Nelson Italiano II, better known as Nat to folks on Boca Grande, is angry.
Oh, business is good and he loves life on Gasparilla Island but he can't stand what's happening out in Boca Grande Pass where tarpon are being driven, beaten and slaughtered in an ecology that nurtured them well for most of the past century.
This week, Italiano spent some time discussing what must be done to save the tarpon in the Boca Grande Pass, how the insurance industry is stronger than most Floridians believe and just how large the insurance rate increases in the pipeline are shaping up to be.
QUESTION: Italiano Insurance just collected a prestigious honor in Austin, Texas. What was it for?
ANSWER: We were the FloodSmart Agent of the Year. We'd actually won this flood insurance agent of the year award about three years ago. We were nominated for that again this year. We didn't win that but we won this one. We were also the Small Business of the Year in Tampa from the Chamber of Commerce, which is big, in our first year of being nominated. We finished in the top 75 of small businesses of the year in the whole United States.
Q: Do hurricane season projections factor into the insurance industry business equations at all?
Nat Italiano at a glance
Birth date: July 19, 1956
Occupation: Owner Italiano Insurance of Boca Grande
Residence: Boca Grande
Family: Married 22 years, now divorced, with son and daughter
Education: Attended Florida State University and played football under Coach Bobby Bowden and attended New College.
Discovered Boca Grande: My family had dear friends on Sanibel and our family started looking for property on Sanibel and just couldn't find anything. Our friends in Tampa said: Try Boca Grande. Dad said I've heard of it but I don't know where it is. They told us how to get here and we stayed at the Waterfront Motel and bought something that weekend in 1969. Built the house in 1970-71.
A: Not particularly. You have a year where there's going to be a low percentage of hurricanes and named storms, and one hits you, and it was a high percentage to you. This year there's an El Nino but the Gulf of Mexico water is hotter than ever. Spring and summer came early.
Q: Your mangos came early. Why is that a bad omen?
A: The old-timers say when the fruits come early on the tree, be ready for a hurricane. So that scares me.
Q: Does the shaky financial status of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. scare you at all?
A: Citizens is probably more financially sound than most of the companies writing insurance in Florida. They have a lot of reinsurance, they have $6 billion in the bank, and the last numbers I saw, they could come up with $20 billion. And they have taxing and assessing authority. The state of Florida is not going to go broke. So I have no problem writing insurance with Citizens.
Q: Are we paying enough for flood insurance?
A: We're probably paying enough for flood insurance but we're not paying enough for windstorm insurance. The rates are inadequate. Although Citizens is financially sound, the rate is inadequate for what they are covering on the coast.
Q: Does that mean rate increases are on the way?
A: We're getting ready to see some huge rate increases next year - not only with Citizens but with everybody. It's already happening.
Q: Define huge.
A: Homes of $1 million will be paying two to three times more for insurance.
Q: Will that lead to more people going uncovered?
A: Yes. It already has.
Q: Do you have any good news?
A: The good news we have is we will write for homes more than $1 million. There are companies out there doing it.
Q: What is the role of Italiano Insurance on Boca Grande from a business perspective?
A: Ultimate customer service. We get involved with our clients, I go to their houses. Citizens is inspecting every house on the island. I go to every inspection, my son and I go to every inspection to be there with the client and inspector to make sure the inspection is done properly. I'm very fortunate in this small geographical area I can be a hands-on agent.
Q: What inspection shortfalls crop up most often?
A: No attic accesses. People's attics are either enclosed so the hurricane clips and nailing pattern of the roof deck can't be seen or the attics have been foamed in. if they've been foamed in, it's a problem. That's the biggest problem we're having with inspections.
Q: Why did Hurricane Charlie end your 26-year career as a fishing guide and force you to focus on insurance?
A: I was always in insurance full-time and I managed to guide by fishing in the evenings. I would fish at night from 8 pm. to 11 p.m. After Hurricane Charlie hit I couldn't do it any more with all the claims.
Q: Why have you come out so strongly against the use of jig fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass?
A: I've always been concerned about what jig fishing is doing to Boca Grande Pass. Something has got to be done. The tarpon are being beaten out of Boca Grande Pass by this type of fishing.
Q: Why can't the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission do something about this problem?
A: There are a couple reasons. No 1: Everywhere else in the world is going to artificial bait instead of live bait. The way we fish, no tarpon swallows the hook. So that's a problem to the FWC. How are they going to ban artificials when they are trying to make other areas artificials only?
The second problem is harassing tarpon. I don't know how to cure that problem. You can't chase a deer down with a vehicle. Why should you be allowed to harass a tarpon to death with a boat? That's what they are doing out there. That's the biggest problem out there to me: the harassment of the fish
Q: Does this make you angry?
A: It does. Go out there on a Saturday or Sunday, every time tarpon rolls about 100 boats rush over on top of him as fast as they can, slam their engines into reverse, roil the water and bomb him with jigs. The schools are beat down and beat out of Boca Grande Pass. They're killing them and something has to be done.
Q: What is saveourtarpon.com trying to accomplish?
A: We're showing the proof to FWC. Showing pictures of them holding up dead tarpon without tags. We're cataloging the DNA of every dead tarpon after every tournament. Big fish. Breeders.
Q: On a lighter note, what was it like playing for the legendary coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State University?
A: He's quite a man. I played second-string everything: defensive back, defensive end, fullback and linebacker. Whenever somebody got hurt they moved me to second string behind the second-string guy. I played on specialty teams and traveled with thee team. We were 3-5 under Darrell Mudra my first year, 5-6 with Bobby my second year and 10-2-1 my last year there going to the Tangerine Bowl (now the Citrus Bowl).