Watching other people catch fish - if you ask any of my fishing buddies, they'll tell you this is an area in which I excel. So it seemed only reasonable that I take this aptitude and add to it a working knowledge of International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) rules and the skills to visually identify different species of billfish under the fast-paced, challenging and potentially stressful conditions of big game tournaments.
This is precisely the purpose behind the IGFA Observer Training Course, which I attended February 21, 2009 in Newport Beach, California. This full-day course equips people from all walks of life to serve as onboard "referees" in big game fishing tournaments around the world. Who would want to do this? According to IGFA's Jason Schratwieser, who runs the program, about 1,200 people so far have completed courses held in six different countries, six different U.S. states as well as U.S. territories. Among the students in our class was a man who traveled all the way to from Washington state.
Perhaps the more potent question is, why would anybody want to do this? There are several reasons, actually, with conservation at the top of the list. Trained observers can verify tournament catches of target billfish while the fish is still alive. This has allowed more tournaments around the world to switch from big fish "kill" formats to rewarding the most billfish releases. This is already reduced the number of big dead marlin hung up at the docks, and the concept has the potential for expansion to other species such as tuna and sharks. Observers also ensure that tournament participants follow angling and tackle rules prescribed by IGFA as well as the tournament itself.
Looking at if from a more personal perspective, trained observers get the opportunity travel to exotic locales and be aboard amazing yachts with some of the best captains and crews in the world. For an avid offshore angler and/or boat owner, the learning opportunity itself is worth its weight in gold. Which expenses you have to cover and what the tournament covers varies from event to event; often lodging, meals and social events are covered for observers who can get themselves to the tournament site. The West Coast students joining me this day could conceivably get hooked up with a tournament "gig" in Cabo San Lucas, Kona or somewhere off Costa Rica, for example.