Save The Tarpon seeks to block ‘hoax’ PTTS bid to force forum to turn over names

Internet Forum TrollSave The Tarpon Inc. took action, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, aimed at blocking attempts by Gary Ingman and the company that owns the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series that, if the PTTS gets its way, would  force the popular Florida Sportsman online forum to reveal the identities of its members.

In a two-page motion filed Monday with the Charlotte County Circuit Court clerk’s office, attorneys for the Southwest Florida-based conservation group argued that the subpoena sought by Ingman and the PTTS “is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” and that the forum’s more than 18,000 members “have an expectation of privacy and confidentiality.”

The motion is the latest exchange in the protracted legal battle Ingman and his company, Silver King Entertainment Inc., have been waging in the courts as part of an ongoing PTTS strategy to silence Save The Tarpon, its more than 22,000 supporters and those who have spoken out against the PTTS and its methods. Ingman claims the group’s efforts have cost his controversial Boca Grande Pass TV tarpon tournament more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues since Save The Tarpon’s formation in May, 2012.

Save the Tarpon Objection

Click to read full documents.

In its written objection, Save The Tarpon’s attorneys formally entered a copy of Silver King’s contemplated Florida Sportsman Forum subpoena into the public court record as an exhibit in support of its motion.

Silver King’s lawyer, Tampa attorney Dennis A. Creed III, had omitted the actual subpoena on Monday, Nov. 12 when his “Notice of Non-Party Production,” a reference to the Florida Sportsman Forum, was initially filed.

PTTS supporters among the forum’s ranks have claimed a copy of the subpoena posted last week to Save The Tarpon’s website wasn’t real, that it was a hoax contrived by the group as a ruse to further sway opinion against the tournament.

As word of the PTTS attempt to ferret out the identities of Florida Sportsman Forum members began to circulate online last week, reaction from forum members ranged from approval of the PTTS move to harsh opposition and even claims Save The Tarpon had somehow invented or fabricated the court records the group published to its website.

Forum regular Gary S. Colecchio was among the deniers, repeatedly urging his fellow Florida Sportsman members to “never believe anything posted on STT,” as he argued that the subpoena was a Save The Tarpon ploy designed to “cause outrage at PTTS among forum members” while continuing to insist “again, you simply cannot believe anything posted on that site and forum.”

When a forum member, in a reference to Colecchio’s earlier hoax claims, asked “are you saying that the subpoena for the forum information is a fake made by STT?” Colecchio, who has tallied nearly 9,500 forum posts since June of 2011, did not respond.

The subpoena sought by PTTS lawyer Creed targets Wick Enterprises Inc. as the supposed owner of the fishing forum. While Blair Wickstrom, publisher of Florida Sportsman Magazine, is also vice-president of Wick Enterprises Inc., the Stuart, Fla. company does not own the publication or its related online forum.
Colecchio, in yet another post to the forum, noted the PTTS lawyer’s apparent error, then cryptically hinted that despite its attested filing with the courts, “the PTTS knows that the Wickstoms (sic) don’t own Florida Sportsman.”

PTTS demands Florida Sportsman name names of its forum members

Silver King Entertainment Save The Tarpon Subpoena To Wick Enterprises, Inc. 1 Page 1

Click to enlarge image.

Southwest Florida boat dealer Gary Ingman and the outfit behind the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series are back in court again, this time in an attempt to force the owners of a popular online outdoors forum to publicly name names and fork over other personal information contained in its corporate database of more than 18,000 members and nearly 1.7 million posts.

The latest maneuver by Silver King Entertainment LLC in its protracted legal battle to silence Save The Tarpon Inc. and others critical of the PTTS surfaced November 12, 2013 in papers filed with the Charlotte County Circuit Court.

Port Charlotte-based Silver King is claiming Save The Tarpon, its directors and its more than 22,000 supporters worldwide have caused the televised Boca Grande Pass fishing tournament to lose more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues since the tarpon conservation group’s efforts began in May of 2012.

MillerCoors, the signature sponsor of the PTTS through its Miller Lite brand, recently moved to sever its ties to Ingman’s controversial NASCAR-style, made-for-TV tournament after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in September to outlaw a fishing method commonly used and promoted by PTTS participants throughout the event’s nine-year Fox Sports-affiliated cable television run.

SUBPOENA TO PRODUCE THINGS WITHOUT DEPOSITION
TO: WICK ENTERPRISES, INC.

YOU ARE COMMANDED to appear at Feldman Morgado, PA, 501 N. Reo Street, Tampa, Florida 33609 December 12, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. and have with you at that time and place the following:

1. Any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants for user names RJ Kirker, WhiteBacon, Joey Buttons, OldHewes18Red, Jirvin70 and RestlessNative in connection with the website forums of http://forums.floridasportsman.com.

If you fail to appear, you may be in Contempt of Court.

Ingman and his Silver King partners are directing their current legal salvo at Wick Enterprises Inc., a Stuart, Fla. company that publishes Florida Sportsman Magazine and operates a companion Florida Sportsman Forum. The Florida Sportsman Forum is a widely-read online message board that hosts a broad range of candid member discussions centering on local and statewide fish and game topics.

In a two-page notice filed with the court, Ingman’s company revealed its intent to go after Florida Sportsman’s business records in an attempt to ferret out the identities of forum members who have posted comments critical of the PTTS and its methods.

The PTTS move comes close on the heels of a now-deleted Florida Sportsman Forum conversation that centered on certain documents offered up by the tournament’s lawyers as potential evidence in its lawsuit against Save The Tarpon and others.

The PTTS documents that triggered the short-lived forum discussion were, according to information posted to the Florida Sportsman site, found to contain links associated with sexually explicit and compromising material reproduced by the tournament’s host and general manager Joe Mercurio.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

Following a brief, two-page discussion contained within a 2,068-post conversation boasting 108,569 views, Florida Sportsman moderators locked the thread and ultimately deleted all references to Mercurio and the compromising material turned over by the PTTS lawyers.

In apparent response, PTTS attorney Dennis A. Creed III of the Tampa area firm of Feldman Morgado P.A., is aiming his latest legal broadside at the Florida Sportsman Forum and six of its 18,000-plus hunting and fishing enthusiast members. His notice filed with the court, and the corresponding subpoena, both fall under Florida’s sweeping public access and broad open records laws.

His demand that Florida Sportsman produce the identities of its members, who traditionally post under so-called “screen names,” is a move likely to draw the interest and ire of online privacy advocates. Florida Sportsman could also opt to invoke privilege under Florida’s “Shield Law” in response to Creed’s forthcoming subpoena.

If Creed prevails in his bid on behalf of the PTTS to pry open Florida Sportsman’s books, the tactic also runs the obvious risk of creating a precedent-setting chilling effect.

There are, among the thousands of registered forum members, many who would likely be alienated or driven away by the potential prospect of having their personal and professional identities revealed if they permit their screen names to be attached to future Florida Sportsman forum posts.

Creed’s subpoena would give Wick Enterprises Inc. and Florida Sportsman until December 12 at 5 p.m. to turn over “any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants.” Creed then identifies six of those forum members by their adopted screen names.

Creed also delivered a warning to Florida Sportsman’s owners, threatening that if they fail to turn over the forum member identities demanded by the PTTS and its lawyers by the December deadline, “you may be in contempt of court.”

Waterline publisher warns ‘defiant’ Mercurio, PTTS: Don’t ‘skirt the rules’

Josh Olive, Waterline Magazine, Southwest Florida

“That’s just not true,” Waterline Publisher Josh Olive tells PTTS host Joe Mercurio in response to Mercurio’s repeated complaints the FWC banned the jig “in spite of any scientific data.”

The publisher of an influential Southwest Florida outdoors magazine says the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series needs to do some “soul searching,” admit the now-illegal bottom weighted “jig” was, in fact, used by PTTS anglers to foul hook fish, and distance itself from what he says are efforts to “skirt the rules” designed to put an end to years of tarpon snagging in Boca Grande Pass.

Josh Olive, publisher of the Suncoast Media Group’s widely read weekly “Waterline” supplement, used his Thursday, Oct. 10 column to refute PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio’s repeated allegations that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned the controversial device “in spite of any scientific data … that indicates an abnormal amount of fish caught using the Boca Grande jig were being foul hooked or snagged.”

“That’s just not true,” Olive replied, noting that instead of accepting the opinions of recognized experts and the resulting 7-0 FWC vote to ban the device, Mercurio’s “tone has been rather defiant” and that the PTTS continues to base its opposition on an obsolete hook placement study that has been widely discredited by the scientific community and renounced by those it cited. (Read Joe Mercurio’s September 19th letter to the editor here.)

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

Read Joe Mercurio’s Sept 19 letter to the editor following the recent FWC ruling.

Olive, once a booster of both the PTTS and the jig favored by the TV tournament’s participants, used his weekly column to call for  Mercurio and his tournament to heed Save The Tarpon’s message. “Tell us you’re going into 2014’s tournament season with the right attitude: Respect the fish. Respect the Pass,” he wrote.

“Well, now we know. The Pass jig snags tarpon. The Pass jig snags tarpon! What remains to be seen is how former jig anglers cope with the loss of a very effective fish catching tool. Will they try to skirt the rules and develop new devices that adhere to the letter, but not the intent, of the law? Much of their reaction may depend on how the PTTS chooses to proceed,” Olive warned.

Olive might have reason to be concerned that a “defiant” PTTS could be attempting to “skirt the rules.”

Shortly after his pro-jig, pro-PTTS “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association” lost a pivotal procedural vote on the new regulations in June, the group’s vice-president Craig Abbott posted a photo to a PTTS-backed social media site that purported to show a jig clone Abbott claimed had caught two tarpon in 12 minutes.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, spoke out after the September FWC ruling.  Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, commented on the PTTS Facebook page after the September FWC ruling. Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

A week later, part-time fishing guide Mike McCarty followed up with a post alleging “a start of full production is a couple of months out in order to have them for next season. There’s discussion of letting the PTTS reveal this new bait first. No worries there (sic) coming.”

Since then, the internet has been buzzing with rumors of experimental and “totally legal” lures designed to take over for the banned jig when the PTTS resumes next year.

On September 5, in the aftermath of the final FWC vote, the PTTS boasted on its Facebook page that “our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed.”

On the same day, Tampa fishing guide and Team Sea Hunt angler Rick Silkworth wrote “we are not going anywhere, the new jig is coming, mold is being made to poor (sic) new jig head.”

Capt. Dave Markett

Outspoken jig proponent and PTTS Team Power-Pole captain, Dave Markett, spoke out September 20 on Facebook.

More recently on September 20, high profile PTTS Team Power-Pole leader Dave Markett claimed the next generation jig was already on the market. Markett said the devices were being sold by a Tampa area tackle shop. He thanked the store “for already having a full rack of brand new and totally legal Boca Grande tarpon lures already on their shelves.”

“Welcome “Knockers” to our world,” Markett wrote. He then added “And the FOOLS thought we were whipped. Not quite, Not EVER!!”

Olive said that he had “searched his soul” as his opinion of the jig, the PTTS and Save The Tarpon evolved.

“The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series intends to go on, and I’m concerned that tournament organizers may not have done the same level of soul searching,” he wrote.

(Read Josh’s column here.)

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

Pro-jig Tallahassee lobbyist seeks clarification

Lane Stephens

Tallahassee lobbyist Lane Stephens lost his case before the FWC in September. He was hired by the pro-jig Florida Tarpon Anglers Association, a group closely tied to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. His pro-jig stance was also mirrored by the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association.

The following correspondence from Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm SCG Governmental Affairs, is dated October 2, 2013:

I need to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your report of the vote on the jig in Pensacola.

First, I never “demanded” that the FWCC hold workshops. I made a request, on behalf of my client, the FTTA, that workshops be held. This is allowed by Chapter 120, Florida Statutes. After the initial publication of a notice of proposed rule development (which occurred in August), affected parties are allowed to request public hearings. My request was not out of the ordinary and was not a demand.

Second, you indicated that “lobbyist” Tim Atkinson represents the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association. This is not true. He is an attorney and is not registered to lobby for FTTA, and he has never represented FTTA legally or as a lobbyist. Please do not attribute his statements that he made on behalf of his client to my client, or try to insinuate that he speaks for FTTA, or that my comments to the Commission are in any way associated with him.

Lastly, I never threatened the Commission with any of my comments regarding potential action that could occur. I respectfully pointed out that Florida law allows small businesses certain protections during the rule development process, and in my opinion, FWCC failed in its economic analysis of the potential impact of this rule.

I would appreciate your correction of this misinformation on your website.

(Editor’s note: Save The Tarpon stands by its reporting.)

Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant Atkinson, P.A. Environmental Law, Regulatory Law, Administrative Law, Governmental Law, Licensing Attorneys Counselors

Excerpt from Mr. Atkinson’s bio on the Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson website. Note the last sentence.

 

Sorry, Joe – but the FWC vote really does change everything

By Bill Bishop

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of a person’s reputation. Without that, success is virtually impossible.

The “success” of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is no different. The way I see it, the unanimous vote sent a message throughout the state and beyond that the commissioners believed the evidence brought before them was credible and something needed to be done to stop snagging. They were and will remain dead serious about this.

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

I recall a quote, “we won’t stop until we are told to stop.” They were just ordered to stop by the FWC commissioners. They were previously told they must stop gaffing, roping, dragging and weighing fish. They have now been told they must stop using the jig designed to snag fish.

They must also stop bypassing the process of enticing a fish to strike the lure. Earlier this month, the unanimous vote in favor of the proposal – and the change of the definition – changed everything. Any attempt to re-invent a lure that meets the guidelines – but is still used to snag fish – will be dealt with swiftly. Any attempt to sidestep the law will be done under a microscope and in the light of day.

Left to right: Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Mr. Bill Bishop.

Bill Bishop, at right, with (from left) Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams and Capt. Tom McLaughlin.

Yet, here we have PTTS host Joe Mercurio was quoted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as saying: “We’re Americans, we’re anglers, we’re adapters, we’ll find a way, we’ve already found a way. If anything, this has united some of our fishermen in using the new baits that we can use.”

How about this, Mr. Mercurio? The WAY is to realize that at the very core of honest angling is the art of enticing a fish to strike. It takes a lifetime to master this art. Those who have bypassed this art by way of snagging fish have wasted time that could have been used to learn and become more proficient as anglers.

The WAY isn’t easy. It’s complicated and challenging, but it is also one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have.

Not one thing that lives inside an honest angler has anything to do with harming the fishery or offending other anglers. At the end of each day I know whether I fished well or not. I know if my conduct was becoming. I know if the decisions I made were fair and honest.

I also ask if a young budding angler looked at me – would I be a good example to follow or not? Adapting… to me means to continue to improve my skills as an angler while staying within the boundaries of good sportsmanship and fair play.

We have already found a “way” as well. It’s called angling. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

(Bill Bishop is a noted wildlife artist and an ardent tarpon angler. He is the author of “High Rollers: Fly Fishing for Giant Tarpon” published in 2008.)

FWC votes 7-0 to ban controversial ‘tarpon jig’ in Boca Grande Pass

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC's historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC’s historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

This time it wasn’t even close.

After narrowly surviving a preliminary vote in June, a regulation banning the use of bottom weighted “tarpon jigs” in Boca Grande Pass was adopted by a unanimous vote Thursday, Sept. 5 by the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola.

The new rule will take effect on November 1. Despite some initial confusion over which way Panama City lawyer Adrien “Bo” Rivard had actually voted, the final tally was eventually set at 7-0. Bottom line, it passed.

Before adopting the Boca Grande “jig” ban on Thursday, the commissioners shot down an 11th hour bid by Florida Tarpon Anglers Association lobbyist Lane Stephens who sought to delay action on the proposed rule by demanding the FWC first hold a series of public workshops and conduct an economic impact study prior to voting on the measure.

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

Stephens, speaking for FTAA vice president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott, unsuccessfully repeated his “economic impact” argument later in the meeting. “The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” Stephens said, adding that adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Responding to Stephens and his claim that “a ban on this tried and true method used by 65 fishing guides” could cost the state an estimated $8 million annually, Save The Tarpon Inc. Chairman Tom McLaughlin noted that the potential impact on a few dozen guides pales in comparison to the big picture.

“We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

“In my lifetime I’ve seen several regulations that decreased the effectiveness of certain fishing techniques,” he said. “We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

Commissioner Ken Wright agreed. “When you consider the effectiveness of a device or method, if it’s indeed snagging then it shouldn’t be a consideration at all,” Wright said. “This rule is not intended to change human behavior, it’s designed to protect a fish that lives to be as old as 80-years-old.”

But the jig lobbyist hinted that his clients might not be done despite losing Thursday’s vote. Stephens noted that state law “allows small businesses impacted by a rule to challenge (the FWC’s) findings.” In June, a lobbyist representing the same group and the PTTS threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit and budget cuts if the jig ban was adopted. That lobbyist, Tallahassee attorney Timothy P. Atkinson, did not appear at Thursday’s meeting.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were individual anglers or representatives of a number of groups who urged the commissioners to adopt the anti-snagging regulations. Representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association voiced their opposition to the measure.

Following the meeting, McLaughlin said a lot of hard work went into the effort to ban the jig. “Our more than 21,000 supporters and their combined voices clearly made a difference. This has been a long time coming, and our members and supporters, our core group of volunteers, the Boca Grande Community, the people of Florida and the people around the world who embraced this cause finally made it happen,” he said.

“The FWC’s action today is more than just a message, it’s a historic step forward in protecting this iconic fishery for generations to come.”

UPDATED: The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, via its Facebook Page, has issued a response to the FWC’s vote to ban the bottom weighted hook favored by its competitors.

In an apparent contradiction to the “economic impact” argument put forward by lobbyist Lane Stephens on behalf of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association and its vice president Craig Abbott, the PTTS statement predicted no economic problems for the tournament or its anglers.

“This ruling will have no impact on the future of the PTTS. As demonstrated during this past season, our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed that meet the new definitions. In addition, anglers will still be able to utilize live bait,” according to the PTTS.

Stephens, however, told the seven commissioners that “the assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.” Stephens also predicted adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Meeting Notes

What’s the score? 6-1? 7-0?

Florida has a long history when it comes to counting votes. Thursday’s FWC meeting was no exception – minus the “hanging chads,” that is.

So, was the vote 6-1 or 7-0? While the math wouldn’t have changed the outcome, the actual tally remained a mystery for about five hours on Thursday. It took FWC Marine Fisheries Management spokesman Amanda Nalley, who initially said 6-1 based on what she saw on the record, to solve the numbers puzzle by going directly to the source.

Why the confusion? When the vote was called, there was some question whether commissioner Adrien “Bo” Rivard had been a yea or a nay. Sensing this, Rivard apparently replied “no, I’m with you guys.” Unfortunately, the clerk only heard the “no” part, and Rivard became the “one” in a vote that was officially recorded as 6-1. Meanwhile, new FWC Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett was thanking the commissioners for their “unanimous” vote.

With her cell phone overheating from media calls all asking the same question, Nally said FWC staff eventually decided to take the bull by the horns. They asked Rivard. And the vote went from an official 6-1 to an unofficial unanimous. But even though the Boca Grande rule is a done deal, it appears Rivard will have  to wait until November 20 when the FWC meets in Ft. Lauderdale to correct his vote and officially close the book on this one.

So, if you read somewhere that the vote was 6-1, it was. Even though it was actually 7-0. It’s a Florida thing.

Are we still in Florida?

Many local supporters of the FWC’s rule banning the bottom weighted hook had no choice to make the 520 mile trek across the state to Pensacola for Thursday’s meeting. But for Ryan Hawks, the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel was little more than a commute. Hawks, an avid angler and supporter of Save The Tarpon’s efforts, lives in nearby Fort Walton Beach. Needless to say, his 41 mile drive was the envy of everyone with a Southwest Florida Zip Code.

Ryan made an effective local case – local for those in the Central Time Zone, that is – for the new anti-snagging rules. “On behalf of all the tarpon anglers in the area, we strongly endorse the proposed gear restrictions,” he told the commissioners. “We share the same fishery. As the Pass goes, so goes the entire fishery.”

On the other hand, when tarpon season rolls around next year, Ryan gets to make the 520 mile drive to Boca Grande Pass. But no matter. Pensacola, and those 520 miles, turned out to be well worth the trip.

Judge guts PTTS lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, orders owners to put up or pay up

Judgefoster2

Judge Joseph G. Foster, pictured, ordered the owners of the PTTS  to pay Save The Tarpon $200 for failing to turn over financial records and sponsorship deals to the group’s lawyers. The fine goes up by $500 late next week if the tournament’s owners don’t comply.

Professional Tarpon Tournament Series principal owner Gary Ingman found himself watching helplessly from the sidelines Wednesday as a Charlotte County Circuit Court judge gutted his company’s lawsuit against Save The Tarpon Inc., dismissed all of Ingman’s claims against the group’s officers, and then ordered the PTTS owners to fork over $200 in sanctions for violating the court’s rules governing discovery and the production of records.

In addition to dismissing Save The Tarpon’s directors from the lawsuit filed in May by Silver King Entertainment LLC, which owns and operates the PTTS, Judge Joseph G. Foster hit the plaintiffs with a $200 assessment for attorneys’ fees for failing to turn over documents demanded by Save The Tarpon’s attorneys.

Foster gave the owners of the PTTS until Friday, September 6, 2013 to produce the records. If the PTTS ownership doesn’t meet that deadline, Foster said he would up the sanction by an additional $500.

Lawsuit Failed

The records the PTTS owners have been ordered to turn over to Save The Tarpon include all tax returns and financial statements for the past several years. Silver King is also being forced to produce its corporate sponsorship agreements as well as copies of its rules and regulations, along with any and all correspondence with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC is poised to adopt a rule in September that would restrict the use of bottom weighted hooks in Boca Grande Pass. This rule would apply to the so-called “pass jig” favored by PTTS competitors.

Save The Tarpon’s counsel Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm of Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, argued the group’s case before Judge Foster on Wednesday. Beason said Judge Foster’s decision to sanction Silver King was significant, and that he would “absolutely” be seeking reasonable attorneys’ fees from Silver King at the conclusion of the case. Beason said both Ingman and PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio are being scheduled to be deposed under oath. Additional depositions are likely, he said.

While Foster is allowing Silver King’s case against Save The Tarpon Inc. to move forward for the present, Beason noted that Silver King has already had to correct numerous deficiencies in its lawsuit—including filing the case in the wrong venue and misidentifying its own corporate name.

Former FWC chair: ‘I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging’

Rodney Barreto

Former FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto says if he had known then what he knows now, he would have voted to ban the bottom weighted “pass jig” as a snagging device in 2006.

Barreto is a Miami native who served 10 years on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

He was appointed to the FWC by Gov. Jeb Bush and re-appointed to a second five-year term by Gov. Charlie Crist.

He served as chairman of the commission for seven of his 10 years as a commissioner. In recognition of his leadership, the FWC established the Rodney Barreto Conservation Award for outstanding achievement.

The following email was sent by Barreto to current FWC Chairman Ken Wright and the other six commissioners:

Chairman Wright,

I’ve recently had a chance to review Dr. Grubich’s letter dated May 8th, 2013 with regards to his involvement in the 2003 Foul Hooking Tarpon Study.

If the information that he is now elaborating on would have been presented when I was on the Commission I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging of tarpon.

As you know we as policymakers are only as good as the information that is presented to us. Unfortunately, it appears that when the Commission deliberated this item back in 2006 that information provided was not as thorough as it should have been and was incomplete. A situation resulted that the Commission can now rectify.

Thank you for your consideration and your public service.

Let these lawmakers know: Don’t play politics with conservation funding

Holder2

Rep. Doug Holder was among three state lawmakers a PTTS lobbyist suggested might withhold FWC funding if commissioners voted to approve a measure designed to curb foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

A number of you have asked how to reach out to the three lawmakers who were mentioned by PTTS attorney and lobbyist Timothy P. Atkinson in his remarks to the seven Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members in Lakeland. As you know, Atkinson threatened that Rep. Doug Holder, Sen. Bill Galvano and Sen. Jack Latvala could potentially use their powerful committee posts in Tallahassee to withhold vital funding for the FWC unless the commissioners did as the PTTS demanded.

Atkinson invoked the names of these legislators and their control of the FWC purse strings while threatening to sue the seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS and others unless they voted down a proposed regulation designed to curb intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

As many of you have noted, playing politics with FWC funding is a slap in the face to conservation-minded sportsmen throughout Florida. The FWC plays a critical role in conserving and protecting our fisheries – including Boca Grande Pass. You have asked how to go about letting these three lawmakers know proposing further cuts to an already lean FWC budget is both irresponsible and potentially disastrous. Or, as one of you wrote, “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

We agree.

If you’d like to make your voice heard on this important matter, here’s how:

 

Rep. Doug Holder

Rep. Doug Holder, as the PTTS lawyer noted, is chairman of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. His district is centered in Sarasota County, and includes the communities of Venice, North Port and parts of Englewood. You can send him a message using the provided contact form by clicking here.

 

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, and Manatee counties. A link to his contact form can be found here.  On the left side of the page you will see “Email The Senator.” Clicking on this link will take you to a contact form. UPDATE: Sen. Galvano’s office has contacted a number of those who wrote to say he now supports the proposed gear restriction and will be writing a letter expressing his support to the FWC. A letter is also being sent to Mr. Atkinson. There has, to our knowledge, been no response from Rep. Holder or Sen. Latvala.

 

Sen. Jack Latvala

Sen. Jack Latvala serves with Sen. Galvano on the same Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of parts of Pinellas County. To write him, click here.  As with Sen. Galvano, you’ll find a link to “Email The Senator” on the left side of his page. Clicking on it will take you to a similar contact form.

It’s encouraging to know that you are willing to take the time to ask these lawmakers to clarify their positions on funding for the FWC, to disavow the PTTS lobbyist’s threats attached to their names and to remind them “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

PTTS hires lawyer to threaten the FWC with funding cuts, lawsuit

Joe Mercurio and Attorney

Joe Mercurio and PTTS lobbyist Tim K. Atkinson huddle at the June FWC Commission meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

UPDATED: Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.

Did a lawyer hired by Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio and the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series really invoke the names of three powerful politicians and threaten to use these politicians to cut funding to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

Did the PTTS lawyer actually suggest that’s what would happen unless the seven commissioners voted down the draft rule aimed at putting teeth in regulations aimed at curbing the intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass?

Did the same PTTS lawyer really threaten to sue these seven commissioners if they voted to prohibit the use of bottom weighted gear in this iconic tarpon fishery?

Yes, in fact, he did. But you be the judge.

Here is lawyer Timothy P. Atkinson in his own words speaking to those seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS in Lakeland. Atkinson is a partner in the Tallahassee law firm of Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson. His biography notes that “his practice also includes challenges of existing and proposed agency rules, and agency and legislative lobbying.”

And remember. Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.