Before 1939 there was no universal code of sporting ethics to guide ocean anglers in their pursuits. Some rules pertaining to sporting conduct were in effect at certain well-established fishing clubs but they varied according to the dictates of each club. The idea of a worldwide association of marine anglers had been brewing for some time in England, Australia, and the United States, and the first steps in this direction were taken in the late 1930’s by members of the British Tunny Club who hoped to establish headquarters in England to formulate rules for ethical engling. The threat of war, however, interrupted their plans.
At that same time, Michael Lerner was organizing a fishing expedition to the waters of Australia and New Zealand in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He heard of the British Tunny Club’s plans, and when he arrived in Australia he looked up one of the country’s finest anglers, Clive Firth, to discuss the idea with him. Firth was well aware of the angling feats of Californians, Floridians, Long Islanders and others. He felt that England and her colonies would accept American judgement as sporting and impartial, and that Americans should be the ones to devise and administer these ethical angling rules.
Dr. William King Gregory, head of the Departments of Ichthyology and Comparative Anatomy at the American Museum of Natural History, also was a member of the Australia-New Zealand expedition. He was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a worldwide sport fishing association headquartered in the United States, and immediately suggested that it might be possible to affiliate such an organization with the Museum. His interest in such an association and the information it could provide to scientists was the beginning of IGFA’s lasting connection with scientists and scientific institutions.
When the members of the Australia-New Zealand expedition returned to the U. S., letters were written to outstanding anglers, fishing clubs, and tackle manufacturers soliciting their opinions regarding the formation of an international association of marine angling clubs. The response was highly favorable and on June 7, 1939, the International Game Fish Association was formally launched in a meeting held at the American Museum of Natural History. Present were William King Gregory (who became the first president of the association), Michael Lerner, angler/writer Van Campen Heilner, and Francesca LaMonte, Associate Curator of Fishes for the Museum and science leader of several of the Lerner expeditions.
Another immediate task was to notify scientific institutions and fishing clubs throughout the world about IGFA, its activities and intentions. By January 1940, only a few months after that first meeting, there were two associated scientific institutions, 10 member clubs, and 12 overseas representatives. By 1948, the numbers had grown to 10 scientific institutions, 80 member clubs, and IGFA representatives in 41 areas of the world. Clive Firth of Australia was elected IGFA’s first overseas representative, and others were chosen in Nigeria, New Zealand, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, the Canal Zone, Cuba, Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Among the first associated clubs were the Catalina Tuna Club, Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club, Cape Breton Big Game Anglers Association, Long Island Tuna Club, Atlantic City Tuna Club, Freeport Tuna Club, and Beach Haven Tuna Club.
As news of the IGFA spread, other noted sportsmen and scientists were drawn to its administration. Among the early officers were Ernest Hemingway, Philip Wylie, B. David Crowninshield, and Charles M. Breder, Jr., who served as Chairman of the Committee on Scientific Activities.
Michael Lerner financed the operations of the International Game Fish Association from its inception, and when Dr. Gregory retired from the Museum staff in 1944, Lerner took over responsibility for the IGFA presidency as well. Since then, William K. Carpenter, Elwood K. Harry, Michael Leech, and Rob Kramer have served as IGFA presidents. The physical location of IGFA headquarters changed as well through the last six decades: in the late 1950s IGFA moved from New York to Florida, first to Miami, then in 1967 to Fort Lauderdale, in 1992 to Pompano Beach, and in 1999 to the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach.
However, two of the most significant events affecting the association since 1939 occurred in the 1970s. Early in that decade E. K. Harry, then IGFA vice president, proposed opening the organization to individual membership to insure its continued funding, unify international anglers, and inform a much larger audience of the problems threatening fishery resources. Then, in 1978, Field & Stream magazine officially turned over its record-keeping responsibilities to IGFA. Thus the membership-driven organization that IGFA is today, responsible for all saltwater and freshwater world records and for spreading awareness of fishery and conservation issues to fishermen around the world, was formed.