Anyone who fishes for bass is familiar with Shimano, especially its rods and reels. And you’re going to be even more aware of it in the future, as the name appears on live-release boats at B.A.S.S. events.
For many, that likely will be the first association that they make between the company and conservation, and some might not make the connection even then. For them, Shimano will appear to be just another sponsor.
The truth, however, is that company is far more than that, and has been for years. Working quietly in the background, it has been a champion for fisheries conservation and angler access since 1986.
That, by the way, is when the first live-release boat was developed. And guess who was responsible.
“We were killing a lot of fish out of ignorance,” says Phil Morlock, long-time director of environmental affairs for Shimano and a behind-the-scenes guy who knows as much about angler and conservation issues in North America as anyone.
“These current boats are in their seventh or eighth iteration. We’ve continued to do research to find better ways.”
Shimano owned three live-release boats for awhile. And it sent them, along with crew, all over the country. “Demand was so great that we couldn’t stay current,” Morlock says. “So we donated the boats to different tournament organizations. Today, a lot of organizations have boats based on our designs.”
In those early years, the company also played a critical role in a massive restoration project at Lake Havasu, where shoreline access for such work was minimal. The Bureau of Land Management and its partners constructed the habitat, and then a Shimano boat placed it. Together, they brought the fishery back.
Only within the past few years, however, has Shimano been on the radar as an angler’s champion. Coincidentally, that’s when state and federal agencies with arguably anti-fishing allegiances and animal rights groups became emboldened and threats to the future of fishing began to multiply, mostly on the saltwater front.
Some of those who want to push us off the water didn’t like Shimano’s involvement, especially in opposing the Marine Life Protection Act, which has needlessly closed many of California’s coastal waters to recreational fishing. In a petulant snit, they initiated a “Shame on Shimano” campaign, accusing the company of lies and caring more about making money than protecting the oceans.
“It’s too bad that Shimano is the only fishing company that has seriously stepped up to the plate to fight some of the threats to angling,” Chris Horton said at the time. Now Midwestern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Horton is a former National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S.
“This is how they are rewarded,” he continued. “It makes an easy target for the enviros. If more companies would do what Shimano has done, they’d have a lot harder time beating the good guys.”
Doug Olander of Sport Fishing Magazine added, “This is an attack not only on Shimano, but on all businesses that make and sell tackle, and in fact on all men, women, and children in this country who enjoy the chance to spend time on the water hoping to catch a few fish.
“That's why what at first glance seems just plain goofy is no laughing matter.”
Morlock doesn’t think that any threat should be disqualified because it’s “goofy.” That’s why he monitors them all, as one of sport fishing’s most devoted advocates, and looks for the reality behind the curtain. A perfect example, he says, is the anti-lead campaign.
“If you can’t shut down fishing and hunting with one approach, try another, like ‘toxic substances harming wildlife,’ and soft peddle it,” he explains. “Same endpoint by a different means.”
Meanwhile, on the ground --- or, more accurately, on the water --- Shimano continues its efforts to improve care of fish. Its unique water weigh-in system for tournaments ranks right up there with the live-release boat in importance. The company worked with Dr. Bruce Tufts of Queen’s University, a fish physiologist, as well as B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott and others, to develop it.
“Shimano continues to be a key player in fisheries conservation,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Noreen Clough. “It continues to sponsor scientific research and identify techniques to improve catch-and-release fishing. B.A.S.S. is fortunate to have Shimano and Phil Morlock as partners.”
(A version of this appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)