It’s easy to catch fisheries around the world, and the many species that anglers like to target are self-evident. Many may not even realize that these species and fishing grounds might not exist today without the efforts of the International Game Fish Association. Most anglers know IGFA simply as the Official Sport Fishing Trustee. While it’s true that IGFA World Records and the Fishing Hall of Fame are what the nonprofit is best known for, that’s only a fraction of the all of his work. These days, they are at the forefront of the latest scientific technologies and advancements for the management and protection of popular sport fish around the world. They work hand-in-hand with government agencies to develop regulations and protect endangered wild fish species around the world. As if that weren’t enough, they are also very involved in educating new anglers, setting up online training courses, youth fishing camps and fishing clinics to attract new anglers to the fold. . At the same time, they frequently hold seminars to help anglers develop their skills. IGFA has also had a great influence on the ethical fishing practices that many anglers know and use today. This great organization has accomplished quite a bit in its more than 80 years of history, which is quite impressive for an organization that would have been founded just before the outbreak of World War II. This is the founding of IGFA and how they became such an influence in the world of angling as we know and love it today.
The organization is founded
We can’t talk about IGFA without talking about Michael Lerner. One of seven children born to his father Charles and mother Sophie, Michael was born in Pennsylvania in 1890. In 1918, he partnered with his father and brothers to form Lerner Shops, which offered fashionable clothing. fashion for women. The company was very successful and still operates as a New York & Company retailer to this day.
Eventually, Lerner decided he wanted to focus more on his hunting and fishing passions. Big game fishing for species like bluefin tuna was particularly interesting and exciting for Lerner. In the early 1930s he was on some of the first fishing trips involving scientists to shed light on the unknowns involving many big game species.
At this time in fishing history, there were no universal angling rules on ethical fishing practices, although many anglers expressed interest in having a global organization come up with one. As the IGFA admits on its website, it wasn’t until Lerner arrived that the vague idea began to materialize into a real vision for a fisheries conservation powerhouse.
“Without the energy, vision, financial ability and reputation as a fisherman of Michael Lerner, IGFA would never have been formed on the eve of World War II,” the IGFA website states. “No other individual would make a claim even as a co-founder. All parties originally involved looked to Lerner throughout their tenure and always knew him as the driving force behind the organization. “
When the plans finally came to fruition, IGFA held its very first meeting on June 7, 1939, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The new organization wanted a solid foundation in science, so several scientists attended, including zoologist William King Gregory. Lerner knew Gregory from a scientific fishing expedition to Australia and New Zealand organized a few years earlier. Gregory was elected as the first president of IGFA with Lerner as vice president and ichthyologist Francesca LaMonte as secretary.
One of the most influential fishing clubs of all time had been officially formed and it quickly caught the attention of anglers and scientists around the world. Famous anglers like authors Philip Wylie and Ernest Hemingway became involved in the new fishing association.
In 1944, Lerner became president of IGFA after Gregory retired from the museum and his position as president. He was put in charge just before the end of World War II and IGFA was on its way to becoming the biggest sport fishing organization of all time in the years that followed.
Early rulebooks and changes to record keeping
In 1945, IGFA published its first guide to the organization’s scientific goals for the conservation of game fish. He also detailed their hopes of developing the sport of recreational angling. It was a good time, because with the end of the war, many returning soldiers, especially those who were injured or disabled, were looking for new hobbies in their spare time. The fact that Lerner personally funded the development of thousands of recreational fishing kits that were sent to injured soldiers recovering from field hospitals in many remote parts of the world probably helped.
This first guide also included ethical fishing rules and equipment that can be used in pursuit of a record fish. Keep in mind that early registrations and IGFA rulemaking was based on linen fishing lines. Records were recorded not on the breaking point of the line, but on the number of threads. So it was a big deal, and a literal game changer, when IGFA set line class records for synthetic and nylon fishing line in 1949. That was also the year they introduced the ever-popular “all-out” records.
The introduction of online class records was popular and spurred the growth of the record keeping organization, to the point that IGFA moved beyond its original headquarters in New York and moved to Miami, Florida, in 1958. Lerner remained as president of the organization until 1960, when he finally resigned and allowed William K. DuPoint Carpenter to take office.
Carpenter and Vice President Elwood K. Harry then helped lay the groundwork to move the organization even further. In March 1973, IGFA officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and began offering its first paid memberships to individual anglers and various small angling clubs around the world.
IGFA Becomes Custodian of Freshwater Fisheries Records
IGFA was founded primarily as a sea fishing organization. Few anglers realize this, but Field and Stream Magazine has been the official repository of freshwater fishing records for decades. The magazine had kept freshwater and saltwater records since at least 1910. However, rumor has it that the editors were tired of being the keepers. It was a happy time, because by this point Elwood Harry had taken over from William Carpenter and Harry had big plans for IGFA to become something of a one stop record keeping organization. F&S records were large, vague and often lacked catch data. Many were also completely unverified. Lerner was unhappy with the move and sent Harry a letter detailing his concerns about the costs of taking on more documents and, more importantly, checking them to IGFA standards at the time.
Harry persisted with merging the records and in 1978 Field and Stream’s record data was absorbed into IGFA. Soon after, they also absorbed the records of the International Spin Fishing Association and the Salt Water Fly Rodders of America. It should be noted that these records were never formally absorbed into the IGFA records. Over the next two years, the IGFA set new line class records for the freshwater tip and freshwater classes for fly fishing records. In 1984, the All Apparatus Records program was expanded to include all species of freshwater and saltwater gamefish.
As the popularity of their records continued to grow, IGFA continued to improve it. They added scale certification programs in the mid-1990s that made weighing fish easier for anglers. They also introduced the IGFA Slams to give anglers new goals to aspire to. In 1998 they added new categories for female anglers, then expanded the female categories to include freshwater in 2014. Another major addition to record keeping came in 2011. The organization recognized that catch and release was more popular than ever, necessitating the addition of all-appearance length records for fish that are released to fight another day.
IGFA’s Conservation Efforts
Through all of this record keeping history, we have to mention the countless ways IGFA has given back to game fish conservation around the world. For example, in 2021, IGFA representatives played a key role in proposing the first-ever recreational fishing regulations in Colombia. They are often involved in efforts to slow commercial fishing, which, when done unsustainably, plunges populations of species like bluefin tuna. In recent years, they have supported the construction of the EAA Reservoir, which aims to stop harmful algae blooms in the Everglades by lowering Lake Okeechobee and preventing the dumping of poor quality water into nearby estuaries.
IGFA has also been a key player in the 30×30 initiative. The idea behind 30×30 is to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. This includes both land and ocean. The big goal here is to protect the biodiversity and delicate ecosystems that fish and animals need to survive.
Of course, most of IGFA’s conservation efforts are focused on game fish. In 2010, the organization became concerned about the drop in the number of marlins. Their response was to launch a “No Swordtails on the Menu” campaign. The idea was to educate the public about declining billfish numbers and encourage restaurants and stores to stop selling commercially harvested billfish so numbers can recover. This eventually led to the Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 which shut down commercial markets for billfish in the United States.
IGFA also ran a global marlin tagging program and assisted IUCN in conducting global billfish and tuna assessments. In 2011, they identified at least seven species in danger of extinction if nothing is done.
It’s not all salt water they focus on either. IGFA is currently involved in a large research project in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study the golden bream and the threats to its population.
Simply put, IGFA has so many irons in the fire that we can’t list them all here. This is an integral and far-reaching angling organization, and we are fortunate to have the advocacy of anglers and fisheries around the world.
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