The sport and the science of sport fishing lost a hero, an advocate for science as a tool for better fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico, and (in the best sense) a true fish nerd — Bob Shipp, who died on Jan 25.
I make the latter claim because I’m also a total fish nerd, which helps explain my friendship with Dr. Bob for more than 15 years. Besides often comparing notes with Shipp about fishes and their world, as editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine, I edited a ton of content submitted by Shipp all of those years.
The scientist — who earned his PhD in biology and served for years as chair and professor of the Marine Science Department of the University of South Alabama in Mobile — was my go-to guy among a panel of Fish Facts experts who wrote for that ever-popular department in Sport Fishing. No kid in a candy store was ever more enthused than Shipp whenever I challenged him with a reader’s what-the-heck-is-this? fish photo and question.
Of course, he always knew the answer, and always promptly submitted a response in his down-home style — informative yet folksy and never pedantic. Such was his style in general, in a lab, on the docks, and on the water. I had the pleasure to fish the Gulf of Mexico a time or two with Bob, and it was evident that he rejoiced in walking the walk.
Bob wrote the authoritative Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, a real bible for all things piscatorial concerning the Gulf. For every species, his information included but transcended the scientific to include interesting tidbits and often amusing anecdotes by the guy who had “been there” for many species.
Shipp also authored an article in the March 2016 issue of Sport Fishing titled “The Great Gulf Red Snapper Train Wreck.” He did a remarkable job of explaining that wreckage and how we got there, during the height of federal regulations that nearly caused a revolt among Gulf anglers. His research was instrumental in disproving the theory (among some large environmental NGOs particularly) that the thousands of oil rigs in the Gulf were bad for the Gulf’s ecology, only aggregating fish such as red snapper where they could be easily overfished. His data showed that to be the nonsense it was, as he proved that juvenile red snapper flock to the thriving coral habitat covering rigs to grow and spawn. That data showed what anglers knew — that “threatened” red snapper in the Gulf were abundant and increasingly so, which he directly attributed to the astounding amount of habitat these rigs provided in an otherwise mostly barren Gulf.
In nearly every issue of Sport Fishing for many years, Shipp answered at least one inquiry submitted along with a photo in the magazine’s popular department, Fish Facts. Check out some interesting photos and IDs here. I often recognized even obscure species from the photo, but I always learned from the man’s answers.
To have known and worked with Bob Shipp was certainly a privilege.