Earlier this week a not-for-profit corporation called Save the Tarpon claimed it had irrefutable DNA proof of the incident. Ingman’s response?
“We can lie detector test any of our people,” he said. “We did not do this. Who knows who found that fish and did something with it. The people responsible who weighed and released the fish, those are the people who I know have nothing to do with that. Whatever happened to that tarpon, I hope it wasn’t done to make people look bad.”
The article posted on savethetarpon.com says that Capt. T.J. Stewart of Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats caught the 124-pound tarpon during the tournament. DNA samples were taken and swabs sent to a laboratory in St. Petersburg.
The tarpon was found floating in the Gulf the next day, on June 4.
“It was cut open in a failed attempt to send the fish to the bottom so it couldn’t be DNA tested and traced back to the PTTS,” the article states. “This fish, with belly intact, had been sampled the previous day at the PTTS scales.”
During the 2012 fishing season, six of the fish that were caught during PTTS tournaments were DNA sampled, then sampled again at a later date. Four of them were dead.Ingman said while he didn’t know exactly how many fish were caught and sampled during that particular June tournament, he did know that four of them were found dead afterward. He said he’s not happy about that, but said the PTTS would not stop DNA sampling tarpon, because it’s for a good cause.
“We sample hundreds of fish, we don’t hide anything because it all helps science,” he said. “We set ourselves up in a way, we’re putting a fingerprint on every fish, but it helps the scientists and helps a good cause ... so it’s worth doing.”
Ingman said every fish brought to the scale and weighed in previous tournaments was issued a possession tag.
“That’s something the FWC watches,” he explained. “If someone brought a fish to the scale and didn’t have a tag, we wouldn’t weigh it.”
Capt.Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save the Tarpon, said that the person who performed the DNA sampling was not affiliated with his group in any way, and that no one tampered with the fish after its death. McLaughlin has been closely watching the data retrieved from DNA sampling from Boca Grande Pass.
“As of 2011, DNA samples have been taken from only two living fish caught during or after a tournament,” he said. “When you have a tournament killing a large portion of fish, masquerading as a conservation group and you put it on television, you’ve just said that gaffing, dragging and holding fish up for pictures is perfectly fine. That is the culture they created, that it was OK to treat the fish that way.”
McLaughlin wants to know how many dead fish is enough to prove that angling methods employed by some PTTS anglers is unethical.
“During two PTTS tournaments held on the same day they DNA sampled 80 fish,” he said. “Four fish found dead were from the fish that had been weighed. The curious thing is, though, that all the dead ones from that day were found after the tide changed at the end of the tournament.”
McLaughlin said what that means is that during much of the tournament the tide was going out. When it switched later on in the day, near the end of the tournament, the dead tarpon weren’t being taken offshore and they were found by DNA sampling boats.
How many fish would have been found prior to the incoming tide is a mystery, but McLaughlin said the odds of finding a live tarpon during DNA sampling should have been just as good as finding a dead one.
But only dead tarpon were found.
The PTTS announced last fall that they would be changing their methods during the tournaments. No more tarpon would be gaffed, dragged to the scales near the beach and weighed, they said. Instead, they will be using other measurements to judge the size of the fish. Whether those methods fall under the category of “possession” is now in question.
McLaughlin said that trying to hold a fish at the boat, whether with a gaff or a lip-lock device, while waiting for camera crews to show up would be in question as far as possession laws go.
“If they had possession tags during their tournaments and killed a fish, that’s not illegal,” McLaughlin said. “But if they called it a ‘kill’ tournament, which is what it is, they would have no supporters, no TV show, no sponsors.”
Ingman said he agreed that Charlotte Harbor is a valuable asset to the community, and the tarpon that live within it provide an economic boon for the area during fishing season. According to Ingman, the PTTS has the tarpon population’s best interests at heart.
“The people who care about the fish are the ones we are going to listen to,” he said. “Our area, Charlotte Harbor, is probably the most-watched area for dead tarpon. I have a real passion for these fish and I can tell you, at the end of the day, we didn’t do this.”
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