.

McLaughlin cited the words of Justice John Paul Stevens who, writing for the majority, stated “concerted action is a powerful weapon. And yet one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Characterizing the PTTS lawsuit as “an act of obvious desperation,” McLaughlin said Save The Tarpon, Inc. will “aggressively defend the ability of our members and supporters to have their voices heard on this and any other issue that impacts the future of our fishery and our community. We will continue the fight to protect, preserve and grow this vital public resource. We won’t be silent, we aren’t going away.”

Florida Sport Fishing magazine takes a look at the PTTS

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

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

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came the payoff. Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

So where’s Joe’s promised $15,000?

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

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

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

End catch and drag. We promise.

Promote conservation. We promise.

Utmost respect for the fishery. We promise.

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

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

WaterLine’s Josh Olive: ‘I was wrong’

Newbridge

“I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by tournament supporters. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve done an unacceptably poor job of reaching out to those who want the PTTS to end.”

The following appears in the Feb. 28 edition of WaterLine, the outdoors magazine produced by the Suncoast Media Group and distributed in the Charlotte, North Port and Englewood Sun newspapers. It was written by WaterLine Publisher Josh Olive and is reproduced here with permission. See related story.

Mending the bridge to Boca Grande
By Josh Olive
WaterLine Publisher

“The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.” — Albert Einstein

Somewhere along the line, I rubbed a bunch of people wrong. I think it started back in July 2011, when I interviewed Gary Ingman about the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, an event of which he is part-owner.

At the time, I was aware of the controversy regarding the tournament, but it seemed — based on the conversations I had with WaterLine writers, charter captains and bait shop staff — people in opposition were few and had axes to grind. Basically, the consensus I gathered was that was no big deal.

So I wrote as much. Since then, we’ve covered each PTTS tournament with brief stories, photo essays or both. Fast forward to today: Save the Tarpon, a nonprofit that formed last year, has organized a campaign aimed at ending the PTTS.

Their methods include boycotting the tournament’s sponsors and writing letters to same, encouraging them to drop their support of the tournament — and it looks like they’re having quite a bit of success.

What happened? Well, first off, I was wrong about the scope of the PTTS’s opposition. Turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande. Second, I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by tournament supporters. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve done an unacceptably poor job of reaching out to those who want the PTTS to end.

Because of that — the positive coverage WaterLine has given to the PTTS without a balancing amount of coverage given to the other side — WaterLine is now a dirty word to many Save the Tarpon supporters.

WaterLine is a magazine, not a newspaper, and is not bound to the strict standards of a newspaper — after all, it’s supposed to be about having fun. But I still have a journalistic obligation to publish the truth and to be fair — and to admit when I get something wrong.

My normal way of figuring out something new is to read up on it, then talk to people and get a variety of viewpoints, then preferably try it for myself. Then, and only then, do I believe I know enough about the subject to say something. That method hasn’t worked for this issue. The history of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass runs deep, and passions are high.

So, after thinking it over for the past few months, I’ve got a new policy with regard to tarpon and Boca Grande Pass: I don’t know enough to say anything. I haven’t been part of the history. I’ve never caught or hooked a tarpon, though I’ve observed at very close range as others have caught them on both live bait and jigs.

I had never even watched one jump until two years ago. I’ve read a lot of things, but that’s not the same as actual experience. Therefore, I’ve concluded WaterLine’s readership will be better served if I allow others to do the talking. That doesn’t mean I won’t be asking questions, and making sure their voices aren’t too loud from either side, but I think it’s best to leave my opinion out of it — on this issue, anyway.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, a few weeks back, I heard that Save the Tarpon was going to be having a party — a shindig, to be specific. I said to myself, “This is going to be perfect. I can put my new policy into action — I’ll go out there and talk to people, take some pictures, and get a good story out of it.”

Then I happened to run into Jennifer McLaughlin, one of the organization’s founders, and I told her I was planning to attend. The next day, I got a phone call from her husband, Tom. He explained that although I would be welcome to come out, it would be a problem if I came representing WaterLine. He said the group doesn’t trust me to be unbiased and he assumed any WaterLine story would be intentionally skewed to make them look bad.

So that’s why I’m explaining this to you: I want to say here, as publicly as I can, that I’m not opposed to Save the Tarpon. I don’t wish them any ill will, and I have no master plan to paint them as evil, stupid or misguided people. In fact, I really need their help — among their supporters are many of the local tarpon experts that I’m hoping to be able to talk to and quote when silver kings are the topic du jour.

I also want to make clear that WaterLine is not “The Official Magazine of the PTTS,” and we have never been a sponsor of or had any “side deal” with the tournament. Although we have published editorial coverage of their events in the past and will in the future, we also intend to cover the live-bait tournaments in more depth this year.

It’s true we have printed much more about the PTTS than other tarpon tournaments over the last two years, but that’s not because we favor their events: It’s because they invited me and offered a boat and captain, freeing me up to shoot photos. Nor does the tournament buy our support through Ingman Marine’s advertisements — Ingman advertises with us because WaterLine is the most widely read outdoor publication in the area. Ingman was an advertiser long before we covered the PTTS at all.

I have my criticisms of the PTTS, and expressing them doesn’t violate my new policy because these are things that I have seen for myself. The tournament needs a limit on how long a tarpon can be fought. The FWC recommends no more than 20 minutes. Perhaps a points loss starting at 20 minutes followed by a disqualification at 30 minutes would work.

Under PTTS rules, fish that are foul-hooked aren’t eligible for points, but there’s no observer or photo to document hook placement — just a judge’s say-so. The way at least some tournament participants operate their vessels is dangerous — perhaps not to others in the tournament, but definitely to the boating public. Boca Grande Pass belongs to the people of Florida, not to any one group, and anyone who wants to utilize it should be able to do so in safety. And as a for-profit business, the PTTS ought to be giving more back to the resource that makes them their money.

With regard to the Pass jig and whether it snags fish, I don’t know enough to take a side. There appears to be a consensus building that the jig is a snagging device, and it’s a fact that the men who say they developed the Pass jig now decry its use. Similar devices with the hook above the weight are used to snag fish elsewhere.

To me, that’s not strong enough evidence to make a conviction, and at this point, I believe people should be able to fish how they want. But I’ll say this: I sincerely hope someone is able to prove whether or not tarpon eat the thing. If it can be shown definitively that most of those fish are hooked without trying to eat the jig, then the jig needs to go. In fact, if and when that happens, I’ll be one of the loudest voices shouting about it.

To anyone who is still not quite sure where WaterLine or I myself stand, I’ll summarize as clearly as possible. We didn’t give Save the Tarpon the opportunity to explain themselves and have their say in the magazine. I apologize for that. We endorse neither Save the Tarpon nor the PTTS, but we believe both have the right to exist, to conduct themselves as they see fit within the law, and to their respective viewpoints.

We also believe both are important enough to include in WaterLine, and going forward I’ll make sure the magazine’s portrayal of those viewpoints is balanced and unbiased.

(Josh, you’re welcome to join us March 3 at the Boca Grande Community House-Community Center from 2 to 6 p.m. Kick back and enjoy a nice cold Miller Budweiser – on us.)

 

You’re right, Josh: ‘It’s not just a handful of people …’

Protest

June, 2012 – ‘A handful of people …’

Save The Tarpon’s supporters and members now number nearly 15,000 worldwide. Worldwide? Yes – worldwide. But that’s just part of the story when it comes to spreading the message of a group that is less than eight months old.

WaterLine Publisher Josh Olive wrote in the magazine’s Feb. 28 edition that he once viewed Save The Tarpon as just a few people with “axes to grind.” He’s since changed his thinking on this one. “Turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande,” he says in a column he headlined “Mending the bridge to Boca Grande.”

He also notes “I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by (PTTS) tournament supporters.” He’s likely not alone. Maybe it’s a good idea to take a moment to tell the story of Save The Tarpon’s growth over these past eight months. It is, of course, your story. You wrote it. You made it happen.

Now

February, 2013 – A really big handful. (Eleven days later and this number is now approaching 14,000.)

When Skeeter Boats recently announced it was ending its sponsorship of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, the news reached 58,172 people in the United States alone. And that’s just through Facebook. And it’s just the beginning.

When Farlow’s on the Water in nearby Englewood told us they were finished with the PTTS, the news reached 6,256 potential customers in Sarasota, 2,487 in Port Charlotte, 1,884 in Englewood, 1,335 in nearby Venice, 1,272 in Fort Myers, 1,078 in Tampa, 856 in Cape Coral, 779 in Punta Gorda and 747 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Okay, maybe the folks in Barquisimeto won’t be dropping by for dinner tonight, but they certainly know where to eat if they’re in the neighborhood.

At the same time, the numbers tell us there are 116,993 people who likely won’t be living the High Life – as in Miller High Life – along with their Farlow’s scallop salad. Miller/Coors is a sponsor of the PTTS. Just as we once did with Farlow’s prior to this past week, we’re asking our supporters to continue to stay away from the company’s products as long as it’s associated with the tournament. And, according to Facebook, those 116,993 people who dropped by for a visit in the last seven days passed the word along to 5,554,577 of their friends and neighbors online.

Somewhere in Barquisimeto, there’s a cantina owner wondering why everyone has suddenly switched to Budweiser. And somewhere at Miller/Coors corporate headquarters in Chicago (so much for the whole Rocky Mountain shtick) there’s a marketing exec wondering where 5.5 million customers went. Hint: Ask Skeeter Boats. Ask Tires Plus Total Car Care. Ask Costa del Mar Sunglasses. Or ask one of those PTTS team captains who isn’t getting a freebie wrap boat this year, is peeling all those sponsor patches off his NASCAR-style fishing shirt and is now faced with shelling out the tournament’s hefty entry fee –  from his own pocket.

Did you know that last week there were 182 people who read our Facebook page in a dialect of Norwegian? Or that 1,079 of you visited us online from Paris? As in Paris, France? In fact, the page was translated into French 11,502 times. The language is ranked third, behind English (63,629) and Spanish (39,219) among our visitors. And in case you’re wondering, the French word for “tarpon” is “tarpon.”

Tarpon fishing is popular in Venezuela. Which probably explains why 18,632 of our recent visitors call the country home. Did you know there’s a Boca Grande in Venezuela? It’s also an island. The similarity ends there. It’s ranked among the most affordable places in the world if you want a beach a few steps from your front door. Our Boca Grande didn’t quite make the list.

When Save The Tarpon talks about preserving our fishery for future generations, those future generations are paying attention. And they really do care. A remarkable 60.4 percent of our visitors are under the age of 34. And 75.3 percent of our visitors are in the target “under 45” demographic that brands like Miller/Coors spend millions in advertising dollars to attract. Money that’s being largely wasted through the company’s affiliation with the PTTS – and through your affiliation with and support of Save The Tarpon.

Save The Tarpon began in June, 2012 as a small group of people standing on a beach overlooking Boca Grande Pass. We watched as the PTTS gaffed and dragged fish to that beach to be tossed into a sling and weighed. We watched the PTTS pretend these fish weren’t dead or dying as they dumped them in the deepest part of the Pass. We counted the corpses the following day. We resolved to take PTTS host Joe Mercurio up on his offer to stop what the tournament was doing to the fishery “when someone tells us to stop.”

Eight months later, a few dozen have grown to nearly 15,000 who have come together to tell Mercurio it’s time to stop. And the message continues to grow. Or, as Olive now admits, “turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande.” The folks in Barquisimeto would likely agree.

Skeeter Boats latest big name sponsor to withdraw from PTTS

Skeeter BoatsSkeeter Boats has announced it is joining Andros Boatworks, Costa del Mar Sunglasses and Tires Plus Total Car Care as the latest high profile brand to end its affiliation with the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

In a statement released Wednesday, Feb. 20, the company pointed to “the controversy surrounding the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series,” noting that it “will not renew its sponsorship agreement with the PTTS for 2013.”

Skeeter Boats is a subsidiary of Yamaha Marine. The company’s brief statement did not address whether Yamaha has yet to make a decision to continue its 2013 affiliation with the tournament through its outboard motor division. Ingman Marine, owned by PTTS principal Gary Ingman, is one of Southwest Florida’s largest Yamaha dealers, with three locations in Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

“Yamaha Marine supports many agencies and organizations that are focused on conservation to protect and enhance our fishery resources. We encourage all anglers and organizations to support these efforts,” the company said in its announcement.

Yamaha’s decision to further distance itself from the PTTS comes just four days after Tires Plus Total Car Care announced it was ending its sponsorship of the controversial tarpon tournament. The Skeeter Boats announcement was made one day after Save The Tarpon published an “open letter” to PTTS sponsors on SaveTheTarpon.com inviting them to voluntarily end their affiliation with the tournament.

Costa del Mar Sunglasses and Tires Plus Total Car Care pulled the sponsorship plug on the PTTS after the companies were spotlighted by Save The Tarpon through its online “Do The WRITE Thing” campaign. The effort brought together the group’s nearly 14,000 members and supporters who reached out to both high-profile PTTS sponsors.

Yamaha’s decision to withraw the financial support of its Skeeter Boats division – its boats were part of the tournament’s 2012 prize package – is the latest setback to hit the PTTS. The tournament, through its TV show host Joe Mercurio, recently announced it was forced to cancel all but one Women’s Professional Tarpon Tournament Series event due to what Mercurio said was “the persistent challenging economic operating environment.” 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.

Troy Sapp, senior vice president of the Florida Guides Association and an outspoken supporter of the PTTS, is among the tournament participants who had been sponsored by Skeeter Boats.

Skeeter Boats is a major player in the boating industry. Company founder Holmes Thurmond is credited with inventing the modern bass boat in 1948 and the first fiberglass bass boat in 1961.

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

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

Joe Mercurio, VP & Host of the PTTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PTTSTV Facebook Dec 3 2012

 

Busted! DNA test links gutted, dead tarpon to PTTS

Capt. T.J. Stewart of Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats is a proud Professional Tarpon Tournament Series competitor. In fact, Stewart brought home first place in this year’s June 17 PTTS “Tarpon Cup,” the tournament’s Must See TV season-ending championship event. For his efforts, Skeeter boats forked over the keys to a brand new ZX-22 “Bay” with a Yamaha SHO strapped to the stern.

Stewart’s equally proud of his contributions to the ongoing Mote Marine/FWC DNA study. In fact, Stewart was recently recognized as one of Florida’s “top 10” DNA samplers. It’s a pretty straight-forward business. Anglers “swab” their tarpon, including those caught during PTTS events, and send the samples off to St. Petersburg where scientists do their science thing.

Dead Gutted PTTS Tarpon

This 124-pound tarpon, found gutted and floating in the Gulf of Mexico on June 4. It was cut open in a failed attempt to send the fish to the bottom so it couldn’t be DNA tested and traced back to the PTTS. This fish, with belly intact, had been sampled the previous day at the PTTS scales.

Just as Stewart did two weeks earlier when he boated, gaffed, dragged, hoisted and weighed a 124-pounder. “You just gotta try and take care of this fish, that’s why we’re here and … there’s nothing better.” Stewart’s tarpon was DNA sampled, of course, by the Florida Wildlife Research Institute. The next morning, Stewart’s fish was sampled again. But this time, Stewart’s fish was dead.

Very dead, in fact. Stewart’s 124-pounder was found floating near Boca Grande Pass in the Gulf of Mexico, a few hundred yards from shore. Last seen being hauled away from the scales behind the Sea Hunt-sponsored, “Tires Plus Release Team” boat, the “revived” fish had been gutted from tip to tail in an obvious attempt to send it to the bottom. A second DNA sample was taken. This, too, was sent to St. Pete.

Researchers say DNA doesn’t lie. There’s no question the gutted fish photographed and swabbed on June 4 was the same fish caught, swabbed and given to the PTTS “Tires Plus Release Team” on June 3 by Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats. To be revived, or so the PTTS claims.

“I don’t know why they would do that,” said FWRI Assistant Research Scientist Kathy Guindon. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t give the fish a chance to survive.” Guindon agreed it was likely Stewart’s tarpon was gutted after being turned over to the Tires Plus “Release Team.” Hiding the evidence? After viewing photos of Stewart’s eviscerated fish, Guindon said what happened to the tarpon wasn’t nature’s doing. It was intentional. And it wasn’t shown to the basic cable audience.

Early results of this year’s study show six fish that were originally DNA sampled during the tournament’s 2012 season were caught or found at a later date. Four, including the one that had been gutted after being placed in the care of the Tires Plus “Release Team,” were dead. Guindon characterized a fifth fish as “suspicious.” Guindon told Save The Tarpon that “research results did show the weighed in fish are more physiologically stressed. One can presume that mortality rates are higher in these weighed-in, longer-handled fish.”

PTTS Team Edgewater Boats Castaway Charters

With Capt. TJ Stewart at the helm, Team Castaway Charters/Edgewater Boats fights the tarpon that would be found gutted and floating June 4 in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of Boca Grande Pass.

The covert PTTS fish-gutting revealed by the DNA samples in the FWRI’s possession likely took place virtually under the noses of the same researchers the PTTS claims to support. In September, PTTS television host and spokesman Joe Mercurio stood in front of the seven FWC commissioners and boasted “the PTTS has worked closely with biologists from (the) Fish and Wildlife Institute to make sure we all benefit from the best science available.”

We know better. The FWC now knows better. It has the evidence. And there’s no way the PTTS can really get around this one. When that 124-pound tarpon’s guts were cut open, it wasn’t done for science. It wasn’t the “PTTS working closely with biologists.” It wasn’t “to make sure we all benefit from the best science available.” It was a desperate attempt to keep a lie alive. Or, as Mercurio wrote the day following Stewart’s “Tarpon Cup” victory: “We would like to especially thank the release teams that did such an amazing job releasing these tarpon healthy.”

Joe, look at the photo.

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Boycott Ingman Marine

Gary Ingman is owner and President of Ingman Marine, a boat dealership in Sarasota, Placida and Port Charlotte, Florida. Gary Ingman is also owner of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).  This made-for-TV fishing tournament series is considered highly unethical and unsportsmanlike by Save the Tarpon, Inc and our 17,000 supporters world-wide.

It is because of this, Save the Tarpon asks for your support in boycotting the services and products offered by Ingman Marine.

The PTTS is owned and operated by the Tarpon Anglers Club, a for profit LLC registered in the State of Florida.  Here are the current State records available on sunbiz.org.

TARPON ANGLERS CLUB, LLC

Registered Agent Name & Address
GARY INGMAN
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953 US

Manager/Member Details

GARY INGMAN (President of Ingman Marine)
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

MIZE, GARY (Vice President of Ingman Marine)
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

The PTTS (Professional Tarpon Tournament Series) Television Show is owned and operated by SILVER KING ENTERTAINMENT, LLC.  Here is the info from sunbiz.org as well:

SILVER KING ENTERTAINMENT, LLC

Registered Agent Name & Address

GARY INGMAN
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

USManager/Member Detail

GARY INGMAN, Title MGRM
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
JOSEPH MERCURIO
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
RODNEY TAUCHER
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
VICKIE MIZE
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Worried about where to get your Yamaha serviced?  Well, Yamaha is also on our boycott list as they are a major sponsor of the PTTS.  However, for local outboard service try The Boat House on Placida Road or Abels Marine on Gasparilla Road.

Another helpful tactic would be to contact Grady-White Boats (Ingman Marine is an exclusive dealer of this boat manufacturer) and let them know you will not support Ingman Marine or their products because of their destructive attitude towards the Boca Grande Tarpon fishery and local environment.  Their contact information is as follows:

Grady-White Boats Inc 5121 Martin Luther King Jr Hwy, Greenville, NC 27834 (252) 752-2111 ‎ gradywhite.com

Or email them at custserv@gradywhite.com .

Eddie Smith, Jr., CEO of Grady-White Boats has this posted on the company’s website:

“Dedication to Fisheries Resources and Coastal Environment
Eddie Smith has led Grady-White to be recognized as the boating industry’s leader in recreational fishing and coastal environment issues. Eddie himself has been recognized for lifetime achievement by the American Sportfishing Association, and has also been honored by the International Game Fish Association and many others for his commitment. Many of the managers and other employees at Grady-White are similarly dedicated to the long-term health of fisheries and coastal areas. A Grady-White boat is truly a symbol of dedication to the best kind of future for our children, our fisheries and our waterways.”