WASHINGTON — Two of the most active advocates for the protection and management of America's marine fisheries on Tuesday were given the Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year Award from the Center for Coastal Conservation.
Bass Pro Shops founder John Morris and Maverick Boat Co. owner Scott Deal were honored at a luncheon to welcome conferees to the American Boating Congress. Eddie Smith Jr. is the longtime owner of Grady-White Boats and a pioneer and advocate for marine conservation.
"These are two men at the intersection of saltwater fishing politics and implementation of sound marine fisheries management," said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and a board member of the Center for Coastal Conservation. "They are the two distinguished gentlemen who led America's recreational fishing and boating community in the last year to lay out the vision we have been talking about for good conservation and management. Our honorees are two of America's most famous anglers and boaters."
They are also co-chairmen of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, which produced a report — “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” — that outlines the nation’s most important fisheries management issues, particularly the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs the nation’s marine fisheries.
Morris and Deal received a bronze-framed sextant "from the mid-19th century that would have been used by a deepwater shipmaster for long-distance voyages and came from Down East Maine," Dammrich told the several hundred lunch attendees at the Liaison Capitol Hill.
Dammrich later joked that the honorees would have little need for a sextant, though. "Our honorees know how to use their GPS’s," he said.
Morris and Deal showed great appreciation for the award.
"I have been in this business for 42 years and have seen ups and downs," Morris told the crowd. "I have come here today pretty much on cloud nine, seeing everyone uniting and coming together and the possibilities this is going to create for us."
Morris took the opportunity to emphasize conservation priorities and the future commitment to protecting natural resources.
"Clearly the most important thing for the future of the sport we love and our industry is conservation, and how we manage our resources," he said. "It means more than any new store we could open ... or more than mailing catalogs. It means more than new innovative product. If people, especially young people, can't have access to our waters and don't have the opportunity to encounter exciting fishing, then the future of our sport is not going to be so robust ... and we won't draw young people."
Deal praised the NMMA for its support of conservation efforts and the two previous honorees — former Yamaha Motor Corp. president Phil Dyskow (2013) and Grady-White president Kris Carroll (2012 inaugural). "Kris [Carroll] molded me from an outside industry critic" into an effective lobbyist for conservation, he said.
Deal's Fort Pierce, Fla., company includes the boat brands Maverick, Hewes, Pathfinder and Cobia. He graduated from Princeton University in 1982, but "his avocation was destined to be his vocation," Dammrich said. At the age of 24, Deal purchased the molds of an 18-foot flats boat to launch his career.
Morris, who is also the founder of Tracker Marine Group, started selling "homemade bait and worms in the back of his dad's liquor store in 1971, and in 1974 Bass Pro Shops sent its first catalog through the mail," Dammrich said.
Bass Pro Shops has 84 stores across the United States and Canada and employs more than 21,000, Dammrich said.
Morris and Deal have been key players in the industry's effort to support the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.
"We are finding most of the priorities of the Morris-Deal commission embedded in the act," Dammrich said. "This is the kind of leadership that makes Eddie Smith proud and makes us all proud."
Reagan Haynes contributed to this report.