Picture yourself hooking into a grander blue marlin off the coast of some exotic island. You’re in for the fight of your life, but halfway through the battle you decide to take a dunk overboard to get a better view of the magnificent creature’s anatomy. Once the scene is recorded onto tape for the television show you produce and seared into your memory as a basis for your artwork, you surface, continue to help leader the fish, and ultimately tag and release it.
Back on land, you recall your intrepid encounter and begin expertly painting new designs that will eventually end up as T-shirts on the backs of thousands of your fans, hang proudly as fine art pieces in their offices and homes, and even be published in a book you’re writing that will someday be honored by a foreign government.
But you don’t have time to ponder future achievements. You must immediately begin using your Ph.D. skill set to track the satellite tag on your marlin with the help of world-renowned marine scientists who collaborate with your nonprofit organization. This data will help shape the future of the oceans’ great pelagic species and provide countless joys to a new generation of responsible anglers. Oh, and you’re also very lucky: there are two giant marlin you’ll need to track because you hooked and released a second grander later that same afternoon.
Sound like fiction? Welcome to the wonderful, very real world of Guy Harvey. While Guy might not complete all of those amazing feats in a single day, these are true-to-life events experienced by this extraordinary artist, biologist, author, photographer, documentarian, conservationist, and savvy businessman.
Inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2009, Guy Harvey has built a vertically integrated oceanic-inspired empire through good old-fashioned hard work, passion, and uncanny vision. His deal making with like-minded individuals and companies has created a synergy that we all benefit from.
Pacific Coast Sportfishing was fortunate enough to snag some time with this affable tenth-generation Jamaican and learn more about the man behind the instantly recognizable signature.
PCS: Where to begin with someone who has such a rich history in the world of fishing…Do you remember the first fish you ever drew or painted?
Harvey: I honestly don’t, but I’m looking at some old sketches I did some time ago and it’s a good mixture of game fish; Wahoos, Tunas, Barracudas, Sharks, and Billfish, of course. That whole early experience of fishing with my parents in Jamaica was always positive.
PCS: Speaking of your homeland, being a 10th generation Jamaican (of English descent) must have special importance in your life. What was your favorite part of growing up on the Island?
Harvey: I think being so close to all the wonderful natural things that Jamaica has to offer. It’s a very beautiful country with lots of mountains and great forests and all kinds of different climates. It’s a bit like the big island of Hawaii, actually, and I was always impressed with the birdlife, the farm animals, and the fishing was just an extra bonus.
PCS: So did you do a lot of fishing with your parents as a youngster?
Harvey: Yes, both my parents were very keen anglers, of course my dad a bit more than my mom, but they fished tournaments, Billfish stuff, lots of river fishing. It was just a great time and place to be a kid.
PCS: In 1985 you depicted “The Old Man & The Sea” through 44 incredible pen and ink drawings and exhibited them in Jamaica. Did you ever think you could take your artistic talents, and not only make a living, but also create a full-blown empire from your marine inspired art?
Harvey: Obviously, I didn’t know the full extent. I knew there was inherent talent. A lot of other family members were very accomplished artists. I sold a few pieces here and there for a few dollars—maybe $15 to $20. Of course, in those days it was a lot of money. I didn’t really appreciate the opportunity until Americans began fishing Jamaica in the tournaments in the mid 1980s. I would have these informal expeditions at the tournaments and I would often sell out of the pieces. Once I came to the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in 1986, I realized that here was an opportunity because there just wasn’t much of that genre readily available to people.
PCS: So when and how did your artwork end up on being printed on t-shirts?
Harvey: In 1986 I had signed a contract with T-shirts of Florida, which was then owned by Raleigh Werking, who is a good friend of Bill DePriest Sr., and he ran the company for a couple of years and got me going with the T-shirt deal, which was an instant success. There had been nothing else like it available in the market and, unfortunately, he sold the company in 1989 to his partner. And his partner continued to run the company and we had a license for another fifteen years before AFTCO came along.
PCS: How did you transition to doing business with AFTCO?
Harvey: While T-Shirts of Florida did a good job, we realized we could have expanded the line away from just T-shirts and more into sportswear. AFTCO came along in the early 2000s, and it was Milt Shedd, Bill Shedd’s dad, who came to me and said, ‘We’ve got the Bluewater Line going quite well, but something is missing. We need to include some really good art. How about a licensing program whereby you do some artwork for us?’ At the time, I was still married to T-shirts of Florida so I couldn’t do anything in the T-shirt line, but we did find a way to do some of the Hawaiian-style, all-over prints on shirts. That was early 2002, and the contract with TSF expired in 2004. Realizing what a great job AFTCO was doing in terms of the manufacturing side of it, but more importantly the marketing side of it, I saw them as a much better option. In 2004, I did fifty brand-new designs for AFTCO just so they could start with a fresh palette, so to speak, and off we went. In two years, AFTCO tripled our business, and in 2011 we’re a major brand and doing very well. The thing about AFTCO is that they are a very like-minded company to my company in terms of their whole business philosophy and the involvement of conservation efforts.
PCS: Every serious West Coast angler we know has at least one Guy Harvey T-shirt. Why do you think your art and clothing brings out such passion in people?
Harvey: It’s better that you ask the customers (laughs)!
PCS: Since I am a customer, I’ll take a shot: I think your product says, ‘I take fishing seriously,’ but more succinctly it says, ‘I’m a calico bass fisherman,’ or ‘I’m a yellowtail fisherman.’ To be able to say, ‘That’s my local fish. That’s what I go for,” is what makes it so special.
Harvey: I’ll accept that answer. (Laughs). To your point, when the brand began to take off I quickly realized the importance of doing regional favorites, which, of course, started on the East Coast. So for me to branch away from the big Billfish and offshore game fish and do Redfish, Snook, Speckle Trout, and Tarpon for the Florida and South East fishery and then move up the coast to the Mid-Atlantic area and start to do Bluefish and Striped Bass and Black Bass and some of the Tunas and Sharks they had was very important. And going to the West Coast to do, as you said, Calico Bass, Albacore Tuna, White Seabass and all the favorites on that coast and to head up north to the Pacific North West and get all of the Salmon species. That whole succession of doing designs was very, very important and it involved more and more people because, as you say, that’s their species, that’s what they go for. So the whole chronology and procession took several years to accomplish in terms of building up the expertise and the knowledge about the fish because they were not animals I was familiar with so I had to go and catch them and look at them and dive with them and spend time with those fish.
PCS: It’s not only the time to sit down and paint, but also the field research, the hours you put in to get a design just right must be staggering.
Harvey: Fieldwork is a very important part of it. Now I maximize the field time by producing television shows at the same time. And just fishing for fun, I’m collectively putting images into my library for my future benefit. Every single trip nowadays has three or four separate purposes attached to it.
PCS: You’re smarter than the average bear. How do you find the time to stay so efficient?
Harvey: There are two things there; I think my work ethic is positive and I work very hard. And when I’m at home, like I am now, I’m always doing things related to my work. My wife might object to that, especially on a Sunday! (Laughter).
PCS: I know, I know. Thank you for your time on the weekend. We appreciate it!
Harvey: I actually paint quite quickly so I’m very productive in terms of artwork. I work in five different mediums so it’s not just one style the whole time. The variability of styles attracts a much wider audience. I do formal art shows within the art world, as well as the fishing and boat shows. But also, more importantly, nowadays I have a very good team. My team at Guy Harvey Incorporated is made of eight fantastic people. Three of them are very good apparel, merchandising and retail people—that’s their forte. I’m assisted by a very able graphic designer who takes the arduous part of doing custom designs and can manipulate the artwork I’ve already done for reproduction purposes. Then we have our marketing section and then our conservation and foundation section. All of who work extremely hard.
PCS: How do you garner inspiration for a new design? Is it an image that you remember of a billfish breaking the surface?
Harvey: You’re right on that; it does come from memory. I commit these actions I see to my memory, and a lot of people are fascinated by the fact that I have no reference material when I’m doing a painting. But that’s also because of my scientific background.
PCS: Many anglers might not know that you have a doctorate in Fisheries Management. How do you blend science with your artistic side?
Harvey: I do have a PhD in Fisheries science and biology. To be an accomplished wild life artist, whether it’s terrestrial or marine, you have to have a very first hand knowledge of the subject matter and there is no way around that except for spending time in the field. In fact, if you go to any well-known artists’ website, whether they paint North American big game or African big game, you’ll find in their résumé that there’s some formal link with a natural history background. But, of course, the knowledge of anatomy and physiology and ecology of these animals is key to painting with authenticity. If you can’t paint with that authenticity people will soon find out and you won’t be supported. So what I’ve encouraged a lot of artists in my genre to do is spend time with the animal, be close to nature if you want to succeed and it doesn’t work if you copy other people’s work or you work entirely from other people’s photographs.
PCS: When you were up in Aberdeen, Scotland working on your doctorate, did you have the chance to fish the North Sea? Scottish waters sound pretty exotic to a California angler!
Harvey: I wish! (Laughs). I was a poor starving student. I didn’t have much time, but I did go down to the Aberdeen Fish Market, which was the largest Fish Market in Europe at the time, and spend a lot of hours walking the walls early in the morning, in the freezing cold, looking at all the different types of fish that people were bringing in. From the giant Halibuts, to all the other bottom fish, pelagic fish and Salmon, of course. But no, I never had a chance to wet a line there, not once, but I did do a lot of diving, especially on the west coast of Scotland. I’d dive a lot in the kelp forest and encounter a lot of Dogfish and crabs and the occasional Basking Shark, which would really excite you, seals and all that stuff.
PCS: Back to the USA: We’ve got to know what’s your favorite West Coast specific fish?
Harvey: I love the White Seabass. I think that’s an awesome animal. Awesome animal! Yep, love the coloration changes in it. I love its ecology. I’ve caught a few actually. It’s a great eating fish. It’s a great game fish. I’m so pleased that they’ve made such a huge comeback in the last fifteen years.
PCS: You’ve also created a jewelry line? Can you tell us a little bit about how that started?
Harvey: We tried unsuccessfully for years to get a decent jewelry licensee. It’s been a lot of fits and starts over the last 20 years. The product was always good, but the problem has always been in the marketing. We finally found a company who are good marketers. One of the pre-conditions for signing up as a licensee of mine is that you have a very good system for marketing the product once you’ve made it.
PCS: Speaking of new markets, the Guy Harvey look seems to be most popular with grown men. Do you have any plans to reach out to a younger teenage audience and try to compete with say a Quicksilver or Billabong?
Harvey: Definitely. Our market nowadays, and has been for the last 3 or 4 years, has actually been the younger generation. We have a very broad appeal to High Schoolers and University students throughout the Gulf Coast and Southeast. And we’ve experienced a huge growth in that area and, of course, are accommodating that desire through the new styles and cuts and fabrics. We’ve got a license to do different collegiate designs for 12 different schools in the SEC and a few outside of it. Go to www.guyharveysportswear.com and you can see all the new products and designs. Not that we’re disregarding the standard “fishing dad” type, but we’ve just broadened our market considerably. And we’re trying to make the same inroads into ladies, but as you know it’s much more difficult road. We have over 250,000 Facebook fans so we’ve definitely got our eye on the future.
PCS: Do you own a boat?
Harvey: Yes, a 28-foot Scout Boat, made in South Carolina, that I keep in the Caymans. It’s great for diving and fishing within 15 miles.
PCS: What’s your favorite species of fish to target?
Harvey: Blue Marlin is still my favorite and that’s what I fish for in the Caymans.
PCS: What is your most memorable catch to date?
Harvey: Since my kids started fishing some of their catches actually have become my favorite catches. My daughter, Jessica, who is now 20, when she was 11, she caught - and it’s still a record - a 198-pound Yellowfin Tuna in Western Panama and that’s what the IGFA calls a smallfry world record. That still stands so that was a great catch. My son has caught several big Marlins. When he was 11, he caught a 600-pound Blue Marlin, also in Panama, which was a pretty good catch. Took him an hour- and-a-half. In Australia, he caught a 600-pound Black. That was a good hour-and-a-half fight with tremendous jumps. In fact, Bill Boyce was on that trip and he got some great jump shots of that. That great shot of the Black Marlin jumping against the sunset…that’s Alex’s marlin. For me personally, I’ve had a couple of nice ones. I think the most memorable day was catching two separate 1000-pound Blue Marlin in one afternoon off of Madeira Island in Portugal on August 27, 1997. It was pretty cool. They were both caught on 80 pound and both on pitch baits teased to the boat. I was able to dive in the water on the first of the two we released and got some pretty good underwater footage of it.
PCS: So Billfish are definitely your passion. Do you compete in any Billfish tournaments?
Harvey: Occasionally. I fish one here in Cayman on an annual basis and one in Panama, but I’ve kind of moved away from it. I’m not that inspired by Billfish tournaments, I just like to fish for fun as opposed to competition.
PCS: Have you tried your hand in San Diego Long Range Fishing?
Harvey: No, but I need to do this. I’ve come very close. If I ever get the time to do a ten or fifteen day trip, I really want to do it.
PCS: You wont’ be disappointed! Have you done much fishing in BC or Alaska?
Harvey: Oh yeah, I love it. I’m glad you mentioned it. I was just in Alaska this last summer. I’ve done several fishing trips out of Sitka. My two kids went to boarding school in Victoria in British Columbia and so we’ve done a lot of river fishing in the summer up there, predominantly the Skeena River and the Kitimat. In fact, they got a couple of junior world records on Chum Salmon; big ones, like twenty-six pounds. Last summer we had a great time. I caught a fifty-five pound King Salmon in Sitka, which they call a Crown Royal fish, which is a nice catch. Love fishing up there.
PCS: Where do you like to fish in Mexico?
Harvey: We actually shot a whole documentary on Striped Marlin down in Magdalena Bay. Those Striped Marlin bait ball shows were just quite phenomenal. Phenomenal! Just the character of the water, with the frigate birds and fish exploding. A lot of paintings came out of that interaction. Then I’ve been up to Guadalupe twice for White Shark diving. My foundation sponsored some tagging of the White Sharks. We worked with Michael Domeier who’s done a lot of work on the White Shark. He was the scientist on board on the National Geographic special on the White Shark research done there. We caught a lot of fish there, too, some large Calicos, some Yellowtails. We saw Tuna busting but we never caught any. I love Guadalupe; it’s a very cool place.
PCS: So what’s your absolute favorite fishing resort then? The one you always want to come back to?
Harvey: Easy. Tropic Star Lodge in Panama is definitely my favorite place to go fishing. I’ve just written a book about the place called “Panama Paradise”.
PCS: You write books, too? What don’t you do?
Harvey: (Laughs). It’s 350 pages. The Panamanian government actually gave me an award for that book in January of 2010 called the Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Grand Cross. It was a huge moment in my life to be honored in this manner. The book is a combination of art, photographs and words that tells the story of this incredible place.
PCS: What work is being done to promote marine conservation abroad?
Harvey: It all boils down to money. If you can convince an organization, a region, a government that there is a better socioeconomic value, in terms of dollars and cents, in having a certain species sustainedly caught rather than overly exploited and then demonstrate that fact scientifically, you can make progress. For example, my foundation, in collaboration with the Pew Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust, impressed upon four ministers of government, including the Deputy Prime Minister, of the value of a living shark compared to giving out shark fishing rights to people who would sell the fin and the proceeds to the Orient. That this is in their best long-term interest not only because of the sustainability of their huge archipelago of islands (45,000 square miles of shallow water), but they generate a huge income from shark ecotourism. It’s about eighty million a year, so each living animal now has a dollar value to it – say fifty to one hundred thousand dollars a year – maybe up to a million dollars in its lifetime. And then you kill that animal and sell it for maybe two hundred dollars, it doesn’t matter what the price is because that’s a one-time deal. I’m not saying stop fishing altogether, but do it in a way that’s sustainable. And you have to get that message across from a financial point-of-view because it’s the only thing people will key in on.
PCS: I imagine you only have so much time with the people in power who make these important decisions?
Harvey: You have to be persistent, and this persistence has paid off in places like Panama because their president, Mr. Ricardo Martinelli, last year banned purse seining within the two hundred-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, and then just recently he banned long-lining from vessels of more than six tons of capacity within the same zone. These are huge, huge laws, and he has now set a precedent for the rest of Central America to follow and has taken the lead because he realizes that value of sportfishing to his country’s economy. Sportfishing depends on living animals, not dead animals.
PCS: Speaking of conservation, the process can sometimes go too extreme. What’s your take on the MPAs happening here in California?
Harvey: I’m obviously against the MPAs and what’s about to happen there in California and support the lawsuit against the State because you can’t just go and implement all these rules and regulations without the necessary scientific research work, and that’s just totally lacking in this case. I’m quite active in my support, especially with AFTCO. I think a perfect example came up here in Cayman about how to do this the right way. I actually just finished shooting a documentary about it. It’s the Nassau Grouper. It’s the same situation you have in California, where you have different user groups all voicing their opinions about what should be done with the common resource. In the face of over-fishing, the government here banned the take of the groupers from their spawning sites for eight years to allow the population to recover. They also got a bunch of scientists to come in here and do a really thorough investigation of the reproductive strategy of the animal and how, through the rest of the year, both sport and commercial fishing will impact that population. And also the importance of the brood stock maintaining a certain level so that the population continues to thrive. Over eight years we’ve seen the recovery of this animal, and it’s really worked. It’s a model now of how to investigate and thoroughly make the case for conservation, versus extraction up to a certain point to rebuild a stock. Thereafter, you can then properly manage. This is not happening anywhere in California, to my understanding. It’s just a blanket approach by the tree-huggers that say we’re just going to shut down all those bloody fishermen because they are causing the problem. But they’re not! Historically, it’s been shown that the gillnets and longlines – all of that – have been the major reason for the over-extraction of anything. The research work has not been done in California to the extent where you can now just go out and cover everything in a blanket ruling. They need to spend some money and defer this whole thing for five years so they can do the proper research work.
PCS: The whole process has also shown the dirty side of politics. Just completely shutting down access to public waters is tough to swallow.
Harvey: Hopefully the lawsuit will provide access. But if the fishermen all speak with one voice, which I think they are doing now through United Anglers of Southern California, a big group, it will help. If everyone can just put their hand in their pocket and give ten dollars to contribute to the lawsuit, they can hopefully make themselves heard.
PCS: Closures aside, let’s talk about the health of our oceans…which pelagic species is most at risk right now?
Harvey: Well “species” is the right word because it’s a combination of all the large, highly migratory species that are definitely at risk. The Tunas, of course; starting with the Bluefin Tuna, which as the most valuable animal on the planet is the most over-exploited large pelagic fish. We got all of the large pelagic Sharks over-fished. And Billfish, of course, have been caught as by-catch incidentally mostly, but are severely over-fished.
PCS: Which country is the biggest perpetrator of over-fishing?
Harvey: The Asian markets are a huge population and, of course, they are becoming an increasingly wealthy population so that places more demand on seafood. So you’ve got China, Japan, Korea - all those countries contribute hugely. But the most avid fishing nations are still in Europe. Spain is certainly a culprit. It’s the indiscriminate nature of fishing in International waters that is the real problem. How do you enforce it?
PCS: How is the US’s report card in this area? And how do we express how important conservation is to the masses?
Harvey: The US is also the largest market for certain species, including Billfish, by the way, which are imported mostly from the Pacific now. But there are all sorts of loopholes and difficulties of policing it. It comes down to education of the consumer. It’s just like the drugs and everything else that people want to consume that they pay a high price for. You’ve got to stop the demand before anything really meaningful gets done. So you switch to farming Tilapia or Milkfish and substitute species – Catfish - and substitute the wild caught species with farm-raised animals that are sustainable and that don’t make a huge impact on their respective local environments through the affluence and all the by-products of fish farming.
PCS: Where can anglers learn more about your various conversation efforts?
Harvey: GuyHarvey.com is a good start because you can go to every other site from that. And GuyHarveyOceanFoundation.org. Those are probably the two best ones.
PCS: Any final words of wisdom for future generations of anglers and lovers of the ocean?
Harvey: I tell people who fish, to fish responsibly. Do it within the laws and regulations of your local area, the region your fishing in; to observe closed times, closed areas and seasons. Observe minimum lengths, maximum lengths. Just do it responsibly. Don’t leave garbage in the ocean or fishing line out there. And participate actively and try and join a local fishing club or organization. Try and join some kind of a regional organization to keep in touch. And then try and join some kind of national organization. In California you have lots of those. And stay active and participate and let your voice be heard. But, above all else, you have to do it in a responsible fashion.
PCS: Final question: What’s currently scheduled on Guy Harvey’s calendar for the next month?
Harvey: This afternoon I am flying to the Bahamas to shoot the last portion of this Tiger Shark documentary I’m doing, which involves working with a very well known Shark researcher named Doctor Samuel Gruber in Bimini. My fellow scientists from the Guy Harvey Research Institute will be there; Dr. Mahmood Shivji and Dr. Brad Wetherbee. We’re going to be catching and putting some spot tags on Tiger Sharks. We’re actually going to be naming them after several schools in Nassau so the school kids can follow the progress and migration of these Tiger Sharks over the next 18 months. This coming weekend we have a tournament here in Cayman. We’re going to be organizing some tagging of Blue Marlin with pop up satellite tags and also if we catch any White Tip Oceanic Sharks we’re going to be tagging them because very little work has been done on them in the Western Atlantic. It’s a species that has been reduced to approximately 1 percent of its pre-exploitation level, which is just diabolical. Then the following week, I have a bunch of artwork to do for AFTCO. Let’s see, I’ve got two or three weeks of solid painting to do before the end of April to meet their catalog deadline for new designs. In the meantime, I’m doing a trip on April the 16th to Auburn University to promote a design I did for the National Champion Football Team. And then towards the end of April, I am going to the Newport Beach Film Festival for the premier of a documentary that I did on Tiger Sharks that I did with Wyland and Jim Abernethy, who is a well-known Shark conservationist and Shark diver over in the Bahamas. That wraps up April!
PCS: And that wraps up our interview! Or what is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your vast experience. Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge with our readers!