The Derby’s contribution to the conservation of Florida’s Official State Saltwater Game Fish, the Atlantic sailfish, has been significant. In the late 1930’s Derby organizers began promoting catch and release fishing for sailfish, a very new and radical concept for the day. This forward-thinking approach to offshore saltwater fishing set the stage for the catch and release ethic that is widely practiced by billfish anglers today. The Derby was also among the first tournaments to incorporate game fish tagging for scientific purposes into a competitive format. Joining forces with the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the 1960’s, the WPBFC helped initiate the cooperative Game Fish Tagging Program for science.
It was an important scientific partnership that included groundbreaking sonic tagging of caught and released sailfish to document survival. The sonic tagging study was too expensive to have been accomplished with only state resources, so the WPBFC helped fill the void. WPBFC members and Derby participants have tagged thousands of billfish. In 1970, the WPBFC convinced Florida’s State Marine Research Institute to establish an east coast research field laboratory initially inside its clubhouse premises, rent-free, to evaluate the biological status of this critical sport fish. Later the WPBFC became an early advocate for the use of non-offset circle hooks when fishing for sailfish and required their use in the tournament prior to the National Marine Fisheries Service mandate.