Chamber director: Time to respect, preserve and defend our fishery

Boca Grande Chamber of CommerceLew Hastings is executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce and host of Gulf Coast Business Spotlight. Take a moment to read the message he shared with us on March 3.

There is a responsibility we all have to fulfill. The responsibility we all bear. To protect, preserve and defend our natural resources.

Boca Grande has a very unique and storied history when it comes to tarpon fishing. Indeed, this is the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World. There is nothing we won’t do to ensure that we retain that distinction. Most importantly, the way in which we can do that is to educate residents, visitors and vacationers alike as to how we can work together to create and maintain a sustainable fishery.

We first have to acknowledge and respect our blessings that we have been placed in this unique environment. That we have the specific ingredients in this region that the tarpon can to migrate to, pre-spawn, create a nursery and grow to maturity. I have been lucky enough to get involved in current scientific studies that are the only type of their kind anywhere in the world to ultimately try to understand why tarpon are attracted to this place, our backyard, to grow and perpetuate their species. We would be irresponsible and naive to minimize the importance of our place in their life cycle and the importance of our actions on their behavior in their habitat and in their home.

Mr. Lew Hastings & Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce (left), and Capt. Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save the Tarpon (right) at the 2013 Save the Tarpon Shindig on March 3.

So make no mistake. This is not about a fish. There are millions of fish and species that deserve their day in the sun. That deserve attention. That deserve respect. This is about an ecosystem. Our ecosystem. Their ecosystem. And what is unique to our area. And the role we play in the entirety of the tarpon life cycle and it’s effect around the world. This is not about any one man, woman or group.

There are plenty of people who think they know what is best for the environment. But some are really only concerned for themselves … they like to hear themselves talk. They talk a big game. But when it comes to actually doing something, they really don’t deliver. This is not about an organization or a club. Because both or either can become myopic and focus on the things that benefit only their concerns and goals and promote only their views and beliefs. When that happens, people see through it as false concern, background noise … self serving tactics. And no one is taken seriously. And nothing , in the end, gets done.

Community. Community is what matters. Community working together. Grassroots up is powerful. Impactful. When the community says, like ours has, enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate the abuse of our natural resources and the misrepresentation of our community. Someone … everyone has to listen. And that is what is happening today.

The citizens and friends of the Boca Grande community have come together to say unequivocally everyone is invited to come and enjoy the beautiful God given natural resource we have to offer to the world. But you will respect it and you will help preserve it – not just for us but for generations to come.

The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce has been dedicated to that end as long as I have been executive director for the last two years and I hope it will be long after I am gone.

We didn’t have to revive the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. As far as the Boca Grande Chamber and everyone else was concerned it was on an extended hiatus for 7 years. But on it’s 30th Anniversary there was a reason to bring it back more than just for the historical significance of the heritage of Boca Grande … but for the new mission.

World's Richest Tarpon Tournament

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013.

Conservation. Education. Sportsmanship.

These three words define what the residents of Boca Grande and surrounding communities have been promoting and encouraging for years upon years. Generations in fact. Employing conservation tactics and recommendations to ensure a healthy fishery.

Education of the public both residential and visitors on the importance of our role and location in the life cycle of tarpon and other marine species. And the adherence and maintenance to the tenets of sportsmanship.

Somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten the meaning of the word sportsman and the responsibilities and expectations that go along with being a sportsman. We need to make sure we not only bring this teaching back, but make sure that it is not forgotten. Not now or in the future generations.

So what is next? What do we expect from our visitors, our residents and ourselves? Put simply – respect. Respect the fish, Respect the Pass.

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013 is combined with the 3nd Annual Gasparilla Island Kid’s Classic will be held on May 25th hosted by Gasparilla Outfitters. The weekend long events will be combined with a downtown festival that will include music, food and games for the kids.

Contact the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce by phone, email, or visit their website for more information.

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