When anglers buy cool new tackle and accessories, or shop for a dream boat and outboard engine, they usually focus more on a brand’s quality, value and functionality rather than philanthropy and community service. Yet, some marine-industry companies choose to lead by example — stand out by standing up — and identify their brand with good works and a social conscience.
Indeed, companies in all industries give money to worthy projects. But some stand taller than the norm. I found more than a dozen marine businesses whose efforts go above and beyond the call to contribute to our fisheries and our fishermen in ways that exceed self-serving interests. Because of space limitations, I could highlight only five (listed alphabetically). Here’s what they do for our sport.
Daytona Beach, Florida
The list of individual causes, projects and partnerships Costa supports has grown so extensive, I can’t even attempt to list them all. Aside from natural-disaster relief efforts and support for research and environmental causes, perhaps most impressive is the fact that Costa actually created some of its own projects to benefit our fishing grounds, including the Kick Plastic initiative.
For instance, the frames of Costa’s recently released Untangled line of sunglasses are created from plastic pellets made with discarded fishing nets collected in Chile and recycled by a forward-looking California company called Bureo. The frames of Costa’s Bio-Resin line are made from a biologically based resin derived from castor oil rather than from petroleum-based substances.
“Costa is a purpose-driven company, not a profit-driven company,” says Mike Holliday, Costa’s inshore community manager, based in Florida. “We need to make a profit to succeed, but we believe it’s inherent to devote our time and resources to conservation efforts that raise awareness, protect fisheries, and enrich water-based communities. Not because we should, but because we can.”
Holliday explains that this ethos benefits the company just as clearly as it benefits the environments in which we work, play and fish — a win-win by every definition. This sort of philosophy encourages purpose among employees, and motivates them to make the company successful and become even more involved.
“When you see the changes, improvements, awareness and protections of the water-related projects we’re involved in, it makes you feel good about your life and the company you work for,” he says. “It makes you feel like you don’t work for this invisible entity that gobbles up profit. You work for a company that makes everyone’s lives better.”
Greenville, North Carolina
Grady-White ranks among the most successful saltwater-fishing-boat builders in the nation, as well as among the most philanthropic. Like many companies, it donates money to causes that affect fisheries, but it goes far beyond merely stroking checks.
For instance, Grady sponsors the Dolphinfish Research Program — a project that teaches anglers how to tag and report dolphin catches throughout the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean to improve knowledge about the popular species. But the company also takes measures to encourage Grady boat owners to tag the fish.
Grady-White also supports the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation; Grady vice president of sales Joey Weller sits on the board of directors.
“The RBBF works hard to increase participation in recreational boating and fishing through cooperation with the marine industry and our government,” Weller says. “I’m very proud to be a part of this effort, and the result is creating more opportunities for families to enjoy all the amazing aquatic natural resources offered in the United States. Many on the Grady-White team have contributed or are currently contributing to help conserve and protect these resources in a variety of ways.”
As is often the case, the company ethic trickles down from its leadership. “The conservation of our fisheries resources for the generations to come is of upmost importance to all of us,” says owner Eddie Smith Jr. “We’re happy to have been able to play even a small role in that effort.”
Because Smith — and by extension, the entire Grady‑White team — has always respected the environment and understood that outdoor recreation is a gift to be protected for the future, Grady says it will continue to be a steadfast advocate for, and contributor to, fisheries conservation, education and waterways management. The company’s core belief is that it’s an investment in enriching the lives of employees, customers, suppliers and the community as a whole.
Maverick Boat Group
Fort Pierce, Florida
Few boatbuilders play such an active role in fishing conservation that a national commission is named after the company’s president. But that’s exactly what happened when Maverick Boat Group president Scott Deal partnered with Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops, to chair the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, commonly known as the Morris-Deal Commission.
In 2014, the commission’s report brought the fishing community’s concerns to Congress and helped initiate the Modern Fish Act, a version of which recently gained approval in the House.
Taking on this political challenge is only one of MBG’s projects. “We have a motto we call the ‘three Q’s,’” says Charlie Johnson, director of marketing for the group that builds Cobia, Pathfinder and Maverick boat brands. “We strive to be a quality company, with quality people, building quality products. But we also have a firm belief that you can’t have one of these without having all three of them. And in order to be a quality company, you’re obligated to use whatever influence you have to bring about positive change.”
For MBG, that means reaching out in many directions. This past fall, the company auctioned off a Pathfinder 2200 TRS (in partnership with Yamaha Marine Group, Power Pole and AmeraTrail trailers) and put 100 percent of the funds toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts. The company has combined oyster-mat building (to aid in oyster-reef restoration) with tours of its facility and fishing seminars; MBG has consistently partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association, and generated more than $2 million in contributions to numerous organizations and fishing-related causes.
“We feel it’s our responsibility to be directly involved for ourselves, as anglers,” Johnson explains. “It’s MBG’s belief that as a company’s influence grows, so does its societal and environmental obligations. Without clean water, means to access it, and fish to catch, the boating lifestyle and all the livelihoods of those who support it would cease to exist.”
At Shimano, what began as a single project focused on one specific issue more than three decades ago has developed into a companywide ethic.
“It all began in Canada, with our live-release boats,” explains Shimano’s vice president of government affairs and advocacy Phil Morlock.
These boats, now in their eighth generation, were designed to reduce mortality in freshwater bass tournaments to record-low rates. They led to the development of water weigh-ins, and became so successful that Shimano brought in Morlock, a wildlife biologist, to expand the company’s environmental footprint, volunteerism, youth initiatives, and donations.
“We make the point that we’re a business,” Morlock says, “and we understand that without quality fisheries, people don’t need to buy much tackle. But on top of that, we feel it’s our responsibility to put back into the resources from which we make a living.”
No doubt attributable to his training in biology, Morlock believes that when it comes to keeping fisheries healthy, the answers to many challenges can be found in credible science. And, he says, as a result, Shimano bases many of its initiatives on identifying specific problems, considering the fundamentals, and looking for solutions based on sustainable use.
In late June, Shimano announced its partnership with the Coastal Conservation Association and Texas A&M’s Harte Research Institute on a project called ReleaSense. The project provides an online repository of instructional videos and scientific research aimed at improving the survival rates of released fish from shallow and deep waters.
ReleaSense will focus on a variety of techniques from descending devices to circle-hook use to angler handling practices. “The personal contribution any angler can make to fish conservation is by practicing selective harvest and applying proven live-release strategies,” Morlock says.
More than many other companies in the marine world, Yamaha has thrown its considerable weight behind political, educational and conservation causes. According to Martin Peters, senior manager of marine communications and government relations, the company’s values are clearly expressed in the Yamaha Marine Code of Ethics.
The code spells out safety commitments and responsible boating measures, encourages careful handling of caught fish, and advocates respecting the resource while becoming familiar with the local and regional biology and ecology.
“I remember fishing all day on the Patapsco River [in Maryland] with my father to catch one bluefish, then being devastated when my dad released it and said he didn’t want to keep the last blue around. But I understood, and I learned from it,” Peters says. “I think all of us who wet a line have had similar experiences, and we recognize the need for those of us who enjoy fishing to also protect it. Recently, when I saw a striped bass caught just yards from what was once a Superfund site in Baltimore Harbor during a Yamaha event, it warmed my heart.”
Peters says that playing an active role in helping conserve and protect the resources Yamaha customers depend upon only makes sense. “We listen to our customers, the boatbuilders, and what they hear is important to their customers. When we support things like the Modern Fish Act and work on issues like ethanol, it helps us all.”
Yamaha recently partnered with the American Sportfishing Association for a new FishSmart initiative for red snapper and red drum in the South Atlantic, promoting best practices for catch-and-release and encouraging the use of tools proven to improve fish survival. For instance, the program will actively distribute descending devices to deepwater anglers and short-leader rigs to inshore fishermen.
FishSmart operated a similar project in the Gulf of Mexico from 2015 to 2017. “By showing how increased use of best practices for releasing fish can lead to healthier fisheries, we’re not only promoting fisheries conservation, but also allowing for greater fishing opportunities. With healthy fisheries, everybody wins,” Peters says.
In Alaska, Yamaha sponsors the Kenai River Classic, which raises money for fishery conservation programs, including habitat restoration, fisheries education and research. The day prior to the August 2017 event, the Classic hosted a U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearing to explore reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
Besides its national initiatives, Yamaha is active at home as well, in the state of Georgia. This past year, the company donated boats and motors to help with search-and-rescue efforts during emergencies and natural disasters.
During our research, we came across more standout companies — too many to profile in this space. Here’s a sampling of what other marine-industry companies have achieved:
AFTCO has supported numerous conservation efforts over the years from its Southern California base, including spearheading a white seabass hatchery project, and efforts that successfully banned drift gill-netting and longlining off California. The company donates more than 10 percent of its profits to fishing conservation.
Bass Pro Shops supports scholarships, hosts numerous kids’ fishing events nationwide, and makes a serious effort to employ veterans. The company recently donated 50,000 rods and reels to inspire more kids to get outside.
Contender Boats, based in Homestead, Florida, works closely with the Coastal Conservation Association, among other philanthropic organizations.
Mercury Marine, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, promotes employee community service and has helped fund a long list of organizations. The company recently hosted a regional veterans’ fishing day.
Pure Fishing, parent company for Penn, Berkley and other fishing brands, has also funded numerous conservation-focused projects.
California-based West Marine provides community-oriented grants.
Yeti, out of Austin, Texas, is known for both cash and product donations to a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.
Yellowfin Yachts, out of Bradenton, Florida, has been active with that state’s Captains for Clean Water project.