Sunday, March 23, 2014

Inclusion or Seclusion?? IGFA Rule Result Splits All Class Record Fish into Angler Gender Categories

   The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) elected to make a couple of rule changes this year, followed-up these changes with a news release, and since then a bit of angler hoopla has emerged.

   The hoopla surrounds the IGFA’s decision to separate - by gender categories - freshwater line class records and fly rod records, beginning in April, 2014.  Written in this manner one can imagine why some anglers might be acting like their underwear suddenly got all up in a bunch.  I was one of those anglers.  But there is a little more to the story:  According to IGFA’s news release, “Unlike those kept for saltwater species, IGFA line class and fly rod records kept for freshwater species have never before been separated into men’s and women’s categories.”  And following a phone conversation with Jack Vitek, IGFA World Records Coordinator, he wrote in an email, “As a reminder, the saltwater line class and fly rod records were split into men’s and women’s categories decades ago.  The purpose of this upcoming change was to create consistency in our records department, and to create opportunities for the most lacking demographic – the female freshwater angler.  As I said on the phone, we know there are great female freshwater anglers out there.  We (IGFA) just want to reach them by creating these record opportunities.”  During the phone conversation, Mr. Vitek reported that the IGFA also sought to develop greater balance between the organization’s freshwater vs. saltwater pursuits.       

In a nutshell, the IGFA, according to its mission statement, is a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule-making and record-keeping.  The Florida-based organization’s website is: .  When perusing the conservation and education portions of the website, the IGFA did appear to place greater emphasis on saltwater interests.  Originating in 1939, the organization maintains world records for line class (conventional tackle), tippet class (fly fishing), & all-tackle categories for both freshwater and saltwater fishes.  Even after the rule change in April, the all-tackle world record categories will not be separated by gender.

IGFA Stats
   The IGFA offers various membership levels.  According to Mr. Vitek the gender breakdown for all of the memberships encompasses 21,850 males, 1,944 females, and 130,647 members of which gender is unknown.  Of the known memberships, 8% are females and 92% males.  Regarding line class and fly rod record categories, per Mr. Vitek,  there are 3,337 total saltwater records with 1,510 (45%) being female record-holders and there are 1,374 total freshwater records with 53 (3.8%) being female record-holders.

   In a very simplistic sense, the women’s freshwater records percentage of 3.8%, calculated while there are still no gender separations, more closely parallels the known 8% female membership.  Note that there are 1,963 (59%) more saltwater records than freshwater records, but this will likely drastically change after the gender separations rule for the freshwater records category goes into effect.  The nitty gritty is that when one tallies records created in each gender category, this will not accurately reflect the total percentage of males or females who land that single heaviest species of fish in each line and tippet class, but will offer more male and female anglers the opportunity to obtain a record for a fish due to the creation of gender categories.

National Stats & IGFA
   According to the final report from the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, - click the “National Survey” tab), in my “homewaters” of Iowa, 522,000 residents were anglers in 2011 and 143,000 (27%) of these anglers were women.  On a broader scale, the survey detailed that 33.1 million US citizens fished in 2011.  Of these, 8.9 million (27%) were females and 24.2 million (73%) were males.  Furthermore, 27.5 million anglers (~76%) freshwater fished and 8.9 million saltwater fished (I assume that these latter two figures equated to greater than 33.1 million because some anglers fish both fresh and salt waters.) 

   Despite that the IGFA is an international organization & located in the coastal city of Dania Beach, FL, the statistics indicating there are many more freshwater than saltwater anglers in the U.S. makes it appear wise that the IGFA is attempting to increase participation in its freshwater offerings.  The freshwater angler currently visiting its website may not immediately see enough freshwater subject matter to warrant purchasing a membership let alone returning to the website.  One can only hope that the IGFA is planning to give more attention to freshwater education and conservation needs & not just concentrate on expanding the freshwater record program.   

   One might assume that simply due to their greater numbers more men (on avg., 70% of U.S. anglers are male) will have the greater opportunities to land the heaviest fish of each species in their particular line or tippet classes.  If so, then the freshwater female record-holders (calculated prior to gender separations) of 3.8% and the long-standing gender-separate saltwater female record-holders of 45% are not representative of what one would expect if based on percentages of male/female angler numbers alone.  Obviously more factors come into play than will be addressed here.  However, it is understandable that the organization would like to boost its female membership as well as discover ways to increase female participation in securing record status for their catches. 

Cloudy Water
   In contrast, when records are granted for the heaviest species of fish landed by each gender, does the water become a little murky when considering what constitutes a record?  For example, Mr. Vitek writes, “For our All-Tackle records, incoming fish much be at least 1 pound to qualify.  However, for line class and tippet class records, there is no minimum weight for submitting a claim for a vacant record.”  So, let’s say “Chris” already has a world record for a 55# musky in a particular tippet class.  The other gender category in the same tippet class is currently vacant and “Taylor” submits & is rewarded with a record for a 40# musky.  If there weren’t gender categories it would be obvious which angler’s fish would carry the record.  However, there could also be a number of anglers of Chris’s gender who land fish between 40-55# in the same tippet class but would never be recognized.  

Fishing the Records
   When searching for fishing records documentation via the internet, I sampled 10 of 50 U.S. states and found that record fish in all 10 states were listed with angler name & location or even with the angler name absent.  Clearly the emphasis for a record was based on size of the fish.

   The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, located in Hayward, WI (USA), does not separate fishing records by gender.  When asked if the organization had ever considered separating records by gender, Mr. Emmett Brown, Jr., Executive Director, responded, “Years ago, the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame actually discussed whether or not it would be in the best interest of the fresh water sportfishing community to divide our world record program by gender.  Ultimately, we decided that it was not.  Our decision was based on the presumption that sportfishing is not about strength and that men and women equally possess the skills to be successful anglers.”

   Via a search of their websites, the Angling Trust (England) and ANSA (Australian National Sportfishing Association) each list record catches by angler name, not gender.  The GFAA (Game Fishing Association of Australia) & the NZSFC (New Zealand Sport Fishing Council) list record catches by angler name and gender.  All 4 of the non-USA organizations have some affiliation with the IGFA.

Summing It Up
  Are we sacrificing the emphasis of a class fishing record being based soley on the weight (& scarcity) of the fish landed to instead being based on the sex of the angler & the largest fish that gender lands?  Do you see the difference?  There is a difference.  Are there pros/cons to separating or not separating genders for record consideration?  You betcha!  However, this might also be based on an individual’s opinion and life experience than strictly factual information. 

   The IGFA may see an increase in female membership and will see an increase in female (and male) freshwater records.  The IGFA will also increase their revenue stream through increased membership and freshwater record submission fees.  Many more women, and to a lesser extent more men, will be recognized for their freshwater “record catches”.  Depending on an individual’s life experiences & perceptions (& the size of an angler’s fish!) this may re-enforce gender stereotypes or it may lessen them; it may elicit ridicule or pride; & it may foster separation or inclusion between the angling sexes.

   Does the IGFA’s rule change broaden the attention it pays to freshwater interests vs. saltwater interests?  Minimally.  Could the IGFA expand education and conservation programs pertaining to freshwater habitat and fishing?  You betcha!  Will the IGFA do this?  I don’t know but I encourage anglers to “drop em a line” and ask!  If you have an opinion about the freshwater record rule change, please share that with the IGFA as well.    
   And when is a fish of a certain size considered a “record catch”?  It seems the opinions for the formal record book remain mixed.  However, most anglers know a fish of a lifetime when he or she lands one.  No scale, no measure, no certificate needed.  Usually, yells of delight, photographs, then toasts and stories commemorate the occasion. 

(Note: this is the link to the opinion pieces, in letter format to Mr. Vitek:  )

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