Scientists Call Out IGFA All-Tackle World Record Program

A research paper co-authored by marine scientists from the University of Miami and two other institutions calls on the International Game Fish Association to stop recognizing anglers who kill threatened species for world records.

UM graduate student David Shiffman, his supervisor, Neil Hammerschlag and four colleagues published an article in the scientific journal Marine Policy contending that ending trophy fishing for the largest of some species threatened with extinction would go a long way toward helping them recover.

The paper cites 85 species recognized by the IGFA for awarding all-tackle world records that are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN ‘red list’, produced by a worldwide network of scientists and fisheries managers, does not carry the force of law so some of the listed species are not legally protected from overfishing.

While acknowledging that commercial fishing is a greater threat to imperiled species, the scientists say recreational harvest of the largest fish that produce the most eggs and the hardiest offspring has a “disproportionate” impact on their recovery.

“Fishing for a mahi or a largemouth bass, it isn’t a problem to remove large fish, but with IUCN red list species, it may be a problem to do that,” Shiffman said in an interview.

IGFA rules require all anglers submitting potential world records to follow all local laws and regulations. But the rules also say that fish may not be weighed on a boat and that a certified scale must be used. For some of the larger species such as sharks and bluefin tuna, releasing them alive after documentation may be impossible.

Among the red list species recognized for records by the IGFA are great hammerhead shark and Goliath grouper—neither of which can be legally harvested in Florida waters but are not protected in other countries where they occur.

Shiffman also said it’s unnecessary to kill large fish for research purposes.

“Anglers do not need to be killing rare animals with the goal of donating them to science,” he said. “Releasing the fish can give you the same information.”

Shiffman praised the IGFA for introducing length-based world records, which don’t involve killing the fish. But he said the organization should go further.

“We would like the IGFA to issue a public declaration that they will no longer accept world record applications for fish on the IUCN red list and to encourage anglers worldwide to release them,” Shiffman said. “That would go a long way toward helping these fish to recover.”

IGFA conservation director Jason Schratwieser quickly published a rebuttal on the organization’s website.

“It is a flawed interpretation of IGFA records,” Schratwieser said in an interview. “They tried to publish their feelings on something under the guise of science. There is no data from our records to back that up.”

In fact, Schratwieser wrote, 88 percent of the species on the IUCN red list identified in the Marine Policy article were first listed as threatened in the past 20 years, and the IGFA received a total of 15 all-tackle world record applications for those species during that time—“rare events”, he said.

As an example, Schratwieser cited landings data for critically endangered southern bluefin tuna--caught mostly in the Southern Ocean off Australia and New Zealand-- of nearly 300,000 metric tons between 1991 and 2011. In that same time period, he wrote, only one world record application for the species was submitted to the IGFA.

This, he wrote, “give[s] little credence to the authors’ declaration that IGFA records have a disproportionate impact on fish populations especially when viewed from the perspective of global fisheries.”

Schratwieser said he serves on one of the IUCN working groups for imperiled species—“trying to work on this problem at a global level.”

Shiffman and his colleagues, Stratwieser said, “should use your powers for good, not evil.”