Thursday, June 28, 2018

Karl Wickstrom, Florida Sportsman ... by gimleteye

Karl Wickstrom lead a purpose-driven life. That is high praise for a publisher who would not shy from s fight in which he believed, even if that fight impacted advertisers in uncomfortable ways. Karl, on behalf of Florida citizens, took on the state's commercial fishing industry and won. Read the memorial in Florida Sportsman Magazine for more.

Karl became a friend and colleague in the fight to protect the Everglades. He was plain spoken about the need for environmentalists and groups to be tougher, and that agreed with me. Florida Sportsman's memorial to Karl doesn't mention Big Sugar by name, but he frequently did. He railed against the power of a single industry, that contributes far less to the state economy than sports fishing, yet gets its way in the destruction of natural resources because of its political clout. And he was smart, too, cutting through the BS. In the late 1990's he quickly figured out that the Clinton / Bush initiative to "save the Everglades" was deeply flawed and called for the purchase of Big Sugar lands and the end of sugarcane production in the Everglades Agricultural Area. He took on the gill netters and stopped them in the cozy, good ole boys club of the state legislature by summoning the will of the people in a state ballot referendum, but the fight against Big Sugar was the fight of his life.

Karl decided to move the offices of Florida Sportsman from Miami to Stuart in the early 2000's. He had raised his family on Biscayne Bay and its beauty, but he tired of Miami-Dade's corrupt politics, of its mind-numbing traffic, and the decline of fishing in the bay. In Stuart, he found a better place to fish and a more receptive audience to preservation of natural resources. That past few years, especially, tested that assurance as waterways have been assaulted by the toxic outfalls from Lake Okeechobee vomiting toxic algae down the estuaries and along both Florida coasts.

Florida politics continues to protect the polluters who primarily cause the mismanagement of water resources: Big Sugar. Those of us in that battle have Karl's memory, and of other leaders recently departed, to guide our way in Martin County and in the state.

Karl Wickstrom: Champion of Anglers’ Rights
Florida Sportsman founder and champion of angler rights passes away at 82.

The extended Florida Sportsman family mourns the passing of Karl Wickstrom on Monday, June 25.

The extended Florida Sportsman family mourns the passing of Karl Wickstrom on Monday, June 25, in Stuart, Florida, his family at his side. Karl, founder of Florida Sportsman and a life-long advocate for recreational angling, was 82. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, his four children and three grandchildren.

“Not only did he [Karl] have a good idea of what to do, but he had the skills to carry it off—the same skills, actually, that he used to become a successful publisher, those being the ability to organize working groups into a single potent force, and to keep that force struggling toward the achievement of lofty goals, such as the statewide gillnet ban of 1995.” —Vic Dunaway (far left), founding editor, writing in 2012

Born 1935 in Rock Island, Illinois, Wickstrom earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida at Gainesville and soon after started his career as a sports reporter. In 1960, he moved to Miami to work for the Miami Herald as an investigative journalist, winning state and national awards for incisive reporting on corruption in public affairs. In 1969, he founded Florida Sportsman (first titled Florida and Tropic Sportsman), engaging Vic Dunaway, at the time a well-known outdoors writer at the Herald, to lead editorial efforts at the new magazine. Florida Sportsman quickly grew to become the leading source for information on Florida’s developing boating and fishing interests and importantly, the voice of the state’s recreational anglers and hunters on issues of access, management and environmental causes. Florida Sportsman celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019.

Karl has always stood for the rights of the average angler and challenged the status quo, which he often did in his Conservation Openers and Conservation Minute series, like this one about fish closures.

Through the decades as publisher of Florida Sportsman, Wickstrom fought and won a number of legal changes to benefit Florida marine resources and recreational angling, garnering numerous awards along the way. Wickstrom was co-founder of the Florida Conservation Association in 1984, now Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). He was a benefactor of many other marine resource organizations, including The Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, the Rivers Coalition, The Martin County Anglers Club (which named the Wickstrom Reef after him) and a long list of others. His magazine voiced the concerns of recreational interests in countless disputes with fishery managers over allocations and access to waters, often winning decisions in the court of public opinion with his editorials in the magazine.

Wickstrom successfully ended the commercial sale of redfish in the whole state.

Wickstrom also worked to achieve gamefish status for redfish, ending commercial sale of the species in the state, and fought ceaselessly for the rights of recreational anglers subject to management policies that often favored commercial fishing interests.

“Karl was a great man and an equally great friend. He gave an incredible amount of energy to Coastal Conservation Association Florida,” said Ted Forsgren, Special Advisor to CCA.

Karl successfully ended the ‘mother of all fishing wars,’ with his Save Our Sealife campaign, which led to the ban of all gill and entanglement nets.
“We went through so many battles over the past 35 years that I can hardly list them. Some of the big issues included gamefish status for redfish, blending two agencies into one constitutional fish and wildlife commission and banning fish traps in federal waters. And of course, the constitutional amendment prohibiting the use of gill and entanglement nets, the ‘mother of all fishing wars,’ as one of the commercial fishing lobbyists called it.”

Karl can be seen here in his natural habitat, fighting for you and the waters you enjoy, with enthusasiam, wit and just the right level of bitterness for unfair practices.

That battle was one of Wickstrom’s biggest victories in the name of marine resources and recreational angling. It came in the early 1990s, when he mounted the Save Our Sealife Initiative to end the destructive use of gillnets in Florida waters. The movement came to be known as the net ban, and Wickstrom and Florida Sportsman were key leaders in the campaign to amend Florida’s constitution to ban the nets. In 1994, the constitutional amendment that the campaign put to ballot passed with 72 percent of the vote. In the years following Florida’s fisheries rebounded dramatically.

The campaign needed 429,428 validated signatures to get the amendment on the ballot; it collected 520,000.

After the net ban victory, Wickstrom turned much of his attention, and his writing in Florida Sportsman, to the fight against the environmental disaster of chronic Lake Okeechobee water releases through the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee rivers. For decades he supported the Rivers Coalition and other organizations in that statewide battle for cleaner waters for Florida estuaries and the Everglades.

Karl didn’t shy away from big issues and spoke out about questionable practices, inspiring others to follow in his footsteps, becoming a beacon for change.

“In his long history as a writer, editor and conservationist,” said Mark D. Perry, Executive Director, Florida Oceanographic Society,

“Karl Wickstrom was a champion for Florida’s waters through several campaigns. Karl fought for our northern estuaries to stop the destructive discharges from Lake Okeechobee and send that water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. He was a tenacious and effective advocate for our waters and I was honored to fight alongside this incredible champion.”

Karl surrounded by his three sons (left to right) Blair, Drew and Eric on the night of his induction into the IGFA Hall of Fame.
Wickstrom earned a long list of publishing and conservation awards. In 1995 the American Sportfishing Association named him “1995 Man of the Year” for his work on the gillnet ban. In 1999 he won The Billfish Foundation’s John Rybovich Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s (IGFA) Fishing Hall of Fame in 2008.

“Karl Wickstrom has always displayed a fierce will to protect Florida’s waters and its fish populations, taking on everyone from governors to bureaucrats to captains of industry anytime he saw a threat to the future of the resources,” said Frank Sargeant, editor of The Fishing Wire and a regular contributor to Florida Sportsman since 1970.
“I also remember Karl’s quick and incisive wit, and his ability to endlessly have a good time on the water. When the snook were not biting, Karl might propose a ‘who can put the lure closest to the mangroves’ casting contest. That usually resulted in one of us sticking his head in among the incredible clouds of no-see-ums to extract our lure while the other mercilessly drove the boat further into the bushes. It was always fun, even when we came back to the dock bug-bitten and empty-handed.”

“When the snook were not biting, Karl might propose a ‘who can put the lure closest to the mangroves’ casting contest.” said Frank Sargeant
In 2015, Karl won CCA Florida’s Ted Forsgren Conservation Award. At the time of that CCA award, presenter Bill Camp, past chair of CCA, said of Karl,

“The Net Ban. Water quality. Recreational angler access. Sound resource management. Common sense. Karl Wickstrom has been your voice on these concerns and issues. Our voice. It’s the voice you want on your side. Unyielding. Passionate. Witty. Smart. Totally awesome.”

Wickstrom was also respected and influential in political circles, as well.

“When I first ran for public office 16 years ago,” said Sarah Heard, Martin County Commission officer since 2002, “Karl was the first person I contacted for support.”

“No one in Florida enjoys or deserves more respect and admiration for his conservation credentials than Karl does. In a state notorious for flim flammers and greedy scammers, Karl stands out for his integrity and commitment to the natural resources of our state.”

As lauded as he was publicly for his accomplishments in conservation of wildlife resources, Karl Wickstrom was also well loved by his readers for his emphasis on the value of fishing and hunting in their lives. For nearly 50 years now, the magazine Karl started has spread both of those messages throughout Florida and across the U.S, and the interests of outdoor enthusiasts have been much stronger for his achievements.

Karls accomplishments will ring on through the ages. He will be remembered as one of the most influential and passionate conservationists in Florida history.
“People might be reminded that the chief examples of Wickstrom’s legacy are actually written into Florida law,” said Jeff Weakley, current editor of Florida Sportsman magazine. “In the state Constitution, ‘Article X, Section 16: Limiting marine net fishing,’ is practically his own. Karl also envisioned and championed passage of ‘Article IV, Section 9: Fish and wildlife conservation commission.’ Ongoing legislative work—challenging and exciting—to reclaim Florida’s natural-flowing estuaries in part reveals his handwriting.

“Karl’s work has entertained and inspired generations of readers,” Weakley said.

“His legacy continues to shape the very philosophies and systems that govern the conservation and public use of natural resources.”

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