The commissioners also approved a proposal to make tarpon catch-and-release only, due to the fact that the economic value of a tarpon is more alive than it is dead. While the fish may be temporarily possessed for photography, measurement of length and girth and scientific sampling, tarpon longer than 40 inches must remain in the water.
As of September 1, in all state and federal waters off Florida, all harvesting of tarpon will be eliminated, with the exception of the harvest or possession of a single tarpon when in pursuit of an International Game Fishing Association record, and if the angler holds a tarpon tag. Tags will be limited to one per person, per year, with the exception of charter boat captains.
A one fish per vessel limit has also been created.
The commission will continue to refine the two-part proposal that would include the definition of “snagging” and the modification of gear used in the Pass.
According to the FWC, “The proposal would add language that prohibits catching or attempting to catch tarpon that have not been attracted or enticed by the angler’s gear to the snagging definition that applies statewide. This change would apply to tarpon fishing statewide. The second part of the proposal would prohibit fishing with gear that has a weight attached to the bottom of a hook. This change would apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass.”
Currently live bait fishermen using traditional fishing methods in the Pass do not use bottom-weighted jigs (often referred to as the “Boca Grande jig”). Others, such as anglers in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, do use them ... frequently. The debate that has raged on for years in the Pass is this: Is a bottom-weighted hook a snagging device?
In 2002-2004 FWC scientists conducted a study in the Pass, examining fish caught by both live bait and jig fishermen. At that time FWC researcher results showed that there was little difference in the mortality rate or the snagging rate between tarpon caught with live bait and those with jigs. However, the two scientists contacted to give their opinions in the study, Dr. Phillip Motta and Dr. Justin Grubich (two of the leading fish researchers in the world), have said that their opinions given in that study were not correct, and that they were not given enough information to make an informed and complete decision.Since then, the people of Boca Grande and several conservation groups have said they witness more dead tarpon washing up on shore after PTTS tournaments in the Pass, in which many of the anglers use the bottom-weighted jig.
Of the approximately 300 people in the room (including a heavy police presence), both sides of the argument were presented almost equally, primarily to argue for and against the use of the bottom-weighted jig and how it is presented to a tarpon. The one thing that both sides agree on is this: A social issue revolving around the fishing methods and gear used by the PTTS has been created, and it has gotten out of hand to the point where vendettas have been created.
Some, such as Gary Ingman, the founder of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, addressed commissioners and said that more science was needed – and soon – to determine what the right answer is. While Ingman spoke about the need for science, his attorney also spoke to the commissioners, threatening them with a lawsuit if they passed the draft rule. PTTS host Joe Mercurio was present as well and told commissioners that people had the right to fish the way they wanted to, and it was the commissioners’ job to uphold those rights. Other people who came to support the use of the bottom-weighted jig said they had been mistreated while visiting Boca Grande, and one woman who approached commissioners even said she believed servers at local restaurants had spit in her food.
On the other side of the issue there was a large Boca Grande presence in the room, including members of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association and their families. Capt. Tom McLaughlin, founder and chairman of Save the Tarpon (a local not-for-profit organization created to protect and sustain tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, and to advocate for ethical angling practices), was also present and spoke to commissioners.
One of the most eloquent speakers of the morning was author Randy Wayne White, who has become very involved in tarpon protection in the Pass and who is a firm believer in ethical fishing practices.
“The jig is one of the most effective lures in the world,” he told commissioners. “But the rig that is used in Boca Grande Pass, however, is not a jig. It’s not a jig by any definition of the word. This rig is not a lure, it is by every definition in fishing literature, a snag-type hook. Or at least a snag-prone hook.”
One supporter of prohibiting the Boca Grande jig, Capt. Chris Frohlich, said, “This is the greatest scam in sportfishing history. Many people have been led to believe they caught a tarpon, when in reality they actually just snagged one.”
Capt. Frank Davis, who has been a Boca Grande fishing guide for years, told commissioners about a day long ago when the Pass would be full of boats, even very large boats, fishing for tarpon and sportsmanship and respect were still prevalent.
“Everyone fished in an orderly manner, with respect for each other,” he said. “We’re afraid to know what will happen if these rules don’t go into effect.”
Capt. Cappy Joiner, president of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, also addressed commissioners and explained his problem with the jig, as well as the method of fishing the PTTS anglers employ.
“People have said you can’t prove they intend to snag the fish,” he said. “Regardless of intent, the fish are still getting snagged. When these jigs were first brought into use every guide used them. They were conventional, eyelet in middle, with no modifications. When they quit biting it, we quit using it. The problem we have in Boca Grande as far as fish today, is the accumulation, the body of boats, that run them off ... so I’m not saying it’s just the lure itself, it’s a combination of outboards clutching in and out, reversing down, the exhaust ... we wouldn’t have a problem with a conventional jig, because we wouldn’t have to worry about snagging.”
Nick Wiley, the president of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, said after sitting through a previous workshop on the subject, he believes it’s time to change some FWC rules.
“The background on this issue been in play for many years now, and we have heard a lot of testimony,” he said. “We’ve taken a close look at the equipment and we don’t like the body of information and some of the scientific facts on how this jig is fished. I feel there was plenty of evidence that this jig could result in a snagging situation.”
FWC Chair Ken Wright said he was in favor of the draft rule, and felt it goes hand-in-hand with the current definition of “snagging” the FWC already employes.
“We have a rule currently on the books that prohibits the snagging of tarpon,” he said. “For many years that rule has been essentially uneffective. Very few citations have been given, with very few prosecutions, because short of someone casting a treble hook device, so obviously a snatch hook, it would be impossible to prosecute.”
Wright said he didn’t feel a need for more scientific evidence, as it has already been 10 years since the last study and it might be 10 years before more conclusive evidence was presented.
“I would be as bold as to say we do not need a rigid scientific basis, we need a rational basis for determining that this device, more than likely, probably, significantly, more often than not, results in snagging the fish."
He then addressed Ingman and other PTTS representatives directly by saying, “You can’t sue an agency for passing a ruling.”
Commissioner Aliese P. Preddy agreed, and said, “ One of the saddest parts of this is that a large group of people will be leaving here today feeling like they’re losers. And there’s still going to be a lot of issues, regardless of which way we go. Regardless of which way go, we need to try to cut down on these conflicts, it’s just not appropriate. It’s not the way we want to present Florida fishing.”
“As far as the economic prospects, many, many years ago this equipment wasn’t used, and it (Boca Grande) was still known as the tarpon capital of the world. There’s no way to put a dollar value on that, and I’m not convinced it will greatly diminish the amount of tarpon fishing in the area.”
This proposal will be brought back for a final public hearing at the Sept. 4-6 meeting in Pensacola.View More images >>
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