SWS, Smith, Safina, Vernon Receive IGFA Conservation Awards

José Miguel Diaz Escrich are the recipients of this year’s International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Conservation Awards. The presentations were made at the IGFA’s annual banquet at The Breakers in Palm Beach on January 12th. “The Annual Conservation Awards are given in recognition of those who have done the most to conserve our fishery resources,” said IGFA president Mike Leech.

Smith, the well-known CEO of Grady-White Boats in Greenville, North Carolina, has a 30-year history of conservation involvement. He was a major player in Ducks Unlimited when the group began and was an early director of the Sport Fishing Institute. He was instrumental in the formation of the North Carolina chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), is a board member of the IGFA and a major supporter of the Tag-A-Giant program that’s dedicated to bluefin tuna research. Smith is active in nearly two-dozen other organizations from the North Carolina Aquarium to The Billfish Foundation, and currently spends 50 percent of his time on conservation issues. “It’s gratifying to see the progress we’ve made on a number of fronts,” he says. “More and more people are getting involved, and we’re starting to make a difference.”

Safina, from Long Island, New York, has been a marine conservationist virtually all his life. He received his PhD in ecology from Rutgers University in 1987, and in 1990 founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, where he is Vice President for Marine Conservation. He has worked to ban high-seas driftnets, overhaul fishery regulations and promote rebuilding of depleted populations of billfish, shark and tuna. Safina has written extensively on conservation, is the author of Song for the Blue Ocean (chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year) and has been the recipient of numerous awards.


Joan Vernon of Key Biscayne, Florida, wife of the late Harry Vernon of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply in Miami, has been active in South Florida conservation efforts for 20 years. She is a founding director of the Yamaha Contender Miami Billfish Tournament, a former board member of the local CCA chapter and a fundraiser for the University of Miami Experimental Fish Hatchery. Five years ago she formed the Presidential Challenge of Central America, a three-tournament conservation series in Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala that has drawn the attention of these countries’ governments to the economic importance of sport fishing. The events also fund the Sport Fishing Economic Conference, held every two years in Central America. Vernon has promoted the use of circle hooks through her tournaments, and helps organize seminars in Florida to educate anglers as to their conservation benefits.

Escrich, the IGFA representative from Cuba, was recognized for his role in instituting catch-and-release into the annual Hemingway Blue Marlin Tournament in Havana. Salt Water Sportsman was also a recipient of this year’s award, honored for its 60-plus years of hard-hitting articles and editorials promoting conservation, as well as the many thousands of hours that SWS staffers have personally devoted to local, state and federal fishery management issues. Senior Editor John Brownlee accepted the award on behalf of the magazine.


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