Anti-PTTS decals now available

Lots of you have been asking where to get the anti-PTTS decals for your car, boat or golf cart.  A lot of them have been seen around, in fact, we saw one in Sarasota earlier this week!

Well, we wanted to let you know they are available for sale at Barnichol Hardware on Boca Grande.  What’s great is they are able to customize your purchase by creating the decal any size or color! Oh, and they are offering a great price on these as a way to show support of the cause.  Thanks Aaron!

Call ahead and order, or just stop by.

Barnichol Hardware
380 East Railroad Avenue
Boca Grande FL 33921

(941) 964-2571
aarondiaz@gmail.com

Fish feud: David tumbles Goliath – again

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

By: Gary Dutery

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

David vs Goliath

David vs Goliath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the gaff, but not off the hook

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

Save the Tarpon, Foul Hooked Tarpon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Differences remain, but we have a lot in common

BY DONDI DAVIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercurio’s ‘controlled chaos’ needs less chaos and a lot more control

PTTS Fishing Tournament in Boca Grande Florida

Just below the headline on the October 14, 2011 World Fishing Network blog post on the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, you’ll find a button labeled “Report Abuse.” The network, which broadcasts the PTTS, obviously didn’t pick up on the irony oozing from this one.

If it were only that easy. Just a few clicks, and the “abuse” that has become synonymous with the PTTS goes away. Tried it. Didn’t work.

The article is headlined “Behind the Scenes of PTTS: Controlled Chaos.” It is credited to Joe Mercurio, identified as “host of Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.” Back in October, writing this curious little PR yarn probably seemed like a great idea to someone at the PTTS and the cable TV outfit. Today it reads more like a guilty plea.

“Controlled chaos,” the author writes, is a term that has become overused. It’s a cliche, Mercurio says. Except when it comes to describing the PTTS. “Talk to someone about the Miller High Life Professional Tarpon Tournament series, however, and if you don’t hear that term, something’s wrong.” Yes, Joe, we agree. Something’s wrong.

With this joke, you don’t have to read to the end to get to the punchline. It’s right up front. “When the term ‘controlled chaos’ was coined,” Mercurio wrote, “the PTTS is what the originator had in mind.” Chaos is defined as (1) “Complete disorder; utter confusion.” (2) “A disorderly mass; a jumble.” Which is pretty much what the Florida Legislature was targeting when it did a little term coining of its own.

Our lawmakers came up with something they called “careless operation.” And they made it unlawful. “All operators are responsible for operating their vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner with regard for other vessel traffic.” And, of course, “anyone who operates a vessel with willful disregard for the safety of persons or property will be cited for reckless operation, a first-degree misdemeanor.” Strangely, there’s no exemption for operating a boat in a controlled “unreasonable and imprudent manner.” What were they thinking?

Perhaps Capt. Artie Price, who Mercurio notes is a “six-time Skeeter Team of the Year winner,” put it best. “There are some wild things going on out there,” Price said, adding “it’s one of the things that makes Boca Grande so much fun to fish.”

Back to you, Joe: “Picture 50 boats of varying styles jockeying for position without wrecking each other, around pods of tarpon … Oh yeah, don’t forget the non-tournament, weekend warrior trying for his shot at a huge silver king, right in the middle of it all.” Hey, as Price says, it’s what “makes Boca Grande so much fun to fish.” Just ask the family, out for a relaxing morning in the Pass, that finds itself suddenly caught “right in the middle of it all.” Hey kids, you having fun?

“Controlled chaos” is no longer in the tournament’s vocabulary. Either are “complete disorder” and “utter confusion” and “a disorderly mass.” Same with those “wild things going on out there.” You know, the stuff that once made Boca Grande Pass “so much fun to fish.” In Tallahassee, the people charged with law enforcement are scrambling to explain why, as all this “careless operation” was taking place within clear view, the PTTS was seemingly given a Get Out of Jail Free Card by the state.

The Lee and Charlotte county sheriff’s offices are empowered to enforce boating safety laws. Many deputies in both agencies are cross-sworn – they share jurisdiction when it comes to Boca Grande Pass. The FWC has shown it either can’t or isn’t willing to get the job done. And Mercurio has provided the world with evidence that there is clearly a job that needs doing.

Save The Tarpon Inc. sees no need for new laws. Those already on the books, if enforced, are more than sufficient. Accordingly, Save The Tarpon Inc. will be requesting that marine deputies from Lee, Charlotte or both counties be detailed to Boca Grande Pass during any future PTTS events to give local residents and the boating public assurance that existing law is, in fact, enforced as the legislature intended. You will be asked to add your voice when the time comes.

The legislature has an obvious and compelling interest in the enforcement of the laws it creates. It also has broad investigatory powers. Save The Tarpon Inc., with your assistance and support, will also be contacting local lawmakers with our shared concerns. Mercurio’s words will, of course, be Exhibit A.

When it comes to the PTTS, there has been no shortage of “chaos” on the water. It’s the “control” part that has been sorely missing. It’s time to click on that “abuse” button.

Waterline Magazine’s Josh Olive tosses out some questions

Many feel as though “paid advertising section” should be clearly labeled at the top of every article or commentary found among the pages of Waterline Magazine any time the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) is mentioned.  After all, Gary Ingman of Ingman Marine, who coincidentally is also a majority stakeholder in the PTTS, is one of their largest advertising accounts.

As we prepare our answers to Josh Olive’s questions (found on the second page of this editorial), we felt it was fair for us to ask a few in return.  We invite our readers and supporters to ask your own questions in the comment section found at the bottom of this page.  These may be questions for us, questions for the PTTS, questions for Josh Olive, or just questions to the public.  We will use your contributions, in addition to our own questions, in an upcoming response to Mr. Olive’s editorial.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Project Tarpon on PTTS: ‘Virtually all of them die’

Team Sea HuntThe following is an unsolicited response from Project Tarpon‘s Scott Alford to Save The Tarpon’s earlier post “Study was a ‘win-win’ for tarpon, a ‘lose-lose’ for PTTS.” 

The PTTS crowd likely will attack me. They will link me to this group or that group but linking me to some group does not have anything to do with what ProjectTarpon.com stands for. ProjectTarpon.com’s only interest is tarpon.  ProjectTarpon.com does not have a dog in the jig vs. no jig debate or in the use of the Pass by one group or the other. What I do know is Boca Grande tarpon swim all around the Gulf. That makes those females in Boca Grande important to tarpon everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. That makes it more than a Florida issue. It makes it an Atlantic tarpon issue.

From my satellite tagging experience (having participated in the tagging of all but a couple of the satellite tagged tarpon in Texas), I know which fish we released lived, which died and which were preyed on by sharks. Knowing if a release fish lived or died for sure lets you learn a few things about releasing tarpon. One of the things I learned (the hard way) is the type of handling being undertaken in the PTTS is not stacking the odds in the tarpon’s favor for survival. Do some live? Probably, but from my personal experience, I’d bet virtually all of them die.

After sending the letter and receiving absolutely no response from the PTTS, coupled with the reports that started to surface in the month following my letter, I became concerned with the possible hypocrisy of the PTTS. I have friends that fish in kill tournaments in Louisiana. I’ve never killed a tarpon in a kill tournament and never will, but at least when my friends go and fish a kill tournament they’re honest about it. Do I wish they wouldn’t? Absolutely. I am doing things to change that practice? Absolutely. Will that likely make me unpopular with some of my friends? Absolutely, but it won’t stop me.

My letter to the PTTS and making it public will likely make ProjectTarpon.com and me very unpopular with a number of folks involved with the PTTS. They may attack me, attack who I am and come after my website. I say bring it…. but if you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is… let me come tag some fish. I’ll give you the chance to prove me wrong. I’d welcome it. If you can prove the PTTS is not killing tarpon with its weigh and release program, I will be the first to stand up and say I was wrong and shake your hand for proving me wrong. However, if you never let me try….. well, then shame on you. Silence often is louder than any personal attack on me. The offer still
stands – let me tag and we’ll end this debate once and for all. Either way, tarpon win!!

– Scott Alford, Project Tarpon

Turf War, Snagging Tarpon, and A Crash Course on Boca Grande Pass Etiquette by FWC

With all the talk about the Save The Tarpon movement being simply a turf war, you can’t help but acknowledge that there must be some validity in the argument.  There is some truth behind the accusations, but that truth may not be as clear as has been described.  There is no denying that which side of the pro-jig/anti-jig movement you fall on often has some correlation with where you live.  A vast majority of the jig guides and PTTS participants come to town for the months of May and June, and once the Tarpon head offshore to spawn, that same majority return home to either continue fishing in their home waters or pursue other occupations.  They have very little tie to the local community during the rest of the year. I don’t think there is any denying this fact by either side of the argument.

The notion that the fight over Boca Grande Pass Tarpon fishing is about a group of traditional  pass fishing guides wanting to stop all others from fishing in their “private fishing hole”  is the battle cry of most who oppose the Save The Tarpon movement.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  This is absolutely a turf war, but not in the way so frequently described by participants of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and board members of the Florida Guides Association.

FWC at PTTS Protest  - Save the Tarpon

FWC overlooks the PTTS weigh boat during the June 17th protest.

The fact is that the jig fishing “pack” is supported primarily by the PTTS and the Florida Guides Association.  These two groups often point fingers at the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association as being behind the Save The Tarpon movement, and proclaim that they are looking to exclude jig fishermen from the Pass because the jig fishermen are “stealing their charter business.”  How can this be the case when you have a grassroots movement, not yet sixty days old, that has more than seventeen hundred supporters? A number that grows by an average of thirty per day.  At last count the Boca Grande Fishing Guide Association had less than fifty paying members, could they be the sole purveyors of such compelling “propaganda” as the Florida Guides Association representatives love to call it?  Could the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association really “brainwash” that many folks on a regular basis?  Even if they could pull off that feat, could they do so with some of the most experienced and well respected fishermen in Florida, and nation wide?

There are some facts in the arguments levied by the PTTS, Florida Guides Association, and its supporters that need some clarification.  First off, the “authorities” on jig fishing related information that they love to reference are not in fact the first generation of jig fishermen, they are the second.  There was a time when Capt. Dave Markett, one of the most outspoken supporters of the jig fishery, Florida Guides Association West Florida Representative, and self proclaimed jig fishery expert, was struggling to keep up with the likes of Captains Ed  Walker and Chris Klingel. These two were not only catching a LOT more fish on charters, but they were also sweeping nearly every tarpon tournament throughout the year.  That’s sweeping, not just winning.  As a matter of fact, those two talented individuals account for more total dollars of winnings between them then every single first place prize from the PTTS to date combined!  Where are the two ‘kings’ of the jig fishery now?  Well they quit jig fishing long ago of course.  They both have also spoken out against the jig fishery and the PTTS.  But wait, weren’t those people who were against the jig fishery and the PTTS only holding firm to that position because the “experts” in the jig fishery were more successful?  Why then would the two most successful jig captains in history, financially speaking, choose to hang up their beloved tiger shad?  They both seem to think that the jig is nothing more than a snagging device, and that the jig fishery in general is damaging  Boca Grande pass both biologically and socially.  Whats their motivation?  If I answered it would only be conjecture, maybe Capt. Markett should ask them.

So if people are not coming out against the PTTS because of money lost, then why are so many speaking out against it and rallying for not only an end to the tournament but often to the jig fishery as a whole?  The answer here is both extremely complex and exceedingly simple.

The only real supporters of the PTTS and the jig fishery are its participants, owners, sponsors, and the Florida Guides Association.  This is a fairly small group of individuals with a common interest in that they all benefit financially, either directly or indirectly, from the PTTS.  The same cannot be said for the group rallying behind the Save The Tarpon movement, as they are much more diverse group of individuals, with even more diverse interests both financially and socially. Although some are fishing guides or make their living upon the waters of Florida, very few have a financial stake in the game.  This group claims that the PTTS, and correspondingly the jig fishery as it has evolved to date, is causing irreparable harm both biologically and socially to the Boca Grande Tarpon Fishery.  How exactly they are causing these problems is where we start to get into the complexity as not all members or supporters of the movement seem to agree.  They all agree that there is a problem and the PTTS and the jig fishermen are damaging the fishery, but they do not agree on exactly how or why.

The effects of culling out large females, handling them excessively and, as the state and all conservation oriented groups describe as “inappropriately” during the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series has been discussed at length.  For now we will leave that argument to rest as we should not lose sight of the other half of the problem at hand and the crux of the argument against the jig fishery as a whole.

Some say that the jig does nothing more than snag fish.  This is an argument supported not solely by the traditional pass fishermen of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, but also by many of the most winning captains ever to fish with a jig in Boca Grande History.  As a matter of fact, you will not find ANY of the original guides or participants who were instrumental in bringing the jig to Boca Grande Pass and perfecting its use still using the jig today.

The assertion that the jig snags fish, that they are not actually choosing to eat the jig, means that users of said jig are able to aggressively pursue tarpon to a point at which they are more attacking the fish than they are coaxing them to bite. If they had to rely on the fish to actually open its mouth and bite the jig, this hyper aggressive pursuit would prove fruitless.  Case in point, during nearly all times when the jig is yielding a nearly instant hookup, it will prove virtually impossible to catch a Tarpon on anything else regardless of the skill of the captain, the type of bait or lure, or the way in which it is rigged.  If the fish are feeding so aggressively, how can this be so?  Anglers supporting the use of the jig have come up with a myriad of explanations, but none has yet proven to take hold as the official position of the PTTS or the Florida Guides Association.

A 2002-2004 hook placement study, conducted by the significant other of one of the most high profile participants of the PTTS at the time, proved “inconclusive”.  The findings did not vindicate the jig as a snagging device, but did not find sufficient evidence to ban the jig in its entirety.  Remember the FWC is a reactive agency, not proactive.  Mote Marine Laboratory holds a similar position as their official statement is that “more research is required.”

So at this point we are stuck.  We have anecdotal evidence presented by the most experienced among the jig fishermen, as well as  the most winning captains ever to use a jig stating it is nothing more than a snagging device.  On the other hand we  have the current participants of the PTTS, Florida Guides Association representatives, and jig fishing guides saying it does not.  The data to this point has proved “inconclusive” and there is even question as to what exactly constitutes a “foul hooked” Tarpon.  So we are at a bit an impasse.  But is this the whole argument?

If it were simply about snagging or foul hooking a fish in the corner of the jaw, the reactions of participants on both sides would not be so visceral.  AfterBoca Grande Tarpon Fishingall, if one hooks a  fish’s mouth from the outside in, or the inside out does it really make such a large difference in the fish’s survival that guides on both sides of the fence will literally come to blows over it?  Absolutely not!  So why is the battle so heated?  Could it be that there is a little more to the story than just a shift in charter business and overcrowding?

Here we are, back at the complexity of why so many people, from so many walks of life, with so many diverse interests in the fishery and community of Boca Grande are rallying together to fight the PTTS and some say, the jig fishery as a whole.  We often get lost in the complexity of this argument, and at times it seems so complex that proponents of the jig jump to no other conclusion than it is all a farce played out by traditional pass fishermen looking to exclude everyone else from fishing in Boca Grande Pass.  While this may or may not be their agenda (I am not, nor have I ever been a member), it is becoming increasingly clear that this is absolutely a turf war where one user group is excluding all others. However, the description of this turf war has been a bit skewed by those looking to protect a significant stream of income they derive both directly and indirectly from the jig fishery at Boca Grande Pass.  It is the PTTS, Florida Guides Association board members, and the jig fishery guides who are effectively excluding all other fishers from pursuing Tarpon in and around Boca Grande Pass during daylight hours in May and June.

Boca Grande Pass is a very congested place during May and June, and rightfully so.  It offers Tarpon fishing opportunities that are not found elsewhere in North America.  Unfortunately this is not a problem of simple overcrowding, as that would be a much less heated and easier solved debate.  Rather, it is a problem of a culture of disrespect that has become synonymous with the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the jig fishery as a whole. Disrespect not only for the fish and fellow fishermen, but also for the community, its inhabitants, and its heritage.  That is not to say that everyone who jig fishes or participates in the PTTS is guilty, but rather refers to the actions of the group as a whole.

No other fishery specifically excludes others from their pursuit of Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. The relentless, hyper-aggressive pursuit of tarpon while jig fishing is having obvious and devastating affects on other sectors of the fishery.  Further, once these fish leave the pass, these same aggressive and exclusionary tactics carry over to other areas of the fishery, compounding the issue dramatically.  For lack of a better term, no place is safe from the invasion of the horde when the fish leave the pass.  Could the pass and the surrounding fishery support the number of boats currently fishing? Absolutely.  But as the numbers of fishermen and boats increase, and correspondingly pressure increases on the fish, successful continuation of the fishery relies upon increased cooperation among participants in the fishery.  The jig fishery as a whole represents the antithesis to this very need.

So why do we have such a large and diverse group calling for an end to the PTTS?  To put it simply, the PTTS has created and fostered the disrespect for the fishery, its history, and culture. It can be seen publicly from the lowest level participant to the top rungs of management and ownership. Just as the scraps of what once were magnificent fish wash away upon the outgoing tide after each PTTS event, so too will the Boca Grande tarpon fishery as a whole disappear once the respect for the fishery, the community, and the fish are lost, only to be replaced by a relentless pursuit of increased revenue.

Why are many among the Save the Tarpon movement also calling for an end to the jig fishery as a whole?  I cannot speak for all of them, but the consensus among them is that this fishery means to much to us as a community and as the fishing public to be denied access to the fishery by a small group of individuals who are out simply to pad their pocketbook.  Is it a turf war? Absolutely.  The PTTS and the jig fishery are fighting to maintain the strangle hold they have had on Boca Grande Pass for the last decade, and they can feel it slipping away.  The charade is coming to an end, and too many questions and accusations are being levied by too many people for it to continue to simply be ignored.  How large will our numbers have to grow before they stop claiming our actions are those of a small group of local traditional guides seeking to secure a financial interest in Boca Grande Pass?  How long will they cling to the historic slaughter of Tarpon at Boca Grande Pass at the hands of the traditional guides years ago as justification for their own slaughter they commit each and every weekend in May and June to this very day?  How long will they continue to ignore the pleas of conservation minded anglers and organizations to stop what they are doing? Will it take closing Boca Grande Pass to all tournaments or even all fishing in May and June as so many among their ranks have claimed?  Maybe it will, I don’t claim to be an expert, only to have my own informed opinion.

I leave with a parting gift.  The following excerpt was taken from the current FWC brochure published on Tarpon Fishing at Boca Grande Pass.  Keep in mind the arguments of those against the jig fishery when you read the following. The next time you watch the PTTS on TV or happen to be driving through the pass in May or June  ask yourself “are these the actions of the jig fishery participants?”  Maybe you will begin to see why the PTTS, Florida Guides Association, and the jig fishery as a whole have all other user groups of the Tarpon fishery so upset.

Taken from http://myfwc.com/media/2077379/Tarpon_brochure.pdf

 

Tarpon Biology

The majority of tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass are of reproductive age; therefore, extra care should be taken when handling these fish so they remain healthy to spawn and produce the next generation of tarpon. Practicing good conservation and fishing ethics when tarpon fishing will help ensure a sustainable tarpon population.

Safe Boating and Pass Etiquette

• Operate your boat at a rate of speed that does not create a wake.
• When approaching the fleet make note of the direction of drift, and begin your drift at the head of the pack (up-current side).
• When finishing a drift, move to the head of the fleet by going around, not through the fleet.
• Boat operators should always avoid interfering with another boat’s drift.
• Do not rush over or chase a school of tarpon you see rolling at the surface.
• Do not run through a school of tarpon. Go around them and start your fishing in front of the school.

The same FWC that owners of the PTTS falsely claimed “support” their event seems to realize there is a need for etiquette among fishermen in the pass in order to avoid conflicts. I guess these only apply to everyone  who is a not a “professional” in the Tarpon Tournament Series.

Study was a ‘win-win’ for tarpon, a ‘lose-lose’ for the PTTS

Inserting Satellite Tarpon Tag

Measuring a big tarpon and inserting a satellite tag means holding the tarpon at each end, and hoping it doesn't explode into life at the wrong moment. Photo by Joe Richard © 2012

In a letter dated May 4, 2012, Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford requested the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series cooperate in a “collaborative effort” to satellite tag fish caught and weighed by the PTTS. The project would be fully funded.”At least two of the tarpon research projects being conducted by the marine biologists at the University of Miami could draw a great deal of benefit from the participation of the anglers competing in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series,” he wrote. “The first is the tarpon specific weight formula research, and the second project is the satellite tagging program.”

The “tarpon specific weight formula” is a reference to a project to fine tune a method of calculating a fish’s weight by measuring it at the boat rather than towing it to the beach and hoisting it on a scale.

He notes that “since killing tarpon is prohibited in many locations and certainly frowned on in most, it is difficult for these researchers to obtain weight data for tarpon.” But luckily “the PTTS offers a unique opportunity for the biologists …”

He continues: “The possible cooperation between the PTTS and biologists is obviously a win-win for both.”

And finally: “The PTTS has a long standing cooperation with biologists and research efforts. The satellite tagging seems like a natural and easy fit to further the PTTS’s conservation and research objectives.” And “this is truly a great opportunity for both the PTTS and tarpon research. I hope we can make it happen.”

The PTTS, Alford says, never responded. They didn’t “make it happen.” Color us shocked. Not much of surprise on this one.

Alford, of course, never had a chance. A satellite tag, obviously, would track the movement of the tournament’s tarpon after they are gaffed, towed, hoisted from the water and released. The same tag would also, obviously, track the non-movement of the tournament’s tarpon after they are gaffed, towed, hoisted from the water and released. You can do the math. The PTTS already did.

The PTTS also knows those weigh boat shots, those up close and personal eye candy interviews with the jubilant team captain, make Must See TV for the folks watching at home. A perfected tarpon specific weight formula would end the need for gaff, drag and weigh. The scales could be replaced by a far less photogenic and equally boring boatside tape measure. The tarpon would obviously benefit. But what do fish know about making good TV?

Tarpon satellite tag, painted a dull color so it won't invite unwanted attention from other fish. This tarpon is about to swim free. Photo by Joe Richard © 2012

In his letter, Alford also notes that “the PTTS gains by having additional material for the TV shows, which many viewers will likely find fascinating …”

In reality, many viewers will likely find it fascinating that most of those satellite tags on those “live release” tarpon aren’t moving.

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a response from the PTTS, a frustrated Alford went public with his letter. He could have saved himself the stamp.

PTTS apologists will likely claim Project Tarpon has some sinister agenda. They will, given enough time, ultimately link Project Tarpon to al-Qaeda and Planned Parenthood. That this new-fangled satellite technology is unproven. That developing a tarpon specific weight formula is yet another attempt at phony baloney voodoo science. The PTTS noise machine will, predictably, drone away.

Alford unintentionally went to the heart of the debate (and ended any chance the PTTS would cooperate) by noting “killing tarpon is prohibited in many locations and certainly frowned on in most.” That in this respect, “the PTTS offers a unique opportunity.”

We didn’t know how special we were.

See for yourself. You can read Alford’s letter here. The gaff and drag Photoshop Rangers over at that other Internet place can have someone read it to them.