Just about anyone who fishes knows about Shimano rods and reels. It is one of the industry leaders in innovation for both.
Not nearly so many are familiar with the company’s long-standing devotion to fisheries conservation. But more are learning as Shimano steps into its new role as a supporting sponsor of Bassmaster tournaments and its name appears on live-release boats.
Traditionally, though, the company has worked quietly in the background. But Noreen Clough, recently retired B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, knows about that little publicized history.
“Shimano continues to be a key player in fisheries conservation,” she said. “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.”
Morlock is one of the primary reasons that Shimano is a “key player.” As the long-time director of environmental affairs for Shimano, he knows as much about angler and conservation issues in North America as anyone. And in political circles, he is one of the most outspoken defenders of public access and our right to fish.
“As threats multiply, from animal rights groups and others, we’re forced to pay more attention,” he said. “Whether by design and intent or by other less nefarious means, I believe the very basis of science-based fish and wildlife management, conservation, and sustainable use is being threatened as never before.”
With animal rights groups, a persistent theme is that fish feel pain, an argument that Morlock loves to debunk.
“If fish did (feel pain), they would be unable to eat many of the spiny/prickly creatures like crawfish and other fish (because of dorsal spines) that they survive on,” he said. “That’s a rather obvious point to those of us who fish or who have a background in science.
“But for those who do not, the media does a poor job of filling in the rather glaring gaps in information deficiency often inherent in animal rights campaigns.”
Some of those who want to push us off the water, meanwhile, don’t like opposition by Morlock and Shimano, 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.”
And as Morlock and Shimano defend recreational fishing, they also are working with B.A.S.S. and other partners to make it better.
“There are a series of layers to our involvement with B.A.S.S.,” he said. “And conservation is a cornerstone.
“Right now, you see the live-release boats. But this is going to evolve into other conservation initiatives.”
Some of the possibilities include habitat improvement, fish care, and youth programs, Morlock said, adding that such work likely will involve partnering with B.A.S.S. Nation states and clubs.
“Because of what we do (in conservation), we’re unique in the fishing business,” the director added. “And the history of where we’ve come from is directly related to where we’re going.”
That history includes both fresh and saltwater habitat work, creation of the first live-release boats nearly 30 years ago, and, more recently, development of a water weigh-in system for tournaments.
“We took apart every step of the tournament, from the time a fish is caught until it is released,” Morlock explained. “And that led to development of this system, which is faster than weighing fish out of water and less harmful.”
Without innovations such as the live-release boats and the weigh-in system, tournament fishing would be in big trouble, he said. “We could see a real vulnerability for any event. The anti-use folks will attack anybody. It doesn’t matter what size the tournament.”
The director of environmental affairs added that many improvements have been made since Shimano launched the first live-release boat in the mid 1980s. “Too many fish in warm water with low dissolved oxygen can lead to mortalities,” he said. “We’ve seen lots of changes in ways to reduce that, and B.A.S.S. has done a good job of staying current.”
Morlock pointed out that “virtually all big tournaments use live-release boats now.”
Shimano owned three live-release boats for awhile. And it sent them, along with crews, 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.
(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.)