This year has been a more controversial year than most. It has stirred up a 20-plus-year argument between catch-and-release, live-bait anglers who use traditional fishing methods, and those who believe that aggressive tournament fishing tactics are not altering the number and behavior of tarpon in the Pass.
This tarpon season brought protests to the beach and provoked many, many commentaries to local media outlets from both sides.
In light of all that, an e-mail was sent out to some of the people on both sides of the issue, and a meeting date was set for July 18 at the Charlotte Harbor Convention Center.
All parties from the list who were contacted agreed to the meeting, with the exception of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association and the Save the Tarpon organizations.
Representatives from both groups said they have no use for sitting down and discussing the issue. It’s catch-and-release, no-jig fishing, or forget it.
They believe one organization in particular, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS), should be disbanded because of aggressive fishing practices, such as relentlessly chasing the pods of fish and gaffing them, then dragging them to the weigh station when they are caught.
Questions that were to be asked of the parties involved included how much economic impact tarpon fishing has on the area, what makes the Pass so special for tarpon congregation, what are tarpon habitat requirements throughout their life cycle, what is the impact of different tournaments on the tarpon in the Pass, and whether certain tarpon fishing methods are causing damage to the fishery.
According to Tom McLaughlin with Save the Tarpon, his organization’s major concern was that while the PTTS would change some of their handling procedures, they still wouldn’t practice catch-and-release.
He also said there was no proof or data behind economic figures.
“We don’t have any actual information as to the economic impact the PTTS tournaments have,” he said. “We would only have a roomful of opinions. We wanted this to be open to the public, not a closed-door session. It seemed they had several representatives that would be there, while we would only have one. Above all, we didn’t want to have just one chance to have a discussion and lose it because of unqualified people asking and answering questions. A lack of data doesn’t create effective discussion, and we believed the meeting’s format was flawed from the outset.”
The meeting was scheduled to be mediated by Tom Kasprzak, past president of the Charlotte County chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, along with Beacon and Sun staff.
Capt. Frank Davis, a director of the BGFGA, is also the vice-chair of Save the Tarpon. He agreed with McLaughlin.
“The main reason the Guides Association made the decision not to participate is because the association board only wanted those who are directly involved to be there,” he said. “No press, no mediators. The board agreed that the list of those invited included a lot of people that weren’t directly involved. Why would they be there? There’s no reason.”
Davis said the BGFGA as a whole want to make the Pass better, safer and more environment-friendly. They do not want the fishery to be destroyed by the PTTS tournament.
“We have been trying to talk for 10 years now,” he continued. “Now they (the PTTS) are losing sponsors, and they want to do something. They’re afraid of losing more advertisers and TV time. They already have said they are not going to stop gaffing, dragging and weighing the fish, and unless they stop that there’s no need to talk.”
Speaking on behalf of the PTTS as a founder, Gary Ingman of Ingman Marine said he would have loved to hear everyone’s opinion, and that his company loves and respects the silver king ... and Boca Grande. How to properly fish the Pass, though, varies from perspective to perspective.
“Now is the time we wanted to have a meeting, because now is the time for making decisions for the next year,” he said. “You get smart by listening to everyone. If you don’t listen, you don’t learn. I think it would have been productive. We should always allow for different ways of fishing, to allow for new technology. That’s in a perfect world. Now, though, there is tension because people on both sides have done stupid things.”
Mark Futch, a BGFGA captain and outspoken proponent of live bait, catch-and-release fishing, summed it up simply. “We just thought we had nothing to gain by attending the meeting,” he said. “There was no one of any authority there, after all this trading back and forth. It’s gone beyond words. That’s all it is.”
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