The commissioners also reviewed the definition of “snagging” devices when it comes to tarpon fishing, and are going to continue those discussions as well at their June meeting.
Nine people in all filled two small planes and headed “up north” to do their part in ensuring the survival of tarpon in the Pass. They included Capt. Dumplin’ Wheeler, Holly Hill Haynes, Capt. Chris Frohlich, Capt. Mike Bailey, Capt. Phil O’Bannon, Capt. Van Hubbard, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, Mark Futch, Lew Hastings and Capt. Tom Healey.
The flight was worth it, because everyone had a chance to voice his opinions on both topics.
The catch-and-release discussion focused on taking out of the equation the harvest or possession of tarpon, except for cases when an International Game Fish Association record is being pursued. In that case, each person would be allowed one tarpon if they had a tarpon tag.
FWC commissioners also approved of discussion to keep the tag price at $50, but to limit them to one tag per person, per year. They also talked about modifying reporting requirements for the tag, and changing start and end dates for when the tag was valid.
Commissioners also addressed types of gear to be used for tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass. After the question was brought forth as to what, exactly, constitutes a “snagging” device, McLaughlin said that the commissioners were surprised by how obvious it was after viewing that particular type of jig.
“Bill Bishop and Mark Futch used a skin-mount tarpon that we brought, and showed them an example using a Boca Grande tarpon jig, appropriately rigged,” he said. “Five of the seven commissioners held the device in their hands. They all seemed to view it a little differently this time, and they agreed, except for one, that it was a snagging device.”
Hastings, the executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was one of 18 speakers who gave presentations to FWC commissioners. He relayed to them the story of what happened to him during a disturbing, yet enlightening incident at a Fort Lauderdale boat show in 2011, which was his introduction to the general population’s perception of Boca Grande fishing.
“I went to Fort Lauderdale to promote Boca Grande, as well as to promote bringing back the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament on its 30th anniversary,” he said. “This was in the fall of 2011. I had just come on board at the chamber, I knew nothing of the battle going on in the Pass at that time ... I was still learning. What I learned during those five days I was there, was that I couldn’t give away a free tarpon fishing trip in Boca Grande. Why? Because people told me they didn’t want to be any part of what was going on in the Pass. Because of the ‘circus’ they saw on television.
“I realized that it meant the businesses I was charged with supporting and promoting weren’t getting the business they could be, because of what people were seeing on television. And the commissioners at that meeting seemed very surprised at what I was telling them.”
Hastings said that when the discussion of the jig came up, 24 people were signed up to speak.
“I yielded my time to Tom (McLaughlin), Tom Healey yielded his time to Tom, as well as Van Hubbard. Dumplin’ (Wheeler) yielded his time to Mark Futch and Bill Bishop.”
The Boca Grande group, nicknamed the “Save the Tarpon Air Force,” also presented facts to the commissioners about anti-snagging laws in other states such as Washington, Oregon and New York. They then passed the jig around and gave their physical presentation with the mounted tarpon.
“It was encouraging, for sure,” Hastings said. “After everything we presented, they seemed to look a little differently at exactly what the definition of a snagging device is.”
The FWC said the issue of how gear is being used in Boca Grande Pass will more than likely be brought forth as a draft proposal at their June meeting in Lakeland. At that same meeting, the catch-and-release status of tarpon will be brought up for a final public hearing.
More information is available at MyFWC.com/Commission.
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