New PTTS ‘economics’ angle flunks out with the FWC

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

While continuing to argue with itself over whether it supports catch and release (“We will no longer allow teams to gaff, tow, and weigh in their catch”) or whether it opposes catch and release (“We do not support eliminating harvest for tarpon”), the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its chief economist Joe Mercurio have apparently decided it really is, on second thought, all about money.

Not theirs. That’s understood. Suddenly, it’s all about yours. The people who once seemingly claimed fish actually like to be gaffed and dragged have subtly switched gears and are now touting their home video cable TV show as an economic engine rivaling the state’s aerospace industry.

Mercurio put his employer’s fabricated fiscal self importance on full view at September’s meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tampa. It didn’t fly.

“From its inception, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series has been conducted in a sporting manner with an emphasis on promoting conservation and the sport of tarpon fishing in Boca Grande.” There’s a trait the FWC commissioners have acquired over the years. The ability to keep a straight face. With Mercurio at the podium, it was about to be tested.

Mercurio’s mistake was a common one. He tried to be too clever. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you better be right. Mercurio clearly wasn’t. And it was obvious on the faces of the commissioners, especially when he began playing economic make-believe. Joe was selling. The FWC clearly wasn’t buying.

When you stand before seven politically sophisticated people trained in the fine art of reading between the lines as they’re being fed half-truths told by actual professionals, the strained and amateurish phrasing of something like “our television show that is broadcast throughout North America and available in over 44 million homes” won’t get you very far.

Mecurio saw it as a clever little twist on words. The commissioners saw it as an attempt to play them for a bunch of dolts. Not the best way to win friends and influence the very people with the power to turn off the lights and declare your little party over.

Mercurio smugly calculated they’d hear “available in over 44 million homes,” swoon at the size of the number and not have the brights to mentally call him out. “Available?” Mercurio didn’t think they’d catch on. While his little TV fishing show might be “available” in those 44 million homes wired for cable or satellite, it doesn’t mean anybody’s watching. But it sure makes you sound important. Or so Mercurio thought.

A little harmless half truth normally isn’t a big deal. Unless you make it the cornerstone for your case that the PTTS is a Southwest Florida economic powerhouse that’s the only thing standing between a chicken in every pot and the locals being forced to take up sharecropping.

Mercurio needed to get the FWC to suspend disbelief and buy into those 44 million homes with mom, dad and the kids glued to endless rebroadcasts of shark attacks and gill-hooked fish being dragged through the Pass. He was desperately reaching to bolster his fabrication that “the PTTS events and television show provide a significant economic boost to Florida, and specifically Boca Grande and the surrounding areas.” But with his nose buried in his script, Mercurio didn’t notice what the rest of us saw. The commissioners had already stopped listening.

Mercurio, quite simply, had out-clevered himself. For all the FWC cared at that point, he could have spent the remainder of his time tap dancing to Zippity Doo Da while balancing beach balls on his nose. But the PTTS host, who probably should have stopped at “Good Afternoon Commissioners,” wasn’t through. It was about to get worse.

Mercurio boasted the PTTS attracts over 500 participants during the two months it confiscates Boca Grande Pass. That’s a cumlulative total, of course. In other words, if the same 50 people were to each fish 10 events, you’d get 500 “participants.” This one is actually true. Just one problem.

As the FWC already knows, non-PTTS recreational tarpon anglers account for more than 268,000 “participants” locally. As recently reported in the Charlotte Sun, more than 26,900 people are repeatedly drawn to Boca Grande Pass from our four county area during the same two months the PTTS comes to town. While Mercurio might not think so, the FWC can count.

Mercuro said many PTTS participants “live 100 miles or more away from Boca Grande.” In other words, Tampa. Because his anglers travel these vast distances, Mercurio told the commissioners “local hotels, resorts, rental companies, and restaurants benefit from their need for lodging and sustenance. These tourists and their families often purchase food and drinks, fishing equipment, and other goods and services from local merchants.”

Maybe he was talking about the vending machines at the Placida Boat Ramp. The commissioners know our hotels, resorts, rental companies and restaurants aren’t staying afloat on whatever business the PTTS brings in. Those 26,900 other people are a different story, however.

The FWC staff and commissioners also understand the host community hasn’t exactly embraced the PTTS. It’s hardly a secret. They also know PTTS participants don’t go out of their way to embrace Boca Grande. Or, for that matter, much of anything south of the Sunshine Skyway. It’s fair to say Team Yamaha shirts are probably a poor wardrobe choice if you plan on stopping by most island watering holes for a post-tournament beverage. Not one Boca Grande business is a PTTS sponsor or advertiser. Why not?

When the FWC put Mercurio on “ignore,” the commissioners likely missed out on the message that because of the PTTS “millions of people are exposed to the incredible fishing and wonderful attributes the Boca Grande area and Charlotte Harbor offers to tourists.” While the number is bloated, the message is unfortunately true. Just ask the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this year, a chamber delegation traveled to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show to promote the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. They had five tarpon trips to give away. There were no takers. Not one. Seems the people who attend boat shows also watch fishing shows. Most were all too familiar with the PTTS. The commissioners know the story.

Nobody wanted anything to do with Boca Grande tarpon fishing. Not after seeing what goes on when the PTTS takes over the Pass. Mercurio says the PTTS cable TV show with its “controlled chaos” brings anglers to the Pass. The anglers and the chamber say otherwise. It’s keeping them away.

FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright made it clear that the protections envisioned through the proposed designation of tarpon as a “sport fish” here in Florida are designed to make sure we continue to attract a steady flow of recreational anglers to the fishery. Wright and his fellow commissioners are serious people who, contrary to the message Mercurio seemed to be sending their way in Tampa, weren’t appointed to the FWC because they randomly fell off some melon wagon.

They get it. They know Boca Grande Pass generates more than $100 million in economic impact just from Southwest Florida alone. They have seen the estimates showing our world famous tarpon fishery translates into more than $300 million from beyond our borders. The numbers, they know, are big. And the stakes are high.

The PTTS, with its clown costumed anglers and demolition derby wrap boats, has turned this vital economic resource into a comic strip creation that has distorted the world view of our historic tarpon fishery. The commissioners, like us, know what tarpon fishing is and what it’s supposed to be. They also know it’s not that traveling made-for-TV menagerie Mercurio and his carpetbagger carnival are piping into the upper reaches of those 44 million cable converter boxes.

They might be inclined to buy into some of Mercurio’s economic alchemy if this whole business wasn’t such serious business. But that, after all, is just one of many points the PTTS is missing. No amount of pretend conservation babble can wipe clean the stain the PTTS has left on public perception. The FWC clearly understands how this ultimately translates into empty hotel rooms, empty restaurants, empty shops, empty boats and empty pockets.

The FWC isn’t out to rescue our tarpon fishery. It isn’t out to sustain our tarpon fishery. It wants to grow our tarpon fishery. It’s part of the commission’s goal to make certain Florida remains the “Fishing Capital of the World.” It knows this doesn’t happen if the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” is allowed to become a perverse parody of the history and tradition that has made Boca Grande Pass the ultimate destination for generations of sport fishing enthusiasts.

The PTTS now says it wants to talk economics. It’s a conversation we believe is long overdue.

 

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.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Flip Flop? Mercurio, PTTS tell FWC they oppose, support tarpon catch and release

Tom McLaughlin speaks on behalf of Save The Tarpon at the FWC’s meeting Thursday in Tampa.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gathered in Tampa on Thursday September, 6 where it took the first steps toward creating a protective “sport fish” designation that would include tarpon.

If adopted, it appears likely to put an end to the gaff, drag and weigh of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series by making tarpon a catch and release species.

The PTTS was out in force to oppose any plan that would take the tarpon off the tournament’s scales by ending possession. It sent its supporters – most identified themselves as “professional” tarpon anglers – to the podium where they outlined their case against catch and release.

Catch and release, they claimed, meant no photos of fish (it doesn’t). Catch and release, they argued, would somehow take away your right to fish Boca Grande Pass (again, no). Catch and release would prevent 8-year-olds from living their dreams to someday land a Silver King. What?

Then Joe Mercurio, host of the televised  PTTS, stood before the FWC’s cameras and told the commissioners his tournament would be adopting catch and release next year. No more Millers Ale House weigh boat on the beach. No more sling. No more scales. No more “live release team.” The PTTS, Mercurio said, would be replacing all this with a tape measure.

Chairman Kenneth Wright prefaced the public comment period with a brief discussion of why creating protective designations for tarpon and other sport and game fish is an important step if Florida wishes to remain the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.”

The idea of a “sport fish” designation is new.  If adopted, it would include restrictions on harvest methods and limit commercial sale. It would also likely designate tarpon catch-and-release only, eliminating recreational possession.  Species proposed to be included in this designation are tarpon, bonefish, and permit.  This proposal has limited impact on the state’s tarpon and bonefish fisheries.

The “sport fish” designation “essentially makes the species catch-and-release only,” as explained by Jessica McCawley, Director of Marine Fisheries Management for FWC.

Chairman Wright explained the FWC proposal won’t change how we manage these species.  Instead, it centers around a groundbreaking shift in philosophy.  Harvest for personal consumption is near zero in the case of tarpon and bonefish, and most of us already consider this “sport fishing,”

As a result, he said, the FWC’s goal is growth. “Until we’ve got these species coming out of the water and injuring small children and eating farmers’ crops, we don’t have enough of them.” He was, of course, kidding about the children and crops. But his point was made. With these protections in place, if you come to Florida, you’ll catch a fish.

FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright

Wright said it’s his goal to keep Florida the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.”  Wright said “we all benefit from having as many of these ‘rock star fish’ swimming around as possible.”

Wright pounded home the point that a sport fish designation was in no way designed to infringe upon the rights of sport fishermen.  Wright was apparently aware that the PTTS and a newly formed group made up primarily of PTTS captains and participants, has recently resorted to playing the fear card to rally opposition to the FWC plan.

“This category of fish should be managed to abundance…until we’ve got these species coming out of the water and injuring small children and eating farmers’ crops, we don’t have enough of them,” Chairman Kenneth Wright explained as he introduced the Sport Fish designation.

“It’s not the intent of the tarpon advocates to change the way we fish, but to stop completely all the fishing within boundaries of Boca Grande Pass.” Craig Abbott, one of the founding directors of the organization, had previously claimed.

He apparently wasn’t paying attention when Wright said the purpose of the designation was to grow the tarpon population and increase fishing opportunities.

Speaking in favor of the designation were the Coastal Conservation Organization, the Florida Guides Association, the Organized Fishermen of Florida, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Mote Marine and the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association. Save the Tarpon Inc, of course, also addressed the commission.

NOTES: The “no photo” red herring was tossed at the commissioners by Abbott and several PTTS captains, sponsors, and participants. Wright made no effort to hide his bewilderment as he replied this clearly wasn’t the case, and that the existing definition of catch and release allows ample opportunity for snapshots – as long as the fish remain in the water.

Mercurio cited  “no scientific basis” for ending the gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing the PTTS broadcasts to a nationwide cable TV audience. As noted, in the same breath Mercurio said the PTTS would stop gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing – in the interest of conservation. He then repeated his opposition to any measure that would halt gaffing, dragging, hoisting and weighing.

The PTTS also argued Boca Grande Pass should be made a slow-speed zone during the months of April, May, and June. This isn’t likely. Boca Grande Pass, where the PTTS cable TV show is shot, is an international navigation zone. It is also a navigable and marked channel, as well as designated safety fairway. As such, it falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.

There are no major inlets – including those far more congested and confined than Boca Grande Pass – designated as slow-speed zones. It’s not likely the Coast Guard or the FWC would opt to go this route.

However, strict enforcement of the state’s existing safe boating laws would give us all an overdue and welcome break from the “organized chaos” Mercurio boasts is synonymous with the Pass and the PTTS.

PTTS supporters also called on the commission to include gear restrictions in the sport fish designation plan. They asked that a policy requiring circle hooks in Boca Grande Pass be adopted.

Chairman Wright said throughout the meeting that the proposed designation is not about gear. He said, and later repeated, that tackle isn’t on the table – even though the PTTS was eager to open this door for discussion.

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.

Scott Alford of ProjectTarpon.com responds to Cindy Mercurio

Project TarponCindysays:

“Project Tarpon takes over tarpon tournament” (on Mr. Alford’s website)in Texas. Mr. Alford’s website is sponsored by a yacht company that makes tarpon fishing boats and he sells clothing! Andros Boats is going to the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. You guys hoping to get it on tv? Get your own sponsors etc.? This is about power, control and money! The PTTS has continually changed their rules to ensure that the tarpon are handled with care. But it does not matter because you are using the tarpon to gain what you want….YOUR FISHING HOLE FISHED YOUR WAY!

Cindy, I wish you knew me better. If you did, you would know that what I am hoping to do is about as far from power, control or money that it possibly could be. I think we can agree that the problem with assumptions is that they are often not based in fact.

I’ll let you know some things about ProjectTarpon.com. First, in the two years it has existed, it has never made a profit. Really? Yea, really! Winter Custom Yachts doesn’t even pay ProjectTarpon.com to have its ads on the page. I have NO ownership in Winter Custom Yachts and the company has NEVER paid me a dime. I simply built a boat with them and think they are a great company, and I personally like the folks that run the company. Gorgeous boats, love ‘em and really want to see them succeed in their relatively new and young business. Tarpon boats are NOT their specialty nor will they ever be. [ Besides, as long as they are around, I guess my hull warranty is good. :-) hahaha… ]

The other ads on the pages aren’t really any different. They are all folks I know, like, respect and have worked with to help tarpon research. (One of them even competes in the PTTS and has the last two years.) Guides who may advertise on the forums are all given the same deal, you agree to post reports during tarpon season on the forum and you get your ad for free. I’d make the same offer to any PTTS guides who want to do the same thing or any other Boca Grande guide. I think at one time I made $25 off of running some of those banner GoogleAds but never got the check from Google for some reason. They claim they mailed it? I am open to taking pay advertisers on the website but it is not really a priority for me, nor has it ever been. As they say, I have a “day job.” I hope and anticipate ProjectTarpon.com making a little money at some point in the future… I hope… but I never anticipate it keeping me above the poverty level nor would I EVER want to piggy-back on anybody else to actually turn some small profit.

I tell you what, once we agree on a cooperative effort with the PTTS next year on tagging tarpon and get the details settled, I’ll stick an ad up for the PTTS on the website. Sound good? Although, I don’t think ProjectTarpon.com is going to make a dent in anybody knowing about the PTTS but I’ll do it for ya…. for free.

With regard to our tournament “take over”, I solely organized the Tarpon Tomorrow Tournament in Texas and if you had read the rest of my website, you would see that ProjectTarpon.com’s “taking over” of the Tarpon Tomorrow tournament is really just a name change. It was me, myself and I before and it will be me, myself and I this year. The tournament offers no prize money, just trophies. (One year it did have prize money at the request of professional guides, who then did not sufficiently participate to make it worth the hassle, so it was abandoned – the pros seemed to complain and argue…. so I eliminated them too and made it only amateurs. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth doing.) This tournament is an amateur angler only tournament and is organized just for fun and to satellite tag tarpon and assist with tarpon research in Texas.

Just so you know the history of this tournament. It was originally run by somebody else. It was called the Texas Tarpon Pro/Am. It was organized to raise money to satellite tag tarpon in Texas. It never really made any money. Then, the guy who ran it moved away from Galveston and decided to abandon it. That very year, we found out the state, the University of Miami, BTT and others were willing to fund satellite tags and wanted a tournament to help get them placed. So… during a Tarpon Tomorrow board meeting, nobody volunteered to run a tournament to help, so I opened my fat mouth. The rest is history. I even remember where I was the day I made that fatefully decision. Standing on a dock in South Carolina while my family sat in a restaurant having dinner during a family vacation so I could be on the phone for the meeting.

The tournament is for fun and its goals are sportsmanship and research. We all go to a little fishing town in Texas, rent rooms in the same hotel, tie our boats at the dock in front of our rooms and have a good time. I don’t compete, I take the biologists out on my boat to tag fish that are caught by others. The competitors are just as happy to see their buddy in the next boat win as they are to take home a trophy for themselves… in fact, when one boat finds fish, they usually call over other competitors… that is an oddity in a tournament. It is what sport fishing should be and I am really proud of everybody that enters the tournament. I consider each and every one of them a friend (all ten to twelve boats or so of them – a whopping turnout huh?).

The tournament has never made any real profit. I think at most about $1k was carried-over to the next year in the bank account to front expenses. There is no TV, there are no sponsors giving the tournament money anymore… any money that is fronted for this effort comes out of my pocket. When companies did sponsor, it was so they could get a logo on the give-away t-shirts and help me cover the costs of the shirts (on which I personally lost money every year). We don’t do shirts anymore so I don’t ask for sponsors anymore. So, that being said, to say this is about power, control or money, I guess it is if you mean LOSING power, control and money.

(And by the way, the reason I started the ProjectTarpon.com website was because the guys at my tournaments started asking, where can I go to find out what happened to the tagged tarpon… wow, there was an idea…. help anglers learn about research on tarpon).

With that background, let me say that I can actually help your son and Gary Ingman. I had a great conversation with Garry and shared it with the world when I did. I posted it here. I am not some black night with some bad agenda controlled by some group in Boca Grande. I love Boca Grande and have fished there for years and years. Traveling and spending my money locally. Pass fishing is not really my preferred way of fishing so I personally don’t really care who is in the pass doing what. I only want to help the fishery. I think Gary got that impression from my conversation with him. That is why he wants to keep talking with me about what we can do together. I may have opinions, but don’t we all. I am still open minded and as I have always said, I would love for the satellite tags to prove that that PTTS does not harm fish. After all, if the satellite tags show the fish survive, then aren’t I your best spokesman?

To reduce your concerns about power, control and money, I would be more than happy to agree that during any tagging at the PTTS tournaments, I will exclude all logos, reference or anything related to ProjectTarpon.com. In fact, please don’t mention my name or ProjectTarpon.com at ALL. (I don’t even plan on playing a big part in it other than coordinating with researchers, since I live 1k miles away and can’t afford to be there all the time.) There will be absolutely no references to anybody who advertises on my page (free or not), the Winter Custom Yachts boat I fish on will not be there, so your sponsors need not worry, and I will be sure not to wear any clothing containing any logos of anybody whatsoever. I will be happy to wear a PTTS shirt if somebody will provide one. Shoot, if it is important to ya, I’ll even buy it.

As you can see, this not about ProjectTarpon.com, its not really about the PTTS, its about tarpon… I thought I said that somewhere before?

Please just do me one personal favor – call Gary, get my phone number and call me on the phone if you have a concern. Joe is more than welcome to call me too. I’d love to talk with you or your son in more detail. Just please don’t attack me with assumptions that aren’t fair and that you don’t really know about. We don’t have to agree…. but that doesn’t mean we can’t “get along” enough to help tarpon and help maybe end some of the divisiveness that only hurts tarpon fishing and sportsmanship in general. Agreed?

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.