In today’s media, content-driven world, fame and money can often get the best of folks and cloud their judgment on doing what’s best for their fisheries. In our world of fly fishing, it’s always a difficult balance, because some of that same media exposure CAN be good–whether it be education of best fish-handling practices, learning to appreciate and protect your home waters, or even recruiting new anglers into the sport of fly fishing in hopes that they will someday become strong and engaged advocated for conservation. That is what we at Flylords have always sought to accomplish.
However, we recently saw the flip-side of that dilemma down in Florida, when the Sport Fishing Championship announced a live-streamed tarpon tournament series in Islamorada, Punta Gorda, and Sarasota. There were several functional problems with this endeavor that ultimately destined the postponement of the SFC tarpon tournament series.
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“This series was flawed from the beginning,” said Capt. Benny Blanco. “Tarpon were selected, because they sell, not because the fishery is healthy. In fact, the tarpon fishery has been in decline for over a decade. The locations were selected because they sell, not because the habitat and watershed can withstand additional pressure and attention. Live streaming was selected, because it sells. However, live streaming is terrible for the resource, the guide community, and the sport.”
South Florida tarpon fishing is the pinnacle of inshore saltwater fishing, so it makes sense why SFC chose it. However, there was minimal concern, initially, for the health of the resource, which is why the tournament series was met with such fierce opposition.
The flats guides of South Florida know their flats fisheries more than anyone and understand how pressure affects the ecosystem. They know where you can run on plane and where you can’t run. They act as stewards of these ever-so delicate flats and are sure to let newcomers know when they’re harming these ecosystems. Unfortunately, they were never given the opportunity to share their immense local knowledge. The local guiding communities found out about the SFC tournament series at the announcement, which only added more fuel to the fire.
Fortunately, the guide community throughout much of Florida knows a thing or two about mobilizing to protect their home waters that they love and depend on. Take the Senate Bill 2508 issue last year, as an example. Guides from across the state canceled charters and caravanned up to the Florida State House with Captains for Clean Water to successfully kill the bill and maintain progress towards Everglades restoration.
Well that same energy was tapped to oppose the SFC tarpon tournament series. Guides, local organizations like the Lower Keys Guides Association and the Florida Keys Guides Association, and others immediately made their opposition public and adamant. They even met with the SFC organizers themselves to share their perspective. Fortunately, it worked–SFC announced they would be postponing the tournament series.
Capt. Rob Fordyce made an important distinction between the storied fishing tournaments in the Florida Keys. “The same local guides that are fishing Keys waters everyday are the same 25 guides who are participating in the traditional tournaments and have for decades,” said Fordyce. “Over the years we have adapted the tournament rules around what the fishery can handle.”
“This new attempt to bring in a televised, for-profit tournament, with 30 non local anglers, additional camera boats, all the buddies that are helping with scouting because it’s all about a cash prize, is something our resource can’t handle. Because of the very non specific rules of this tournament, the mishandling of fish is a concern, all while being filmed and showing the world how “Not to do it”! Also, at the end of the day, the traditional, established tournament donate the money to The Guides Trust Fund, BTT, Scholarships for locals, etc..”
Capt. Benny Blanco closed out his thoughts with words of caution and advice. “This should serve as a caution to other fisheries across the country. New tournaments should undergo a general litmus test… Is the target fishery healthy? Is the resource (habitat, water, and community) healthy enough to withstand additional pressures? Is the media coverage a benefit to the fishery and/or angling community? The resource should always come first… the tournaments should benefit the resource and/or community.”
Sage words from one of the fiercest stewards we’ve come across. We all have an impact on the resources we love and benefit from. That’s why conservation and advocacy are so important today. The numbers of anglers on the water in not likely to decrease, and their efficiency isn’t either–that’s a whole other issue. You’ve gotta do what you can to protect what you’ve got and fight to make it better that you found it. To the light tackle and fly fishing guides of South Florida: great work and keep it up–y’all serve as tremendous examples to the rest of the fishing community.