Digest — May 2005
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca
More Than Just a Job
|Part 2: “The world’s fishery resources are already severely depleted and in many cases still getting overfished.”|
Leech says one of his proudest accomplishments during his tenure was presiding over the creation of the aforementioned Hall of Fame and Museum. Having been there myself, I can say that it boasts an impressive display of angling accomplishments, history, and gear (the virtual-fishing booths are really cool, too). “It started out to be a 30,000-square-foot, $15-million project and ended up to be 60,000 square feet and [cost] more than $30 million,” says Leech, also noting that it took about six years to complete.
The results of building with brick and mortar are easy to measure, but there’s much more that the IGFA has accomplished under his watch. For instance, remember that school-age Leech rowing that boat in hopes of catching a big weakfish? Had that fish been of a potential record size, it would have had to compete against the catches of adult anglers. Leech saw an opportunity to promote angling to children and thus began IGFA’s Junior Angler Program, which includes separate world records for kids. In addition, he started the Junior World Championship series, which are tournaments geared for children and take place anywhere from Turks & Caicos all the way up to New York’s Thousand Islands. On the grown-up side, Leech helped create and launch the Rolex/IGFA Inshore and Offshore Championships six years ago. These international events run around the globe, from Grenada to Australia. This year there are 110 Rolex/IGFA events in 35 countries and territories plus 13 states.
Now, creating fishing programs for children, building a monument to angling achievement and education, and starting a tournament series that literally spans the planet might be enough for some people, but Leech has turned his efforts to a cause he happily wears on his sleeve: conservation. “Until I joined the IGFA, conservation was really not part of IGFA’s mission,” he says. “Now it’s one of our most important missions.” He adds, “Anglers today are faced with huge conservation challenges. The world’s fishery resources are already severely depleted and in many cases still getting overfished.” To that end, he was instrumental in starting the IGFA Certified Observer Program (COP), which qualifies volunteers to ride along on boats participating in big-game tournaments, so an evenly judged, all-catch-and-release format can be used when there’s big money on the line. This helps keep the playing field level and everyone honest, but it also leaves more fish for tomorrow. “Twenty years from now, I see our international efforts in promoting fishery conservation becoming an even larger part of our mission,” Leech adds.
He no longer has the day-to-day responsibility of the top job, but his legacy in the IGFA, angling, and conservation should be as lasting as that building he helped create. But don’t think Leech is ready to hang up the IGFA hat completely and go fishing. He still keeps an aggressive schedule as ambassador at large and is heavily involved in IGFA fundraising and conservation efforts. He also teaches the IGFA COP classes and represents the IGFA as a member of the Recreational Fishing Alliance Board of Directors and the Marine Fish Conservation Network. In addition, he still works on the Rolex/IGFA tournament series he created and, oh yeah, helps process all those potential world-record catches. In his spare time he does quite a bit of writing about angling and conservation. He also answers every e-mail, IGFA Web-forum question, and phone call he gets. Sounds to me like Leech has a couple of boats available to borrow.
This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.