The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) is best known as the international authority on sport fishing, maintaining records for more than 200 fresh and saltwater species. But as it celebrates its 75th anniversary during 2014, the organization also should be congratulated for its work in marine fisheries conservation and education.
“The work we do is for future generations,” said Gail Morchower, manager of IGFA’s Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Fla. “If we don’t conserve, we’ll have nothing to promote.”
Originally a part of the American Museum of Natural History, IGFA began in 1939, with the first set of ethical fishing rules. It existed as a private education and scientific organization until the 1970s, when members were solicited. It was one of the first to encourage and facilitate information exchange between anglers and scientists, and early contributions to conservation included construction of a state-of-the-art marine laboratory by IGFA founder Michael Lerner.
Today, the organization’s 25,000 members are particularly worried about depletion of the world’s big game species, including billfish and bluefin tuna, by commercial fishing. That concern was highlighted by the discovery in 2006 that the United States was the single biggest importer of billfish products from longliners working out of countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Vietnam.
As a result, IGFA joined with Wild Oceans to gain Congressional approval for the Billfish Conservation Act, passed in 2012. Now the focus is on making certain that the bill is properly implemented, explained Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director.
“It’s in the rulemaking process now with the National Marine Fisheries Service and we’re hoping for the proposed final rule soon,” said Schratwieser, who added that supporters are optimistic that it will be implemented as intended --- an all out ban on possession and import of billfish in the continental U.S.
That’s good news for the recreational fishing economy, “which generates billions of dollars of marine-related jobs and sales, from a fishery where virtually all billfish are released alive,” IGFA proclaimed. “Restoring billfish populations will improve recreational fishing opportunities both in the U.S. and abroad, which in turn will create more jobs and sales for boat and gear manufacturers, marinas, and sportfishing industries.”
Additionally, IGFA leads a public awareness campaign to end the waste of bluefin tuna in the U.S. and ensure that surface longliners--- not recreational fishermen--- are held accountable for incidental bycatch. Through its online petition, anglers can urge NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries to reduce longline bycatch and protect bluefin spawning grounds.
On a third front, the organization is possibly the nation’s most vocal proponent for circle hooks to reduce fish mortality. “We’ve been doing this for awhile now,” the conservation director said.
“We’ve published a number of papers on this, we’ve partnered in research, and anything else we can do to get the word out.”
This past spring, IGFA President Rob Kramer, Schratwieser, and others helped educate captains and anglers regarding use of the hooks and additional fish-friendly strategies at the Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament in Cuba.
Of course, the organization also educates anglers in this country via its “schools” in sport fishing. In small, classroom settings, angling experts cover everything from inshore and offshore species to geographic areas and styles of fishing.
IGFA education, research, conservation efforts, museum, and its one-of-a-kind fishing library (16,300 books and 2,600 films) are supported by donations and memberships, starting at $15 annually. Built 15 years ago, the 60,000-square-foot museum attracts about 100,000 visitors annually.
“Probably the most popular exhibit remains virtual fishing in The Catch Gallery,” Morchower said. “Young, old, they all love it. They can fish for five different species with five different types of tackle.”
Nearby, some of the world’s best anglers offer video instruction on a variety of fishing techniques. Bass Pro Shaw Grigsby details the basics of spinning, while Joan Wulff talks about fly casting and Rip Cunningham about surf casting. Nick Smith expounds on kite fishing, while Orlando Wilson explains baitcasting and Skip Smith trolling.
The Catch Gallery is one of six rooms flanking The Great Hall, which opens out into restored wetlands with walkway. All make abundant use of touch screens and interactive exhibits.
In The Tackle Gallery, visitors can learn how to strike, play, and land fish, as well as find out more about catch-and-release, knots, and fish finders. They can see displays of baits, lines, tackle boxes, rods, and reels. Next door, the Fish Gallery provides underwater visuals--- without the water--- of fish habitats, ranging from streams and lakes to estuaries and blue water.
The Places, World Records, and Legacy galleries reveal the world’s best fishing hotspots, as well as provide details on world-record catches and the history of angling. One of the more interesting revelations from the latter:
“The Puritans considered fishing somewhat frivolous (and sinful on Sunday). Besides, fish were so plentiful they were easily scooped up in baskets, nets, and pitchforks. But wealthy Europeans engaged in the sport, and merchants in the 1730s advertised fishing tackle. Sport fishing didn’t become popular in America until after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.”
The Fishing Hall of Fame holds center stage in the spectacular Great Hall. Eight displays along the sides, enlivened with memorabilia, honor the world’s best and/or most famous anglers, while more than 170 life-size mounts of world-record fish float above.
“You can look at the floor under the mount to see information about the fish, including who caught it and where,” said the museum manager.
Floating fish range from a 4-pound, 3-ounce bluegill caught in Kentucky to a 2,664-pound white shark, the all-tackle world record from Australia. The shark is so large that it had to be brought into the museum during construction, since it wouldn’t fit through the doors.
All 100 members of the Hall of Fame could fit through the doors, but some are larger than life, including Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey, both writers as well as world-class anglers.
Members also include Dame Juliana Berners, Izaak Walton, Laurie Rapala, Curt Gowdy, Homer Circle, Lee Wulff, Lefty Kreh, Johnny Morris, Al McClane, Bill Dance, Billy Pate, and Alfred Glassell. Those inducted in 2013 were Stewart Campbell, Marcel Prot, Ernest Schwiebert, Joan Vernon, and Frank Woolner.
“These people are recognized for significant contributions to recreational angling,” explains Morchower. “They might be known for angling accomplishments or for something in industry, research, or education.
“We maintain a huge list and we are always taking nominations.”
(This appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine. Activist Angler served on the advisory committee for construction of the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as contributed photos and wrote copy for the exhibits.)