ERIC D. PRINCE, PH.D.
Dr. Eric Prince boasts a 30-plusyear career as a marine scientist. He’s been the western Atlantic coordinator of ICCAT’s billfish research program since 1987 and soon after he took the post conducted the first study on the stock condition of marlin. This led to the identification of the maximum sustainable yield for marlin, a realization of how far marlin numbers had slumped, and the first international management restrictions on marlin.
His landmark research on using circle hooks to reduce hooking injuries in billfish dates back to 1999, and some refer to Prince as the father of the circle-hook revolution.
In 1996, he and Dr. Barbara Block started the first archival tagging program for bluefin tuna off Hatteras, North Carolina, which helped identify two distinct breeding stocks of tuna in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea. Prince’s long career has been a huge benefit to big-game fishermen everywhere, and his lectures, published papers, and slide presentations have been a strong influence on the movement to protect billfish. His attendance at ICCAT meetings over the years has alone been responsible for reducing overexploitation of marlin.
CAPT. FRANK “SKIP” SMITH
Starting out on his dad’s drift boat when he was young, Skip Smith went on to become a commercial fisherman and eventually spent 11 seasons as captain of the world-famous mothership, Madam and her game boat, Hooker, both owned by Jerry and Deborah Dunaway. With him at the helm of Hooker, the crew set 39 billfish records, the most in history. Smith has fished from the Great Barrier Reef to Boston and Tahiti to the African Coast. Most recently he helped an angler capture the Women’s World Record 128-pound swordfish, which was caught on 8-pound line.
A member of The Billfish Foundation board of directors, Smith has attended fishery-management hearings in Washington D.C. and offered his views on conservation issues. He willingly shares his knowledge in club meetings, guest appearances, and magazine articles. He is the only fisherman in the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame.
Today, Smith runs a marine insurance company in Pompano Beach, Florida, but remains very involved in tournaments; he started the Custom Boat Shootout, which raises money for causes such as breast cancer research, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and more. He also trains tournament observers and is involved in a local kids tournament and the Fort Lauderdale Billfish tourney.
Joan Vernon has long been involved with The Billfish Foundation (TBF) and currently serves as its chairman. She is past president of the International Women’s Fishing Association and is highly skilled at organizing tournaments.
Her Presidential Challenge of Central America tournament series, which involves Panama, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, raises funds to benefit conservation and tourism. She has also organized several conservation symposia in Central America. Vernon was one of the leaders in the effort to require circle hooks for billfish in Costa Rica and led the movement to convert the Miami Billfish Tournament from a kill event to 100-percent release.
Vernon’s also an accomplished light-tackle billfish angler and can often be found competing in the IGFA Offshore Championship, Women’s Master Angler Tournament, and many others. She has received IGFA’s Conservation Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sportfishing Association, and the Conservation Award from Miami Rod and Reel Club.
One of Vernon’s recent efforts was forming the Adopt- A-Billfish program, which raises funds to place satellite tags in billfish. The resulting data is used to advance the scientific knowledge needed for proper sailfish and marlin management.
CAPT. PETER B. WRIGHT
Capt. Peter B. Wright has caught more grander black marlin than any captain in history (77 weighed), and he’s released a lot more, too. Wright once caught five blacks of more than 1,000 lbs in a 26-hour span. He shares his knowledge by writing articles, lecturing, appearing at tackle shows, and hosting of the World Class Sportfishing TV series. Wherever big fish are found, Wright is there.
In 2007 he was inducted into both the Cairns, Australia, Black Marlin Hall of Fame and the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.
Wright has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Tech and also studied marine biology at the University of Miami. That helps explain why he’s a strong advocate of circle hooks and tagging—he doesn’t consider a billfish caught until he gets a tag into it. That said, he admits he’s not opposed to sportfisherman occasionally landing a billfish for a record or in a tournament.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.