ChicagoLand Fishing Forums banner

1 - 3 of 3 Posts

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
4,346 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is kind've a long read, but I thought it would be beneficial to anybody considering doing a replica in the future. Gray's Taxidermy's retail subsidiary is "Global Fish Mounts". They are well known in the industry for unethical business practices along with poor quality, cheap replicas. I believe you'll see them advertising on Midwest Outdoors amongst a few other high profile locations. Again, a long read, but well worth it. These folks have been screwing over people for decades yet due to the substantial profits they have made, they continue doing business with the uninformed customers...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Haulover charterboats fined for scamming customers
Owner, captains and mates on the two Therapy IV vessels out of Baker’s Haulover Inlet plead guilty to possessing under-sized billfish

By Mike Holliday
Editor

Southeast Florida is known for warm winter days and some of the best bluewater fishing in the country. That combination draws anglers from around the globe looking to escape the winter doldrums by vacationing in the heat and working on their tan from the cockpit of a sportfishing boat.
A day on the water aboard either of the two North Miami Beach based vessels named Therapy IV started with the anticipation of searching the electric blue Gulf Stream waters for dolphin, wahoo and sailfish, knowing the fish of a lifetime could strike at any minute. For many customers that chartered these boats, great catches turned bad when they were pressured to kill fish for a mount that, in most cases, were fiberglass replicas. And, while the complaints of high pressure sales tactics racked up with the Better Business Bureau, gamefish like sailfish that are often released, were brought on board and sacrificed under the guise of using the fish for a mount.
Quite often, the fish were under the 63-inch minimum size limit measured from the tip of the lower jaw to the fork in the tail, but the boats got around the size restrictions by applying for and being granted an exempted fishing permit. The exempted permit allows boats to keep under-sized billfish for scientific purposes, but requires strict reporting guidelines for all under-sized billfish landed, as part of a rule requiring all billfish landed in Florida to be reported within 24-hours.
And that’s where the Therapy IV charterboats initially got into trouble. While on routine patrol, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) patrol boat pulled over one of the Therapy IV vessels inside Baker’s Haulover Inlet for a routine check, and found two under-sized sailfish on board.
“The Therapy IV had under-sized billfish and an expired exempted fishing permit,” said Lieutenant Dave Bingham of the Broward County FWC. “A check of the other Therapy IV charterboat also found an under-sized sailfish and expired exempted fishing permit. That’s what initially led to the investigation.”
The penalties for under-sized billfish can be up to $2,900 for each count, but in typical cases that go to court in Broward County the owner of the vessel is fined an average of $211 per infraction and adjudication is withheld. But when mate Sean Lang tried to conceal the under-sized sailfish, an additional charge of obstruction of justice was tagged onto the fisheries violations, taking the infractions from a civil suit to a criminal suit and piquing the interest of federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office.
Coincidentally, all three under-sized sailfish were under contract for fish mounts, but more importantly, the contracts were legal, binding documents and they listed the overall length measurements of the fish so that exact replicas could be made for the customers.
“State size limits are based on a lower jaw fork length, but given the overall length of a fish, we can extrapolate the size, so we know that a sailfish that measures 84 inches overall will have a lower jaw fork length an inch or two on either side of 63 inches,” said Bingham. “So you know a sailfish with a total length of 60 inches is under-sized. At the same time, the vessels hadn’t reported any billfish landings for a while.”
From March 2003 through May 1, 2005, neither of the Therapy IV vessels reported any billfish landings according to the Statement of Facts filed with the United States District Court, despite a paper trail of contracts to mount sailfish. The Therapy IV acted as an agent with Gray Taxidermy of Pompano Beach, and once the joint efforts of state and federal authorities started investigating the actions of the charterboats, the complaints of high pressure sales tactics started to show a pattern.
Fish that Florida bluewater anglers might consider routine catches, or fish commonly released, are often represented as special or outstanding angling feats by charterboats looking to increase their daily profits. Adding the term “golden” to the name, as in a golden hammerhead, or golden amberjack, seemed to insinuate the fish was unique, and a catch worthy of a mount.
For a portion of the charterboat industry, fish mounts represent huge profits, with the boat receiving anywhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of the total cost of the mount. Gray Taxidermy in Pompano Beach bills itself as the World’s Largest Marine Taxidermy Company, and routinely pays 50 percent of the taxidermy fee to the charterboat. The captains and crews aboard both Therapy IV charterboats were registered agents for Gray Taxidermy.
In October of 2001, Gray Taxidermy Inc., was forced to pay a $30,000 fine and agreed to modify their business practices after complaints of high pressure sales tactics and fraudulent practices by their agents (charterboats). Consumers were often under the impression that once they brought a fish on board they were obligated to have it mounted.
In addition to the fine, Gray Taxidermy agreed to modify their contracts to state that killing a fish was not necessary for a mount, and that the taxidermy service will provide fiberglass replicas unless otherwise noted. They also agreed that no contract for their services would be executed until the boat had returned to the dock and the client had adequate time to consider whether they wanted the fish mounted.
As federal and state prosecutors started looking into the contracts submitted to Gray Taxidermy by the Therapy IV vessels and contacting the people involved, the pattern of high pressure sales and deceptive practices aboard the charterboats emerged. Anglers aboard the Therapy IV vessels were falsely told their sailfish were required by the taxidermy company to produce a mount, and that the mount would utilize the actual fish.
At the same time, the captains and crews aboard the Therapy IV vessels concealed their financial interests in the mounting contracts, accepting the 50 percent down payment often taken by credit card as allocated compensation to be split evenly among the captains and crews. Those compensation payouts ranged from $214 to $1,860.
In July of 2007, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida brought 20 charges against the owners of the Therapy IV vessels and their crew, including counts of illegal harvesting of billfish, conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and fisheries offenses against Stanley S. Saffan, the owner of the two Therapy IV vessels, captains Sean P. Lang and Brian M. Schick, and mates Ralph B. Pegram and Adam Agusto. According to the original indictment, the captain and crews of the Therapy IV vessels routinely told customers that sailfish were required by the taxidermy company to reproduce the mount, despite the fact that no parts of the fish were ever used or delivered to Gray Taxidermy.
Lang, Schick and Pegram entered guilty pleas of illegally harvesting sailfish last year, and await sentencing. Saffran and Agusto entered guilty pleas under the same counts in mid-February. Saffan agreed to forfeit the smaller of the two Therapy IV charterboats, a 44.7-footer, to the government, and most of the other 19 counts were dropped as part of the plea agreement, yet Saffran and Agusto face possible sentences of five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for each count, plus each of the corporations for the Therapy IV vessels face criminal fines up to $500,000.
In the meantime, the FWC and U.S. Attorney’s Office continue to pursue charterboats that practice high pressure sales and fraudulent claims in order to secure contracts for fish mounts.
“There are a handful of boats in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm that carry out these practices, but most charterboats are ethical and practical,” said Bingham. “We’re trying to get the word out that this practice of abusing the tourists for monetary gain is not to be tolerated. Killing a fish unnecessarily for monetary gain is pathetic.”
For many in the charterboat industry, the killing of billfish for mounts is considered short-sighted and a greedy practice that unnecessarily takes fish out of the general population for profit, when that same fish can be caught multiple times over the course of its lifetime, and add to many positive days of charter fishing. But the profit potential that can be up to 50 percent of the cost of the mount encourages some boats to needlessly kill fish to assure the customer won’t change their mind back at the dock.
“What happened was based on greed,” explains Mike Kirkhart, owner of New Wave Taxidermy in Stuart. “In the 70’s the big taxidermy firms were Pflueger and Reese. Gray was one of the smaller ones, and charterboats were getting 15 to 20 percent commissions, which was a nice perk. Then someone offered a 30 percent commission and things changed.”
Around the time the commission for charterboats went to 30 percent, Gray Taxidermy became more aggressive in an attempt to corner the market on the business to the extent of offering charter captains a year’s commission up front if they could produce invoices from the previous years and agreed to send a similar number of mounts their way. In a short time, Gray was offering 50 percent commissions to the captains of boats around the world.
“What Gray would do is give 50 percent commission to the captain, which was $500 on a $1,000 mount, and then put a contract together that has unseen charges,” said Kirkhart. “They did the handling, crating and shipping, and would charge as much as 80 percent of the cost of the original mount for those services, so they’d get their money back from the commission in those fees, and the customer would get stung with a high priced fish that often looks horrible.”
Kirkhart equates it to a formula that went awry, that now caters to those who are desperate to make a buck. Currently, the practice of paying high commissions to captains for fish mounts is so common that they often opt for the commission money over the higher quality mount that often costs less.
“You can go online and find an artist that will do you a great job and save you the expense and hassle,” said Kirkhart. “There are taxidermy artists all over the country that are craftsman and are still at it. They can create a high quality product.”
For Kirkhart, who has won awards in taxidermy competitions on the state and international levels, the quality of his workmanship is renowned, yet he still emphasizes that the customer is getting something other than the actual fish.
“There are still a few craftsmen who are doing skin mounts, mostly for bass, but the majority of mounts are replicas and there’s no need to kill the fish for those,” said Kirkhart. “When you get a mount, you are really getting a memory and a story that goes with it, and hopefully a beautiful artist’s reproduction.”
But the profit motive will always spur some charterboats to pursue high pressure sales tactics like referring to ordinary catches as “The catch of a lifetime”, and adding the term “golden” to the name of a fish to make it sound special in an attempt to get their customer caught up in the excitement of the moment and hopefully opt for a fish mount. Should the customer want to change their mind, the charterboat crew often plays on the customer’s conscience, saying, “We wouldn’t have killed the fish if you didn’t want a mount,” explained FWC Officer Bingham.
While the defendants in the Therapy IV case face sentencing, there are rumors that the investigation into fraudulent practices and high pressure sales tactics remains open, and is actively pursuing other boats and possibly even some of the taxidermy companies.
“This is the kind of thing we are targeting,” said Bingham. “Most charterboats are very ethical, but there are those that prey on unsuspecting tourists.”
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
40 Posts
I had a friend back in Highschool who had gone to Florida for spring break. While fishing he and two of his friends landed some type of shark and came to understand that the paticular type of shark wasn't edible and that since he and his friends gave the go ahead for the kill they were obligated by law to mount it. In retrospect it sounds as though it was some shady business practice. To bad that doesn't change the fact that Mike had shark payments halfway through college. Thanks for the head's up Fishart.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
4,346 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
FYI, most saltwater fish/mounts are replicas. Most saltwater fish are simply too greasy to mount via conventional taxidermy methods. Some real parts of bill-fish have been used such as the fins and sometimes even the bill. But these mounts are disposable, they start leaching oil and stinking after a year or two (or sooner). Some of the older replicas - or the "cheaper" ones of billfish manytimes were cast right on the beach off the real fish via plaster. Most of these were done in Mexico. These are heavy as heck and the plaster eventually starts peeling away. Another disposable mount/replica. Now, a fish like a shark - especially one of any size would be a nightmare to skin out due to their thick, leathery hides. I can't imagine doing it. I also can't imagine an actual law where one had to mount a fish if they kept it. It would be a great law for business for taxidermists! But, I think your buddy may have been a victim of unethical business practices. Gray's has been around for decades...
 
1 - 3 of 3 Posts
Top