Mixing Business, Science, and Pleasure for Everyone’s Benefit by Justin DiRado

Mixing Business, Science, and Pleasure for Everyone’s Benefit by Justin DiRado

Great Lakes Angler Magazine feature article submission:

Let’s face it; we’re all here because we love fishing and the fishing community.

That much is easy to see and it’s what brings people from different walks of life to the same table.

walleye tag great lakes giant

Caption: Tagged Great Lakes Walleye

It’s also easy to argue for the things we care most about and argue against those we disagree with. This is especially true when we identify as the recreational angler, retailer, manufacturer, scientist, biologist, or we represent any single entity within the fishing community arguing from one point of view. We all do it, it’s human nature, and chances are good that most of us will continue doing so.

It’s much harder to sympathize with the folks across the table; those that we’ve traditionally conflicted with. But if we can do this, everyone and everything will come out on top. So, putting all preconceived notions and stigmas aside, let’s look at an example of how different worlds are colliding in a real-life partnership to benefit millions of anglers, our fisheries resources, and the overall state of the fishing industry.

We all know that the Great Lakes offer some of the best freshwater fishing opportunities in the world.

These fisheries support thousands of jobs, millions of anglers, and a multi-billion dollar fishing economy. At the heart of these fisheries is FishUSA, an online​ and pro shop retailer of sport fishing tackle and gear that was founded in 2000 near the shores of Lake Erie.

As FishUSA has grown, it has partnered with many manufacturers to offer both popular and hard-to-find products for anglers. Fast forward to 2018 and these many partnerships came to include the American Fishing Tackle Company (AFTCO), a manufacturer of fishing equipment and apparel based in southern California.

Already well-known to saltwater anglers, AFTCO recently debuted apparel lines primarily for freshwater anglers and is poised to make a big statement in the Great Lakes. With a stronghold already in the Great Lakes region, a partnership between FishUSA and AFTCO was an ideal fit for both companies.

trophy tagged whitefish

Caption: Tagged Great Lakes Whitefish

With its staff of largely enthusiastic anglers, FishUSA understands the opportunities that the Great Lakes provide. The company has an acute awareness that the region’s sensitive resources are always at risk of disruption from invasive species, pollution, overexploitation, and all the usual environmental offenders. FishUSA has always promoted grassroots, environmental, sporting, and conservation organizations, and the anglers that make these organizations successful. However, over the years, it has become increasingly important for the business to play a larger and leading role in contributing to a sustainable fishing community.

“FishUSA has been proud to support Great Lakes fisheries for nearly 20 years”, states Jeff Parnell, the company’s President and CEO. “The work that GLATOS is undertaking is exciting, and this is a unique opportunity to partner with a company of AFTCO’s caliber to increase funding and awareness that benefits anglers and communities across the region.”

On the west coast, AFTCO already has a storied history of support for the fishing industry.

Leading back to its founding in 1958, AFTCO has always contributed more than 10% of company profits to fishing conservation, protecting our resources, and ensuring sustainable fisheries long into the future. With the 2018 business relationship newly in effect, it didn’t take long for FishUSA and AFTCO to realize they had the opportunity to play a much larger joint role in the Great Lakes fishing community than either could play alone. As it happened, a new fisheries research project was getting underway in Lake Erie waters at the same time this partnership was beginning, right in FishUSA’s backyard and squarely in their wheelhouse.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) was starting a project to track the migration patterns of adult walleye through Lake Erie.

The project was just one of many throughout the Great Lakes that was being overseen by the Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation System (GLATOS).

GLATOS is a network of researchers on both the American and Canadian borders of the Great Lakes who study how different fish species behave in these expansive bodies of water.

Through a number of research projects (69 active projects as of the time of this writing), researchers work collaboratively to track the movements and understand the migration patterns of sport fish and other species in the Great Lakes. For the PFBC’s study in Lake Erie, like other GLATOS projects, researchers started the process by capturing walleye. Basic information was collected from each individual fish, including weight, length, and date of capture. An internal acoustic tag was surgically implanted into the fish before being released. Once back in the water, the acoustic tags began collecting information about the geographic location of the fish at different times as they swim around and get back to normal life after capture and tagging. Out in open water, researchers had already installed acoustic receivers that were anchored to the bottom of the Lake. As the tagged fish swim by the receivers, information is transmitted from the tag to the receiver. That information is stored until the researchers collect the receivers and download the information. Once the data is collected, researchers are able to have an in-depth look into the lives of those fish.

Now, consider that researchers have tagged dozens of fish species and thousands of individual fish throughout the Great Lakes.

There are hundreds of receivers on the lake bottoms as some GLATOS projects have been ongoing for years, and some species can live for decades. When all the pieces are put together, we quickly see that researchers have captured millions of data points; information used to determine when and where fish are spending their time, spawning, feeding, and interacting with other elements in the ecosystem.

This information is further used by fisheries managers to set fishing season dates, creel and size limits to create a sustainable fishery for anglers. And because current fisheries management is based on fisheries science, the information collected from GLATOS tagging projects is invaluable to the fishing industry.

Considering that Lake Erie is widely considered the “walleye capital of the world...”

...this research is extremely important for fisheries managers to maintain a healthy sport fish population. By direct extension, this research further helps to sustain a tremendous fishing economy for many businesses and individuals, including FishUSA and AFTCO.

great lakes walleye research

It comes as no surprise that the time, labor, and equipment needed to collect and interpret fisheries data generally comes at a high expense.

Taxes and funds collected from license fees and fishing tackle purchases don’t cover all operating costs and organizations like GLATOS have to rely on other forms of funding to continue working on and expanding these projects. It’s at this point that other stakeholders come into the picture.

setting receivers great lakes

Caption: Deploying Acoustic Receivers

Fishing tackle manufacturers and retailers play just as big of a role in the fishing community as anyone, and they generally have greater access to liquid assets than scientific organizations. The difference between some retailers and manufacturers, like any other entity, is the principles on which they operate.

With their extensive ties to many members of the fishing community, leading roles in the industry, and genuine philanthropic natures, FishUSA and AFTCO stepped forward to contribute to GLATOS’s efforts; ultimately giving back to the fisheries that bring all of us together.

The three-way partnership officially launched in the spring of 2019 and is expected to grow long into the future.

great lakes test fisheries

Since this time, a portion of proceeds from AFTCO sales at FishUSA has been, and will continue to be, contributed to GLATOS. These funds work to provide more resources for GLATOS researchers to further study sport fish throughout the Great Lakes.

With enhanced research capabilities, fisheries managers will have more accurate information to better manage our fisheries and provide anglers with more sustainable fisheries. More sustainable fisheries will also contribute to a more sustainable future for fishing tackle manufacturers and retailers. If you’re keeping score at home, that's a win-win-win!

The GLATOS, FishUSA and AFTCO partnership is young but is growing quickly.

Fisheries organizations throughout the Great Lakes region are spreading the word of the partnership to anglers and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The message is simple; this partnership represents the future of our sport, industry, and fishing as we know it. It’s an example of how everyone from the individual angler to the biggest of businesses can meet at the same level to support their neighbors and themselves.

walleye tagging

Caption: Suturing walleye after tagging

FishUSA, AFTCO, and GLATOS are hopeful (and anticipate) that their partnership will attract other entities, turning this partnership into a coalition. In this scenario, everyone benefits. But the most important thing to remember is that it is our fisheries that will benefit the most; the one thing that truly links all of us. 


Written by: FishUSA Social Media & Community Outreach Manager Justin DiRado

March 29, 2019

Digital Editors Note: "Thanks to FishUSA for their studious attention to Great Lakes Fisheries, looking out for the overall good of the fish and angling opportunity." - Lucas Holmgren

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