You were recently inducted into the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Hall of Fame—how did you first get involved with the IGFA?
I have been involved with the IGFA since I started to fish tournaments in Jamaica, so as early as seven years old. All our fishing activity is per the IGFA rules. I became an IGFA representative in 1986, and then became a trustee in 1993.
How has the IGFA grown over the years?
The IGFA has more significance today than ever before. With more people fishing recreationally, and with more eligible species, the rules, regulations, and record aspect of the IGFA is growing. As more people interact with fish and fish habitat, the IGFA’s role in conservation and education becomes more necessary.
Will fishing tournaments ever all be catch and release?
There are ongoing efforts to secure a record by length measurement where fish are measured alive and released for a record, instead of being killed and weighed. The emphasis will always be on conservation while the core business of IGFA remains ethical rule making and record keeping.
I read old Man and the sea again recently. The epic battle between man and fish transcends the fact that Santiago was fishing for meat rather than sport. Do you think even Papa Hemingway would be a catch and release advocate?
Of course. However, he did fish in places where there were a lot of poor people who appreciated his catches, and at that time there were not the resource issues we face today.
Fishing tournaments are coming under more and more scrutiny. What can we do to lessen the impact of tournaments?
Fishing tournaments for any species are a good thing if well organized. I used to run tournaments in Jamaica, and was the first to introduce the partial release format for blue marlin there in 1989. Tournaments have many benefits, depending on the rule structure and species targeted. In many countries there is a socioeconomic value to such events where a lot of people gather in one location, marina, or club, where a dollar value can be attached to the species caught (and released). It is a great forum for education of participants, and for data collection for scientists, as being a generator of income for conservation groups.
What’s the single most important move fishermen and fishing tournaments can make to keep from killing fish?
To answer this question let me use the example of a tournament called the White Marlin Open held in early August every year in Ocean City, Maryland. An average of 400 boats fish for considerable prize money. About 1,000 white marlin are caught in the event, mostly on bait. The survivability studies (by Dr. John Graves at VIMS) have shown that approximately one-third of all white marlin caught on bait with J-hooks die after being released. That will be approximately 330 white marlin per tournament. The study also showed that 99 percent of white marlin survived being caught on bait rigged with circle hooks. The legislation governing how we fish for billfish when using bait has changed because of this study. Survivability is very high when using circle hooks compared to J-hooks. So, what is the single most important factor? Everyone should use circle hooks.
During the past 20 years, illegal shark finning has become rampant. Yet, how can we stop the killing of millions of sharks each year without first taming the voracious appetite people in the Far East have for shark fin soup?
That is the $64,000 question. Not very easily answered. Some people say that the harvesting of sharks for this purpose will only stop when all the sharks are caught. However, some countries are trying very hard to protect their shark species. There is a growing movement to learn more about these creatures in order to better manage them. Hopefully it will spread to the Orient.
Shark fin soup is illegal in the U.S. but not in China. Do you see a day when they will outlaw it, too?
I cannot imagine what trade sanctions would have to be threatened to make this happen. Not very likely.
What is your opinion on humans interacting with sharks, especially at dive sites where chum is used to attract sharks? Is this a safe practice? Do you think the interaction helps with conservation by making people more engaged with sharks?
Shark interactive programmes, if well managed and operated, are very beneficial to all parties. The close proximity to these otherwise shy animals allows for acquisition of very good images and footage. The use of chum is essential in making this happen. However, many operators only use scent and not food to bring the animals in close. There is not enough food used to enable the animals to become dependent on this activity. The interaction is the greatest tool for dispelling the myth about the aggressive nature of sharks generally. The more the interactions, the more people experience the animal in its natural habitat, which generates more respect and sympathy. Governments that support such (shark) marine interactive programmes are more likely to conserve the animals for eco-tourism than allow them to be exploited as a resource to be harvested. These animals, whether they are sharks, rays, barracudas, groupers, or mutton snappers, are more valuable to the respective local/island economy alive than as a fillet on a plate. Non-consumptive use of any marine resource is the better option.