Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) is concerned about the newly established SFC Tarpon Championship Series (TCS), which has announced nationally televised tournaments in Islamorada (March 28-30), Charlotte Harbor (April 4-6), and Sarasota (April 20-22). As the only organization focused on restoring the regional tarpon fishery through science-based conservation, stewardship and advocacy, BTT believes the rules, media coverage and spirit of the TCS will promote unsustainable fishing practices that threaten tarpon—something we and our partners have long fought to prevent. Counted among our concerns are:
- The depiction of shark-tarpon interactions. Sensationalism of shark interactions was prevalent throughout the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, and more recently was promoted on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. This sort of televised coverage can promote a culture in which such depredation of tarpon is not only acceptable, but exciting. The TCS rules do not deduct points for tarpon that are attacked and killed by sharks.
- The handling of tarpon. Televised tournaments often favor the dramatization of extended fights and excessive handling boatside to add excitement for the viewing audience. TCS rules should be revised to clearly promote practices that reduce fight time and handling, which will increase the likelihood of tarpon surviving after being released.
- Engagement of local communities. Although not framed by science, questions remain regarding how local guides will be engaged and how local communities will benefit in ways similar to existing tournaments conducted in the Florida Keys. BTT values its collaboration with local guides, which has led to many conservation victories benefitting our economically and culturally valuable flats fishery. What value will the new series bring to our local guides and the resource, which is under increasing pressure?
In a meeting with tournament organizers on January 18, organized by Locke + Key Productions, BTT joined Florida Keys fishing guides and their associations and other partners in calling on SFC to reconsider the ramifications of its tournaments on the tarpon fishery. Concerns raised at the meeting included those outlined above as well as:
- A live-streamed, nationally televised tournament would subject highly sensitive fishing areas to increasing pressure that would be a detriment to the fishery.
- Featuring destinations like Islamorada and Charlotte Harbor will only add more stress to ecosystems and fisheries that are already stressed by ongoing water quality issues and marine use that is already over capacity.
- Prize money structures similar to that proposed for the TCS have historically attracted unethical anglers and guides to the Keys, causing conflicts with local guides and negatively impacting the fishery.
BTT stands with the Keys fishing community and requests that SFC give serious consideration to the feedback expressed by the local community members. BTT will remain in close consultation with our partners, especially fishing guides and their associations whose leadership and commitment we respect. Working with fishing guides and their associations to ensure the long-term healthy and sustainability of the Florida Keys tarpon fishery is one of BTT’s highest priorities. We will continue to fight against irresponsible ventures that only add more strain to the important resource.