Brett Fitzgerald

Executive Director of the Snook & Gamefish Foundation, Brett Fitzgerald, explains the concept of Ales for Anglers and shares easy ways to contribute to waterway conservation while keeping track of your good days on the water.

SB: Please tell me about the Snook & Gamefish Foundation and describe how it aids the fishing and boating community.

BF: The Snook & Gamefish Foundation began as a fundraiser for MOTE marine laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, but shifted its focus to raising awareness for anglers rather than strictly raising funds for NOAA. Today it partners with mariners and anglers by laterally transmitting info from them straight to NOAA via the Angler Action Program. The personal logs of boaters and fishermen directly aids the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) in its pursuit to better maintain the waterways each mariner uses. The Snook & Gamefish Foundation acts as a liaison between waterway conservation and human use to leave our waters in a better state than they are now for our future generations.

SB: In what ways do the personal logs of mariners and anglers directly partner with NOAA?

BF: The Snook & Gamefish Foundation has created the Angler Action Program, which is a data collection database where users log their trip information, which is used for state-level stock assessments. It allows mariners and anglers to be personally involved, and creates ownership in waterway management. The information logged by the anglers is used by the government to set laws, and the immediate, accurate reports helps avoid overfishing, but also doesn’t punish anglers with unnecessary closures or restrictions. It also helps us identify where habitats are damaged or water quality is poor, in which cases our foundation and NOAA can intervene to positively impact the boating experience across the board—whether you are fishing, diving, snorkeling, etc.

SB: Tell me more about the upcoming Ales for Anglers event March 29th in Boca Raton, Florida. How did the Snook & Gamefish Foundation become involved and what was the process of turning this concept into reality?

BF: Well it all started with a conversation I had with Sally, owner of BX Beer Depot in Lake Worth, Florida, last December. I love good beer as much as I love being on the water and Sally shared my sentiments. We were discussing how “beer fests” are kind of stressful now—packed with crowds rushing from vendor to vendor to get their money’s worth—and to me, a craft beer festival isn’t about rushing; it’s about enjoying. I basically said, ‘Someone should have an event like this …’ and I described a Florida-brew-only festival with live music and minimal crowds, and Sally added that she had the beer connections but she just needed a charitable organization to benefit. ‘I have a charitable organization!’ I piped in, and thus Ales for Anglers was born.

By the end of that night, we had a plan to combine local home-brews and talented Florida musicians to raise awareness and funds for the Snook & Gamefish Foundation, along with a handful of other noteworthy marine groups. Today, with the festival only a few weeks away, we have 10 environmental non-profit organizations with booths at the event, over 100 volunteers, and no promoters—making this a real grassroots community event. Although, I did have a woman from Germany call because she couldn’t buy a ticket online; I told her I would reserve one for her at the door … who would’ve expected that!

SB: How did you and your team choose the musicians and craft brews that will headline?

BF: We are featuring breweries from all over Florida’s coast—Pensacola, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, and Due South in Boynton Beach has been overwhelmingly helpful, as many others have. They are all very excited to participate, as many live near the water. JJ Grey is a performer from Jacksonville who has a huge following, and he is on the board of our foundation. He was thrilled to help our cause and pair his musical influence with a great marine charity. Rock Brothers Brewery is a company that brings brewers together with musicians to create a “celebrity beer” and is featuring a “JJ beer” at the event, which will be really unique. We are going to have a lot of exclusive offerings like that, which should attract a decent crowd to relax and also learn more about what goes on underneath the water we all love.

SB: What are your personal hopes or expectations for the event’s inaugural year?

BF: First, I hope it becomes an annual event. Second, I want people to leave with a smile on their faces. Third, I want people who come for one thing to leave loving another thing. For example, if someone comes because they love craft brews, I want them to leave loving the musicians they saw and recognizing the importance of waterway conservation. I’m also really hoping not to lose money and to provide a comfortable, enjoyable environment. I’m very passionate about promoting today’s angler as the “conservation-oriented angler” and I hope our foundation and the 10 other non-profits at the event will encourage people to become passionate, also.

SB: What do you think participants of the Ales for Anglers event can expect? Are you excited for anything in particular?

BF: On the beer side of things, I think people should expect some incredibly unique and tasty choices. I really encourage everyone to come at the beginning for the free home-brew sampling at 2:30, because these aren’t amateurs brewing in their garage; these are brewers on the verge of breaking into the business, and they have well-crafted offerings made uniquely for this event and the cause it serves. I also think everyone should expect to be blown away by the musicians. They each have something really diverse to offer and JJ is one of the best, most engaged performers I’ve ever seen. I am excited for people to learn about the benefits of waterway and ecosystem conservation, and the balance between activity (whether boating or fishing or watersports, etc.) and conservation efforts. Most people think you either have to be a tree-hugger or an active mariner, but they really go hand-in-hand.

SB: How can boat owners become involved with the Snook & Gamefish Foundation and/or Ales for Anglers? Also, is there a way for individuals who are passionate about the water but do not own a boat to get involved?

BF: Boat owners who also like to fish (which is a large majority in the South)—no matter how frequently or infrequently—can immediately get involved by logging their boat trips on our Angler Action Program through the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s website. A boater can input tides, weather, moon phases, sunsets, catches, and anything else about their trip to keep a personal log. It acts as a powerful tool that helps boaters (mainly fishermen) become more efficient, while also aiding in vital fishery information that the government and organizations use on a daily basis.

SB: How often do you frequent the water? Do you own a boat? If so, what is the name and make?

BF: I own a skiff boat and I try to fish and dive off it as much as I can with my wife and kids, but we boat more than anything else. We just enjoy days on the water together and try to make it out there as much as possible. We also love to charter boats or rent a pontoon on a lake, and we make it our family mission to visit as many places in and around Florida’s waters as possible. We are looking forward to lots of boating this summer!

SB: What is one of your fondest memories or favorite stories working for the Snook & Gamefish Foundation?

BF: I give a lot of talks and seminars about what we do and why we do it, and afterward people always share their personal fishing stories, which I enjoy. I think my favorite part is meeting the children who are positively impacted and see them connect with their parents through time on the water together. I also enjoy experiencing the paradigm of what a responsible fisherman and woman is, and I am proud of today’s anglers and boating community.

By Christine Carpenter, Southern Exposure March 2014

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