BY LIZA STROUT - First, pictures and videos began to appear on Facebook. Dead tarpon, floating in the Pass after a Professional Tarpon Tournament Series event. A tarpon slowly dying, a circle hook snagged through its throat.
They spread through the local Facebook community and beyond like wildfire.
At the same time, a website appeared with little fanfare. It was an online petition to the sponsors of the PTTS, and a call to boycott those sponsors.
The roster of people who have signed the petition reads like a “Who’s Who” of the scientific and angling world: Stu Apte, Hall of Fame angler; Dr. Jerry Ault, one of the most respected marine fisheries research scientists in the world; Ralph Delph, who holds the record for the most IGFA world fishing records and Lefty Kreh, a pioneer of salt water fly fishing and author of the seminal work “Fly Fishing in Salt Water.”
And the list goes on.
When local author Randy Wayne White discovered the restaurant bearing the name of his best-known character was sponsoring a boat in the PTTS, he called for the removal of the wrap from the boat. It was too late to get their sponsorship money back, but White did not want his name associated with the tournament.
Usually considered an “island issue,” this year the subject has been covered by papers from Charlotte County to Naples, with reports that there will soon be articles even further afield. Blog posts have been found reposted by anglers as far away as Colorado.
But what is the aim of Savethetarpon.com?
“My wife and I were looking for a way to stop what was going on,” said Capt. Tom McLaughlin, one of the people who set up the web site. “I came from the Keys about five years ago, and in that time I’ve seen the downward progression of respect - for the tarpon, for each other and for the fishery as a whole. I’ve seen behavior by anglers in the Pass that wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else.”
So Capt. McLaughlin started calling around.
“I found out that there were really only two voices on the topic, the Fishing Guides Association and the PTTS,” he explained. “But the more I talked to people, the more I realized that people who weren’t part of either organization had something to say on the subject. So I decided to give them a voice.”
It is not a voice against jig fishing. McLaughlin does not care what is on the end of the line.
“It’s about behavior and the impact of that behavior,” he said. “The hyperagressive culture of the PTTS is spreading beyond the event itself. For a long time, the people who came to fish in the Pass were people whose families had fished here for generations, or new people learning from the old-timers. These days, people see the PTTS on tv, and they think that that is what tarpon fishing is about. They don’t understand that what they are seeing is just for ratings.”
The way McLaughlin sees it, the PTTS is setting fishing in the Pass back by about 15 years.
“It took forever to get people to stop killing the tarpon,” he said. “Even after they started releasing them, it still took a long time to get them to stop taking the fish out of the water for pictures. Now, when people see what happens in the PTTS, they think it’s the way that things are supposed to go.”
The Save the Tarpon web site, which McLaughlin is quick to point out is not an organization, but a forum for people to be heard, has so far received more than 500 electronic signatures.
“In reality, that represents far more people,” said McLaughlin. “Each email address can only sign once, so families that share an address only count once, even though there may be more than one person using it. What is really interesting is that the people signing it aren’t the same names you hear every year. They are people who have come here from all over the world, who have seen the PTTS in action. When they get home and do a little research, they realize that what they saw was not ethical angling. And that is what we want. We want word to spread to other areas.”
According to McLaughlin, this is the last congregation area for the tarpon in North America.
“If this fishery is ruined, then tarpon fishing as we know it is destroyed,” he said.
As of press time, Team Garmin and Team Andros had announced that their teams will no longer participate in the PTTS. The PTTS has not responded to a request for comment from the Boca Beacon.
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