PTTS breaks its silence on its lawsuit fail … and you won’t believe what they’re saying now

PTTSTV.com Welcome Message

Above: The PTTS statement as posted to the tournament’s website Friday, Nov. 20. We pre-screened it for Tallahassee ‘dating’ site links.

The following was posted to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website shortly before noon, Friday (Nov. 20, 2015), four days after tournament owner Silver King Entertainment LLC abruptly walked away from its lawsuit filed nearly three years ago against Save the Tarpon, its more than 28,000 members, its directors, its former directors and a number of names apparently drawn at random from the phone book. The PTTS decision to take a hike comes on the heels of a number of pre-trial setbacks, combined with an attempt by the tournament’s own lawyer to get out while the getting was still good,  and less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury in Charlotte County Circuit Court. Feel free to pop some popcorn, crawl into a comfy chair and read all about it here.

Trust MeAfter nearly a week of silence spent dodging media calls seeking comment, the PTTS has now spoken. Although the following slice of twisted whimsy isn’t signed, it’s littered with You-Know-Who’s “controlled chaos,” sweet as honey fingerprints. And because it’s understandable that a wannabe would-be, make-believe barracks lawyer can become easily disoriented and confused by the most simple legal stuff, our comments, clarifications and corrections have been helpfully highlighted in big bold type, with replies from the three (former) remaining individual defendants (who had been patiently holding back for nearly three years and have never pretended to be lawyers) in ital.

The PTTS website post is cleverly headlined “Welcome.” That’s pretty much where the reality part ends and the fantasy stuff begins. The text follows:

This last Monday, November 16, 2015, Silver King Entertainment, LLC, locally known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) dropped two counts of its complaint against the Save the Tarpon organization and some of its individual directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member) Mark Futch: That’s because there were only two counts left – out of how many? And those last two were about to get kicked to the curb. Did they forget the judge had gutted most of their case less than a week earlier? And that their own lawyer had attempted to bail on them? 

This decision was due to many considerations, but first and foremost let us be clear the case is not over, as the PTTS is appealing the Courts decision to grant a summary judgment on the PTTS defamation claim against the Save the Tarpon organization and its directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon chairman Tom McLaughlin: Yeah, right. Good luck with that. So where’s your appeal? Oh, yeah. You don’t have a lawyer anymore. No problem. Joe (PTTS television host Joe Mercurio) can probably handle it. After all, he’s got three years of college. 

Futch: Don’t forget his Daddy … he’s a judge. When he’s not trolling Sarasota kwikie marts, that is.

The Court without record evidence …

McLaughlin again: Record evidence? Is there any other kind of evidence nobody knows about? Like maybe double secret, off the record evidence?

… ruled that Save the Tarpon and its directors were media defendants because their statements had been published in news outlets

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member Frank Davis: She did? No she didn’t! We never argued anything like that. She granted the motion because she found we WERE a news outlet by every definition of the term. That we WERE media defendants in the eyes of Florida’s courts. And that Gary Ingman, Mercurio and their little Silver King tee-vee thing didn’t follow the law. Right? (Yes, Frank. That’s exactly what Judge Lisa Porter determined.) 

We believe decision was clearly erroneous …

Futch: So file your (bleeping) appeal already!

… as Save the Tarpon and its directors are competing fishermen, who are not neutral media members …

McLaughlin: Neutral media members? You mean like Fox News? Like MSNBC? Like the Huffington Post? Where in the statute, the one you couldn’t be bothered to obey, do the words “neutral media members” reside?  Competing fishermen? When’s the last time a wrap boat has been spotted 50 miles offshore? Because that’s where I do the bulk of my fishing. 

… and who have a vested interest in damaging the PTTS, along with its sponsors and participants.

Futch: What? Your sponsors and participants have a “vested interest” in damaging the PTTS? You should get a lawyer and sue ’em! Anyhow, why would we have the slightest interest in damaging the PTTS, when Mercurio and Ingman were doing a perfectly good job of damaging the PTTS without any help whatsoever from us?

Further, the Court did not rule that Save the Tarpons statements were not defamatory, but only that Save the Tarpon and its directors should have been given the chance to retract the alleged defamatory statements prior to filing a lawsuit.

Davis: Wait! Didn’t Mercurio just say it was because we were quoted somewhere in some newspaper? Are you guys messin’ with me again? (No, Frank. That’s what he said. Yeah, he did. Really.)

On the morning of November 16, 2015, the Court heard two different Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) motions filed by Save the Tarpon attempting to show the PTTS lawsuit had no merit, and the Court denied both motions.

McLaughlin: Uh … no. Judge Porter actually set aside SLAPP for procedural reasons. We just wanted to get it on the record. For later on. When the real fun begins. She never addressed the merits. Was Mercurio at the same hearing we were at? Oh, wait. Never mind. He never showed his face in court. Ever. My apologies, Joe.Pretend Lawyer

Silver King Entertainment intends to pursue prevailing party attorneys fees for both successfully defended SLAPP motions.

Futch: (Unintelligible through the laughter.)

McLaughlin: How in the hell are they gonna do that? They voluntarily dismissed their own case?

Davis: You guys are messin’ with me again, right?

After this hearing, the PTTS decided that it did not want to put its sponsors and participants through a trial on two counts that would have required testimony from its sponsors and participants, when the main defamation claims dismissal was being appealed.

Futch: What sponsors? What participants? They still got sponsors? They still got participants? 

The PTTS did not want to subject its sponsors and participants to any more inconvenience due to actions by Save the Tarpon and its leadership.

McLaughlin: Inconvenience? You frivolously sue someone in the wrong courthouse, in the wrong county, for half a million dollars in losses you couldn’t begin to prove, you go through three judges, you attempt every delay imaginable simply to run up the cost, you hire a lawyer who skips out on scheduled hearings without notice – and then quits at the 11th hour – and you’re suddenly worried about inconvenience?

Futch: The judge said it was the 12th hour.

The case is not over, and the PTTS feels strongly in its defamation claim winning on appeal.

Davis: Okay, now I know you guys are messin’ with me.

The PTTS may reconsider going forward, if after discussions with its participants and sponsors, it is decided it is better to take away the Save the Tarpons leaderships vehicle to enrich themselves at the continued detriment to civil discourse.

Davis: In other words, the PTTS and Ingman know they’re going to have to pay through the nose. And that they’ll likely take a few others down with them. Aren’t the rats always the first off a sinking ship? Unless you guys are messin’ with me again.

McLaughlin: “Reconsider going forward?” Good grief. Is quitting all they know? 

Davis: “Take away the Save the Tarpon’s leadership’s vehicle?” Well, I guess if they need it that bad, I reckon they can have the old pickup out back behind the shed. Gonna need tires, though.  

The PTTS has always taken the high road throughout the trial and has exhibited the utmost professionalism towards Save the Tarpon and its members. The PTTS will continue to conduct itself ethically, professionally and will stand up for the rights of all fishermen.

McLaughlin: Really? The high road? The only road the PTTS knows is I-75. 

Futch: Don’t forget the Skyway Bridge … 

McLaughlin: Okay, that too. But that $1.25 toll is kinda pricey. 

Davis: You guys gotta be messin’ with me. 

Are You Serious?

Miami Herald: Controversial PTTS goes on with added scrutiny

This article was originally published in the Sunday, April 13, 2014 edition of the Miami Herald. 

By Sue Cocking
scocking@miamiherald.com

When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided last year to ban the use of a popular type of fishing tackle for pursuing tarpon in Southwest Florida’s Boca Grande Pass, many thought that would be the end of the zany reality show/fishing contest known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

PTTS Tarpon Tournament

A common scene in Boca Grande Pass when the PTTS circus comes to town.

The FWC decided that the “Boca Grande jig” — where the weighted part of the lure hangs below a circle hook — effectively snagged tarpon in the face and body instead of enticing them to strike, and outlawed its use in the Pass. The decision was hailed by a grassroots organization called Save the Tarpon, which had waged boisterous on-water protests and a tireless social-media campaign against the PTTS. Several South Florida guides got involved because many tarpon caught and released in Southwest Florida are recaptured later in Southeast Florida and the Keys.

The tournament reacted by filing suit in Charlotte County Circuit Court against Save the Tarpon, accusing the group of defamation and costing the televised contest some major sponsors. The suit is pending.

Meanwhile, the PTTS is embarking on its 11th year, albeit with fewer sponsors and participants, planning to conduct three men’s and three women’s tournaments beginning May 17 and culminating with the season-ending Tarpon Cup, where a boat, motor and trailer will be awarded to the top overall team. The series will be broadcast later on the World Fishing Network.

“Since the inception of the tournament, there has been a faction of folks against what we are doing,” PTTS founder Joe Mercurio said. “We’re not going to let the decision the FWC made daunt us at all. Our anglers are ready to go out and follow the letter of the law and compete.”

Two of the top competitors vowed to do just that, declaring they don’t need the Boca Grande jig to catch and release big tarpon.

Veteran Tampa fishing guide captain Dave Markett of Team Power Pole, which finished third last season, said he used a “slider” jig most of the time, which allows the weight to slide up and down the line above the hook. He said he also caught and released fish using live bait, such as squirrelfish and crabs, and had success with soft plastic jerkbaits.

“There are no shortcuts to success,” Markett said. “Every captain thinks he has an idea and he thinks it will work.”

Jill Sapp, who fishes on Fins & Tails with her guide/husband captain Troy Sapp, said their team has always fished a combination of lures and live bait.

“We’ve fished all of it,” she said. “The guys that have been doing this a long time, this isn’t their first rodeo. The newer people to it, maybe they won’t hook as many. It is what it is.”

Save the Tarpon members plan to monitor the pass on tournament days with video cameras to see if PTTS competitors are following the law, according to the group’s chairman, Boca Grande captain Tom McLaughlin.

“The part of the jig law that’s important is that the fish pursue the gear and not the gear pursue the fish,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all about preserving sport fishing in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a historical fishery and it should be protected.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/13/4056127/controversial-ptts-goes-on-with.html

Mr. Sensitive, Joe Mercurio

Joe Mercurio doesn’t need a bullhorn. He has REC Media and a video he likely thought had been scrubbed from the Internet. To borrow from the “outraged” J-Merc, what if “Mr. Sensitive” here had said this to your daughter?

If you’re not entirely sure what this about, you have lots of company. In short, Mercurio has expressed his opinion that certain comments made at Sunday’s “Protest in the Pass” were inappropriate. Based on a whole lot of history with the guy, we weren’t convinced his outrage was entirely genuine. But, as it was pretty much all he had, he persisted. And persisted. So, we searched around. This one wasn’t hard to find. At the risk of dignifying Mercurio’s feigned outrage with a response, this is our response. 

And if none of this makes the slightest shred of sense, we agree. But give it a look, then let’s all get back to the issues that matter. This one really doesn’t.

A talk with Capt. Tom McLaughlin

This article was originally published in the May 23, 2013 issue of WaterLine Magazine.

By Josh Olive
Waterline Publisher

The Miller Lite Professional Tarpon Tournament Series season opener this past Sunday was protested by a locally based group called Save the Tarpon. I recently talked with Capt. Tom McLaughlin, the chairman of Save the Tarpon, about the protest itself and what the group has planned for the future.

WaterLine: Now that you’ve seen the PTTS’s new measurement system in action, what are your thoughts on what’s being done right and what’s being done wrong?

Capt Tom McLaughlin

Save the Tarpon Chairman, Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Capt. McLaughlin: Fish-handling related issues with the PTTS are not confined solely to the measurement system. There are welldocumented issues with the increased fight times required to bring a tarpon to complete exhaustion (a point at which it can be subdued on a 3-foot leader). Considering that the PTTS takes place in a pre-spawn aggregate area, during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of spawning tarpon. It’s about time they go to a catch-and-release format. While the idea of their measuring tools may be great under certain circumstances, they are simply not appropriate for Boca Grande Pass in May and June.

Little if any of the handling-related issues have been addressed by the new format. These changes seem to be more superficial and for political reasons rather than out of real concern for the well-being of the sometimes 50- to 60-year-old fish that bring the PTTS its revenue stream. Fish still had to be restrained using a gaff-like device, fish were still towed for extended periods of time, and handling was still excessive. At one point, a single fish was held for 29 minutes from the time the LipLock was attached until the time the fish was released. This included no more than 3 or 4 minutes of revival. The fish was immediately seen floating back to the surface, where an official PTTS camera boat accelerated hard in reverse while pointing at the fish in an obvious attempt to run the fish over. There was no attempt to retrieve the fish for further revival; rather, efforts were directed at concealing the fish using the vessel’s prop wash.

There were numerous fish that were sighted and photographed struggling, sinking or floating at the surface after being handled. Enough is enough — it’s time to start catch-and-release.

“…the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.”

WL: With so many Save the Tarpon supporters in the local area, why were there not more boats in attendance at the protest? Are there plans to bring in more boats for future protests?

McL: We tallied right around 25 boats for the protest. There were guides from various user groups, local community members, as well as recreational anglers who traveled for more than an hour and a half by boat to attend. We felt this was a sufficient number without being excessive. Our intentions were to disrupt the filming of the TV show and make those we feel are attacking our community as uncomfortable during their tournament as non-PTTS passgoers are. We did not, however, want to interfere with the actual fishing taking place. Based on feedback from FWC and independent onlookers, this goal was accomplished.

Though we have no ultimate control over the actions of those who attend a public protest, we do feel somewhat responsible for their actions. With that in mind, this was what we consider to be a manageable number.

Further, the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.

WL: Were the goals of the protest met?

McL: Absolutely. The filming of the PTTS was interrupted. The tournament was uncomfortable at times for participants and employees alike. Our boats operated safely, did not interfere with the fish or actual running of the tournament itself, and we captured a veritable mountain of footage showing many of the fish “weighed” in the tournament showing signs of extensive distress, likely resulting in death. Photos and videos were obtained of numerous fish hooked outside the mouth, not only in the clipper, but also in the septum of the throat (the area between the gills), the gill rakers and near the eye socket. According to official results, all of these fish were counted in the tournament.

Save the Tarpon Protest Boats

Protesters gather prior to the start of the 2013 PTTS opening event.

WL: Ethical objections aside, did STT observe PTTS participants doing anything that appeared to be illegal?

McL: Yes. There was at least one, and possibly two fish that appeared to be in severe distress, dead or dying that were transferred from the possession of participants who caught the fish to a non-participating boat, piloted by a participant of the tournament who was not fishing this day, for the purposes of being dragged away from the prying eyes of onlookers and our cameras. These fish were dragged away from the tournament area at a very high rate of speed. The vessel was approached, at which time they attempted to appear to be reviving the fish. However, this soon escalated to more high-speed circles in order to keep the fish on the side of the vessel where it would be obscured. The fish was eventually shoved under the boat into its prop wash. FWC officers on site agreed that the transfer of this fish was indeed illegal, but because they were not there to witness the actual transfer, they were unable to pursue any enforcement.

WL: To your knowledge, were any STT protesters subjected to harassment by PTTS anglers? By PTTS supporters?

McL: There was little harassment, if any, on the part of the PTTS participants or anglers. While there was some harassment by PTTS employees and contractors, it would be considered fairly minor. There were, however, numerous clear and direct threats of violence by PTTS anglers towards protesters, as well as encouragement by PTTS supporters, anglers, and employees to carry out these threats after the tournament.

WL: The FWC appears poised to rule that the tarpon jig is a snagging device. If that happens and the PTTS is forced to stop using it, will STT’s opposition to the tournament persist? If so, why?

McL: First off, the FWC is not poised to rule a tarpon jig is a snagging device. The best available science indicates that the rigging of any hook with a weight attached directly the beneath the bend or belly of the hook is likely being used to snag fish without a feeding or striking action on the part of the fish. Simply moving the hook to a location that is concurrent not only with laws of numerous other states and countries, but also a position that is found on all other jigs in the industry, is not the same as banning the Boca Grande jig. It is simply modifying the gear restrictions to eliminate the intentional snagging of tarpon through the use of the device the way it is being fished in PTTS events as well as outside the events.

Again, the best available science shows that these fish are not attempting to bite or strike the lure, but are being intentionally snagged. This avenue is the least intrusive to other anglers and has proven to have little, if any, unintended side effects on other fisheries.

The issues with the PTTS and the pack that was created by the tournament run well beyond the snag-hook (jig is in fact a misnomer) that is being used. The domination of the resource, encouragement of chaos for the sake of TV ratings, excessive fish handling, exclusion of other user groups, and the extensive damage done to the public perception of the community and the fishery all will likely take more time to work out.

The PTTS has shown a clear disregard for the destruction they cause, it is likely that elimination of the snag-hook will only serve as a single step in a very long walk to a peaceful and cooperative Pass that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

WL: If the jig is outlawed, do you think that will eventually bring peace back to the Pass?

McL: It will not be a silver bullet. The changes that will need to take place in terms of public perception, instilling respect for other users of the Pass, other anglers and the fish will not be an easy task to take on. It will likely take much more in terms of effort, education, and advocacy — but little in terms of regulation — to return some form of peace to the Pass.

WL: Besides the push to end the PTTS, is STT doing anything else aimed at improving the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery?

McL: We recently agreed to provide both logistical assistance as well as funding for the Rosenstiel School of Marine Biology satellite tagging program at Boca Grande for 2013. This will be the most extensive single satellite tagging effort in the history of tarpon research. Despite mounting legal fees, we feel confident that we will still meet our goal of raising an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for this program.

We are also working on creating a video archive of interviews with some of the area’s longest residents, fishermen, guides and community members. We are working to make these interviews, photos and documents easily accessible via the internet. This will serve as an important educational and outreach tool as well as an avenue to disseminate accurate and historically significant information.

WL: If someone wants to learn more about STT or become a supporter, what should they do?

McL: Please take the time to visit SavetheTarpon.com. You can read our mission statement and access articles, videos and photos.

To continue reading, please visit: http://wlf.eed.sunnewspapers.net/olive/ode/waterline_swflorida/

Randy Wayne White: FISHING’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Critics say tarpon actually are snagged with this popular style of Boca Grande Pass fishing.

By RANDY WAYNE WHITE

(The following was originally published in the Sunday, April 14, 2013 edition of the Tampa Tribune.) Randy Wayne White is a New York Times best-selling novelist and resident of Pine Island, Florida. To learn more about Randy, visit his website or Wikipedia page

On Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) will consider a draft rule amendment to protect tarpon that, if approved, will be the first step in addressing among the most brazen cons in our state’s fishing history, and a dirty little fishing secret that has, for a decade, caused one or more FWC biologist to appear naïve or, at best, as an unwilling dupe or dupes.

It is an ugly story, dark with irony, but brighter days are ahead — if the commission takes that first bold step on Wednesday and designates  tarpon [but not bonefish] as a catch-and-release-only species.  The tarpon isn’t considered eatable, yet it’s an iconic game fish, so this sounds like a no brainer, right?

Randy Wayne White

New York Times best selling author, Randy Wayne White.

Wrong.   The sad fact is, this is the first incarnation of the FWC’s seven member commission to exhibit enough fishing savvy to acknowledge a problem exists.  By my reckoning, though, the amendment could be a vote or two shy of passage which is why I’ve decided to throw some sunlight on the dirty little fishing secret, expose the con, and hope that Florida’s thinking anglers will make their voices heard.

Here’s the ugly back story:  In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more (not counting side-bet calcuttas) two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon (even when tarpon were not feeding) and also fill their pockets with lots and lots of modern hundred dollar bills.

“Floss-fishing,” was the technique, a throwback to the days when European peasants fished for survival, not sport — a deliberate method of snagging trout and salmon in fast flowing rivers.  As the two innovators proved, floss-fishing worked equally well on tarpon that school in the fast tidal rips of Florida’s west coast.

“We thought we were being clever, but there’s nothing sporting about what we did,” Mark Futch, a third generation Boca Grande fishing guide, remembers now.  “A buddy and I grew-up fishing that pass.  There were days when tarpon would stack by the thousands in the deepest holes, but they wouldn’t hit a bait, no matter what you threw at them.  With so much tournament money on the line, I decided to try something different.”

For Futch and his boyhood friend, George Melissas,  it meant designing a specialized rig consisting of a heavy lead weight wired to the bend, or “belly” of a hook that had already been canted off-center with pliers.  To disguise the rig’s true intent, a colorful rubber adornment was added to make it look like a legitimate fishing lure.

“Mark still has the prototype, ” Melissas (now one of the country’s foremost experts on sea mollusks) told me.   “We named it ‘The Prom Dress’  as a joke because it came off in a hurry when we hooked tarpon.  Personally, I didn’t go out there with the intent of snagging fish, but I’d guess about ninety percent of tarpon landed using that technique are snagged.”

Seahunt Ptts Tarpon Jig

Something else the men did was name their creation a “break away jig,” which added to the illusion of legitimacy because actual jig lures (which are weighted at the eyelet, not the belly of a hook) are used world-wide, and considered among the most benign of artificial lures.

The ruse worked, and so did floss-fishing.  Futch and Melissas won or placed in the next fifty consecutive tarpon tournaments using their homemade “lures”, and piled up more than a quarter million dollars in prize money.

“We were landing tarpon when no one, I mean no one, could even get a bite,” Futch told me, “and good fishing guides aren’t dumb.  They saw what we were using, and saw that every tarpon we landed was hooked outside the mouth, not inside the mouth.  Soon, there were a hundred boats in the pass using rigs similar to ours, and we were seeing more and more dead tarpon floating or on the beach.  I know I’m partly to blame for this mess, and that’s why I’ve been working so hard to make it right.”

Because I was a Sanibel fishing guide during that era, I knew Capt. Futch only by reputation (although he is now a good friend) but I can tell you from personal experience what happened next, and how that dirty little secret was transformed into a purposeful con.  Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money in what is a very tough business.  The technique wasn’t illegal but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical, so a do-it-until-they-banned-it approach was embraced by some, rejected by others.  How do I know this is true?  Because, as a fishing guide, I DID it.

In 1998, a half million dollars in winnings, and three years later, Futch and Melissas returned to traditional methods when the Boca Grande Guides association did, indeed, ban “jig fishing” in tournaments.   Instead of following suit, however, the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission (which became the FWC 1999) dismissed the growing animus between traditional tarpon anglers and those who used belly-weighted hooks as “a user conflict.”  Worse, the FWC remained indifferent to the fact that Florida’s legal definition of a “snagged fish” (compared to states such as Washington, Oregon and Michigan) offered enough wiggle room to energize a whole boutique industry based on snagging tarpon — and that’s exactly what happened in Boca Grande Pass, in my opinion.

Sea Hunt Boats Snagged Tarpon

This photo, captured by a guest to a local boat show earlier this year, features a Sea Hunt Boats advertising banner picturing a tarpon snagged just outside the eye.

Enter Silver King Entertainment LLC which, in 2002, came to the area to video thirteen TV episodes of its Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).   The show featured fast boats and “pro” anglers, in NASCAR-like garb, who used a run-and-gun, pack approach to chasing pods of tarpon around the pass — a water space where, for unknown millennia, Florida’s sport-fishing cash cow, Megalops atlanticus, has schooled to rest and fatten before migrating off-shore to spawn.  For viewers (and sponsors) the dramatic payoff was video of sharks attacking tarpon that had been played to exhaustion, and “official weigh-ins” after tarpon had been gaffed, dragged to the scale, then  hoisted in transparent body bags.

All perfectly legal by Florida law, but the Boca Grande Guide’s Association — never a warm and fuzzy group when it came to outsiders (myself included) — filed a law suit, and appealed to the FWC to send biologists to do a hook placement study that, local guides felt certain, would confirm that “jigging” is actually snagging.  Such a study, of course, would also return a boomerang of bad karma into lap of the snag-rig’s creator — something no one, by now, wanted more than Capt. Mark Futch.

Finally, our Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responded.  The commission earmarked $250,000 in funding, and assigned a biologist to lead what would result in a three year, eight page document entitled, Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004.

Hello happy ending, right?

Wrong again.

According to data from the FWC’s study, in 2004, 74% of tarpon landed using so-called “jigs” were hooked outside the “buccal cavity” or mouth — including a tarpon that was boated after being snagged in the tail — yet the study (after ignoring other statistical red flags) concluded, “While more tarpon [10%] were foul-hooked using artificial bait than live bait, percentages were not unusually high and did not contribute negatively to the survival of tarpon.”

Huh?

That’s right, our FWC biologists fell for the floss-fishing con — hook, line and sinker.   The authors, in my opinion, accepted the fiction that a belly-weighted hook is a legitimate jig lure, then contorted other definitions (such as what constitutes a fairly-hooked fish) as needed to prop-up their own flawed premise.

An example:  Picture yourself holding a spoonful of cereal.  You swing it toward your mouth but, instead, stab yourself in the forehead, the throat, the cheek, the nose or the eye socket.  By the definition of the FWC study, you have successfully hit your target, and are now chewing your cereal compliments of your head, your cheek, your outside maxillary (in terms of tarpon physiology) but not your mouth as it is used by primates and fish alike.

Absurd!  Tarpon are an ancient species; a marvel of evolution that have outlasted dinosaurs, survived global cataclysms, all due to their ability to hunt, forage, ambush and feed successfully.  With its giant Megalops eyes, its sensitive lateral line, this is an apex predator — an animal that has NOT survived the eons by whacking its head, throat and cheeks against prey it intended to eat.

But that’s what the study claims to be true.  As a result, Florida is now stuck with a document that has, in my view, done more to endanger our tarpon fishery than the twenty years of snag fishing the study, in fact, implicitly endorses.

Honest naivety is to blame, I hope.  If not, all particulars and circumstances regarding the creation of that study should be examined under the sharpest lens of a journalistic microscope.

Ultimate Tarpon Book - Randy Wayne White

Before you can understand how badly flawed the FWC’s 2002-2004 study actually is, you must first understand how floss-fishing works:

Imagine a school of tarpon stacked 40 feet high, mouths pointed into the tide. This mass of fish is then transected by nearly-invisible fluorocarbon fishing lines, heavily leaded-hooks attached, a process repeated hundreds of times over a day. Hooks attached to these lines may be oscillating up and down, but are actually more effective as snag hooks if they are held motionless, allowed to drift quietly near the bottom of the column of fish.

These tarpon aren’t feeding (in this scenario) nor are they unaware. Even so, the jaw structure of a tarpon is such that the side-flaps of its mouth (the maxilla or ‘clipper plates’) are exposed targets, as are the fish’s gills. These flaps are hinged and flair slightly outward, not unlike an overgrown thumbnail, or the backside of a human ear. When fluorocarbon line makes contact with this bony flap, the line is sometimes funneled (flossed) toward the inside hinge of the mouth (clipper plate), or through the gill. The hinge, as it narrows, becomes an effective guide. Soon, as the boat or the fish moves, the flow of line is halted by an abrupt collision: The hook (given additional mass by the heavy sinker) either loops and buries itself outside the tarpon’s mouth or gill plate, or it bounces free. If the hook does stick, the startled tarpon then panics, which causes other tarpon to panic, often through a haze of multiple hooks and lines which can create the illusion of a sudden feeding frenzy.

Shrewd, huh? Key elements to this technique:

1. A heavy (3-6 oz.) sinker must be attached directly to the belly of a hook.

2. Tarpon must be stacked in a contained area (which is why this technique is so effective in Boca Grande, but useless off-shore, or in our back bays.)

3. The hook must be extremely sharp and is more effective if it is a circle hook canted slightly using pliers. (I’ve done this, keep in mind.)

4. Low visibility fishing line –fluorocarbon — and a gray sinker are best because deception is imperative.

5. A high speed reel (to rocket the hook upward through schooling tarpon) and a good boat handler all add to the likelihood of success.

The most devious thing about this technique is that, if you are being paid to produce fish, your clients (if inexperienced) will never question why the tarpon they landed is hooked outside the mouth after “bumping” or “nibbling” at the hook.

Obvious, once you understand how it works, right? Not if you’re an overworked, underpaid biologist, apparently – nor if you’re a fishing guide who has wrestled with the ethics of flossing. Capt. Andy Boyette, a top money winner in PTTS tournaments and an accomplished Charlotte County guide, is a vocal example of just how convincing the floss-fishing con can be.

“It took me awhile to figure out that jigging tarpon is the biggest hoax in the history of fishing,” Boyette told me recently. “I jig fished for eight years [2000 to 2008] and didn’t understand, at first, why almost every fish we landed was hooked outside the mouth. I remember trying to think up new stories to explain it to my clients. Finally, I got sick of lying to clients who I liked and respected, and that was the end of jig-fishing for me. I was good at it – my boat won the last PTTS tournament in 2008 – but I’d rather have a clear conscience.”

I asked Boyette if he believed that all accomplished tarpon “jiggers” knew the truth.

“All I’ll say about that is I think there are new fishermen out there who don’t want to believe it, or have been told the same lie for so long that nothing will convince them. But the best clients, actual sports-fishermen, don’t want to catch a foul-hooked tarpon. That’s what these new guides need to think about.” [Click here for Capt. Andy Boyette’s detailed assessment of “jigging”]

Boyette nails a key point: Florida risks a negative economic backlash by tolerating (in fact, endorsing) floss-fishing, and failing to re-define our own vague snagging laws. In1885, when New Yorker W. H. Wood, fishing in the backwaters of Sanibel, boated the first tarpon ever taken on rod and reel, the destiny (and economy) of Southwest Florida was forever changed by moneyed sportsmen who took the ethics of fishing seriously.

Guess what? Serious anglers still do. But Florida has dropped the ball in comparison to destinations such as Oregon, Michigan, Washington and Alaska which have set an example by honoring sporting ethics via articulate legislation. Our state is guilty of another oversight, too: We pay bargain basement salaries to the biologists and law enforcement people mandated to maintain our multi-billion dollar fishing cash cow, when we should be luring the best and brightest in the country. That doesn’t mean we don’t have good biologists and first rate FWC law enforcement people. We do. But it’s bad business not to reinvest profits in order to maintain the source of those profits.

For now, though, the seven member FWC commission can take a step in the right direction on Wednesday by designating tarpon a catch-and-release-only species (but omit bonefish, which would unfairly burden ethical and responsible tournaments in the Florida Keys.)

Let the FWC hear from you, thinking anglers.

Email the Commissioners at FWC.

Visit the website of Randy Wayne White.

FWC and Mote Marine Clarify position on PTTS, Ingman’s and Mercurio’s lies exposed

Updated: Monday, June 25, 2012 with statement from Mote Marine.
Mote Marine & FWC

Over the last several years those following the PTTS, and the controversy around it, have often heard the statement that the “PTTS is backed by FWC and Mote.”  As a matter of fact, this exact statement is a quote attributed to none other than Mr. Gary Ingman himself, as published in the Englewood Sun on Monday June 18, 2012.  Apparently the writer of the article, Drew Winchester, did not take it upon himself to contact FWC or Mote Marine to verify this outlandish statement.  We did, and here is what we found.

We contacted FWC and were put in contact with Amanda Nalley, a spokesperson for FWC. We were quickly and clearly informed that the FWC does not sanction, endorse, support, or back the PTTS. They attend the events in a law enforcement position, and have one biologist on site to collect samples. FWC also does not condemn the event, but “certainly does not back or support it in any way.”  Ms. Nalley also went on to say “What the PTTS does is legal, but our position is that if you are going to release a fish that you do so immediately and that you do not gaff, drag, tow, remove from the water, or otherwise excessively handle the fish. Especially with large fish such as Tarpon.”  This sentiment is reflected very clearly on the FWC website and in several publications relating to proper fish handling.

What did Mote Marine Laboratory &  Aquarium of Sarasota, Florida have to say about “backing” the PTTS?  “Mote does NOT help organize, endorse or receive funding from any tournament.” says Hayley Rutger, public relations coordinator for Mote.  She also went on to say that their official position is  “More research is needed to understand how two common fishing techniques — jig fishing and live bait — affect tarpon or the tarpon fishery.”  We at SaveTheTarpon.com couldn’t agree more!

Mr. Ingman and Mr. Mercurio have been quoted, and published in their own words, that both FWC and Mote Marine Lab support, endorse, back, or “oversee” their events.  As a matter of fact it has been one of the most compelling arguments echoed throughout the PTTS community.  We think its time that the PTTS start explaining to its participants, followers, and critics just what they meant by those statements.

 

Save the Tarpon Supporters Show Up in Top Form to Protest the PTTS

Early reports of today’s Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) protest are coming in. Starting with the first “release” floating up on the beach. There will be videos, photos and stories coming. For all those who attended the event, good work!

If you attended the protest and captured any of today’s events, please forward us your story, photos and videos as we work to compile all of the evidence.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Calls for Responsible Tournament Angling

(Originally published in the Boca Beacon on June 8, 2012)

Responsible Catch and Release is Essential 

The use of catch and release as a conservation tool to ensure healthy recreational fisheries for the future has become standard throughout the world of recreational fisheries. The catch and release ethic is especially apparent in the world-class tarpon fishery of Florida, where virtually all tarpon are released. However, catch and release is only a valid conservation tool if it is practiced correctly so that most fish that are released survive. Sadly, the catch and release practices of some in the tarpon fishery are likely decreasing survival of released tarpon and should be curtailed in deference to the ethic of responsible fishing.

Bonefish Tarpon TrustResearch on catch and release fishing generally shows that the amount and type of handling of fish after being caught and before being released is an important factor in determining the fish’s likelihood of survival after release. In general, 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.

Despite the availability of tarpon harvest tags in Florida (each $50 tag allows the harvest of a tarpon), the harvest of tarpon in Florida– whether by individual anglers or by tournaments – has declined to nearly zero in recent years. This is great news for tarpon: tarpon are late to become sexually mature (approximately 8 – 12 years old) and can live a long time (potentially to 80 years), which makes them especially susceptible to harvest. This makes it even more important to use proper catch and release practices when fishing for tarpon – so we can continue to enjoy the best tarpon fishing in the world.

Some mishandling of fish during catch and release is simply a matter of an angler not knowing about proper catch and release handling practices. This is why Bonefish & Tarpon Trust expends significant effort educating anglers about proper catch and release practices. This education effort by BTT and others is paying off with improving catch and release practices by recreational anglers. Unfortunately, in other instances proper handling practices are purposefully not followed, which is a real cause for concern.

Given the overwhelming support for catch and release of tarpon, it is puzzling why anglers would engage in practices that very likely cause high mortality of tarpon after release – the towing of caught tarpon to a weigh station as part of a tournament. Although data on the effects of towing tarpon are scant, the preliminary data that do exist suggest that towed tarpon exhibit much higher levels of physiological stress than do tarpon that are caught and released but not towed. Moreover, since we know that, in general, more handling time equals lower survival for caught and released fish, it makes sense that increasing the handling time by towing and weighing tarpon will likely decrease survival. The responsible and prudent approach is to reduce handling time, and therefore not engage in towing of tarpon prior to release.

Gary Ingman PTTS Ingman Marine

Gary Ingman, pictured above, makes sure all is right when the cameras are rolling for his TV show, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. This process of dragging and weighing the fish is extremely damaging to the Tarpon and will most likely result in its death.

The requirement for a weigh-in is especially puzzling given that accurate weights can be obtained by applying measurements of a fish’s length and girth to a formula that is specific to tarpon. This formula, created by University of iami scientists based on measurements of hundreds of tarpon, is accurate to within a couple of pounds. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has this formula available via an iPhone app or water-resistant weight conversion cards.

This letter is not a statement on tournaments, but is instead a call for all tarpon anglers to follow catch and release practices that maximize the survival of tarpon after release. This should be the goal of all recreational tarpon anglers, and especially of entities that host events that rely on a healthy tarpon fishery.

In closing, a tip of the hat to the highly responsible, talented guides of Boca Grande Pass who practice good catch and release, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s ongoing tarpon conservation research, each contributing to a sustainable fishery.

Sincerely,

Aaron Adams, Ph.D.

Director of Operations

 

About Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is a non-profit, science-based conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that bonefish, tarpon, and permit populations, and the fisheries they support, remain healthy and helping to restore the fisheries that have declined. BTT accomplishes this mission by funding conservation-focused research; working with local, national, and regional resource management agencies to improve regulations to protect these fisheries; and funding and conducting education of anglers and the public.  BTT uses scientific findings to advocate for fisheries conservation and works to ensure coastal habitats used by bonefish, tarpon, and permit are protected.  For more information visit the BTT website at www.tarbone.org.

Josh Olive, publisher of WaterLine Magazine, we expected better from you

Waterline Magazine and Mr. Josh Olive,

Apparently you did not receive the memo published directly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding safe Tarpon handling in Boca Grande Pass.  You also seem to have fallen victim to the bright lights and fame of seeing your magazine’s name adorn the side of a tournament sponsored boat.  Has your interest in the tournament actually clouded your judgement this badly?

 

Taken directly from MyFWC.com, Tarpon and Boca Grande Pass:Waterline Weekly Magazine

• Never gaff a fish unless you are going to harvest the fish.  “Gaff and release” is a practice that may leave the fish with an open wound making them vulnerable to predation.

• Leave fish in the water while photographing, removing the hook, or cutting the leader.  Boating large fish is dangerous to you and your crew, and can injure the fish. Don’t boat your fish, if you can help it.

 

In order for you to have “proof,” why must one use DNA testing to prove the PTTS is killing fish when obviously their handling of the fish is outside the bounds of what is acceptable to every single conservation oriented organization that has an interest in Tarpon fishing?  What is worse, is you personally know that this deviation from the norm is for nothing more than increased drama to boost television ratings and is entirely unnecessary.  Why is it unnecessary you ask? Mr. Olive are you not a supporter, promoter, and sponsor of the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge?  The shark tournament that you tout as bringing tournament shark fishing inline with conservation?  How do you handle your sharks for the tournament? I believe you do not gaff the fish and drag them to a weigh in, but rather briefly hold them up to the side of the boat while they are still in the water whilst a film crew or observer records the length.  I personally have made this suggestion to Mr. Gary Ingman, owner of the PTTS and it has fallen on deaf ears.

If safe fish handling practices tell you that you are likely to have an increase in mortality, and these practices are not condoned by any conservation entity, then why would you continue those practices when they cause so much animosity towards the tournament and its participants, not just by fellow fishermen, but also the hundreds of visitors who sign the Save The Tarpon petition each and every day? The answer is simple: TV Drama, ratings, and money. I guess once your business is plastered on the side of one of the boats on TV no one is above the influence.

I would have expected better from you Mr. Olive, it is sad to see your publication fall to this level of disgrace.

 

Captain Tom McLaughlin, Founding Member of SaveTheTarpon.com

 

CORRECTION:

It has come to my attention that Waterline does not in fact sponsor a boat for the tournament.  One of the contributors for the Waterline operates a “Waterline” wrapped boat in the Pass, but captains a different team during the actual tournament.  After an extensive conversation with Mr. Olive by one of our founding members, we stand by our assertion that Mr. Olive sold out his journalistic soul to Ingman Marine, his largest advertiser and the focus of our Boycott.  Here is some more information for your reading Mr. Olive if you think that handling a tarpon the way the PTTS does and operating their boats the way they do has no effect on the fishery, but those same actions are unacceptable when it comes to your shark tournament.  A true reporter of “facts” would have no problem finding information such as Dr. Adams has provided in his opinion letter below.

http://bocabeacon.com/news/editorial/4636-letter-to-the-editor-responsible-catch-and-release-is-essential

We are also not here to discuss the merits of the Boca Beacon, Dr. Adams is widely considered the worlds leading Tarpon biologist. His opinions are clear though he does not mention the PTTS by name.

PTTS – Profitable Televised Tarpon Slaughter

Thanks to Sun-Herald Columnist Gary Dutery for this article.

If news is defined as something that doesn’t happen every day, then what happened this past Sunday at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor qualifies as news. It’s likely a few of the military veterans, Wounded Warriors invited to gather on the beach in front of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, recognized the aircraft flying overhead as a Piper L-4C. Perhaps, considering their day began with four skydivers, a color guard and the national anthem, they likely figured the flyover by the L-4C was part of the Memorial Day observance.

It wasn’t. Not officially. But maybe it should have been. Trailing behind the plane, more commonly known as a Piper Cub, was a large banner. You know the kind. They’re usually found being towed into the wind just beyond the breakers wherever people gather to go blanket-to-blanket and shoulder-to-shoulder on a stretch of hot sand. But this one wasn’t touting Coppertone or salt water taffy or some boardwalk saloon.

The message on the banner read “Save Boca Grande Tarpon. No Jigs. No Killing.” Down below, their buzz boats churning the waters of Boca Grande Pass, were 31 teams of “anglers” playing dress up in their NASCAR-style costumes covered in NASCAR style logos of NASCAR-style sponsors, both real and imagined. They were part of a cable TV infomercial posing as a sporting event known as the “Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.” Or, as the locals have tortured the acronym, the “Profitable Televised Tarpon Slaughter.” The banner was meant for them.

It’s a debate that’s been raging in the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World ever since someone came up with the notion of attaching a green latex tail and a brightly painted lead weight to a miniature grappling hook way back when. It worked. The thing caught tarpon. Literally. While traditional live bait methods of fishing tarpon tended to involve some participation on the tarpon’s part — like actually eating the bait — the device all but eliminated the need for the fish to get involved. The jig, as it’s known, doesn’t so much attract fish. It attacks them. Through what can charitably be called a “design flaw,” the jig grabs whatever part of the tarpon’s anatomy it happens to find. The tail, the gills, the outside of the jaw. Even, sometimes, the mouth. Doesn’t really matter.

The thing is even more effective when the jig angler, sensing a fish has bumped his line, begins wildly reeling up. Drag a weighted barbed hook towards the surface through a stack of a few thousand tarpon and, like the carnival game with the metal tub and little plastic fishies, you’re bound to wind up with something. That something, more often than not, is shark food. Jiggers discovered the device worked best when combined with lightweight monofilament line rather than the heavy stuff favored by the traditionalists. As a result, it takes nearly twice as long to bring your tarpon to the boat — if, that is, the hook embedded in its tail doesn’t fall out after the first 30 seconds or so. The fish, of course, is exhausted and — when sharks are in the water — easy pickings. Chomp. They even proudly post video of these attacks on Youtube. ROFLMAO!

The jig, ultimately, begat the PTTS. Which begat a cable TV show modeled after all those popular professional bass fishing things. To make good TV, the PTTS needed good TV. And this came in the form of tarpon being gaffed, roped, dragged across Boca Grande Pass, hoisted out of the water and, as the anxious NASCAR-style team looked on, weighed. Then there were the photos of the happy anglers posing with their fish. This naturally begat people who reckoned that when tarpon are gaffed, roped, dragged across Boca Grande Pass, hoisted out of the water, weighed and asked to smile for the camera, they would likely wind up dead. The tarpon, that is. The anglers would go out drinking.

Bill Bishop is a Tampa wildlife artist and author. He is also an avid tarpon fisherman. “I have a love affair with the sport,” he says. “It’s been a love affair of mine for a very long time. I probably fish 150 days of the year.” Bishop paid to have the 65 hp L-4C tow “Save Boca Grande Tarpon. No Jigs. No Killing” above the heads of those 31 NASCAR-style teams on Sunday. “I kept watching in horror this spectacle, this BS that they’ve been doing for the past seven years and said enough is enough. This mishandling of fish is something I want to stop. The tarpon fishery doesn’t belong to the PTTS, it belongs to all of us. I wanted to make a statement and raise awareness about what’s going on.”

A 100-foot-long banner usually does the trick. In fact, one tournament participant lamented over the radio that it was too bad nobody had a rocket propelled grenade, or RPG, handy to shoot the little Piper out of the sky. He was promptly told to shut up. People might be listening. They were.

Bishop catches most of his tarpon on a fly. He’s not a big fan of the jig. But his real issue is the idea that tarpon, which translate into a $100 million industry for Charlotte County each year, are being killed for profit. For the amusement of a cable TV audience that is repeatedly told the PTTS is a “live release” affair. Yes, the fish are alive when the PTTS and the TV cameras and the photographers are done with them. They don’t stay that way very long.

The PTTS has been taking its hits lately. Author Randy Wayne White recently and publicly pulled his sponsorship of the tournament through his Doc Ford’s restaurants in Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. White cited the event’s use of “snag fishing” for his decision. “Snag-fishing is contrary to every historic ethic associated with sport fishing — a fact I hope to communicate unequivocally to other sponsors,” White said. “We urge all sponsors to join us by withdrawing from future tournaments … that promote snag-fishing by turning a blind eye, by using silly euphemisms (‘jig-fishing’), by failing to ban this most ‘unprofessional’ of techniques.”

Bishop says there are lots of L-4Cs in the world. There are lots of banners. He intends to keep using both until the PTTS or the state gets the message. Tournament organizer Joe Mercurio obviously hasn’t. When asked about Sunday’s fly-over, Mercurio sarcastically asked if this meant the skydivers, the flags, the color guard, the national anthem and the veterans. He apparently didn’t see the L-4C and the big banner. The PTTS and its sponsors are good at not seeing. Maybe it will take a few more Bill Bishops and Randy Wayne Whites to open their eyes.

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.