Some sports fishermen enact billfish conservation through tag and release. Others - like famed marine artist, Carey Chen - practice what they preach via art.
Born in Los Angles, California and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, where both his parents and grandparents hailed, Chen couldn't help but be attracted to the sea surrounding his island home. "My cousin and I would go out with my uncle on his 31-foot Bertram and fish for dolphin or bonito. Fishing intrigued me right from the start."
Yet, this saltwater sport took a backseat for many of Chen's early adult years. His family left Jamaica amidst political strife and moved to Miami, Florida, when he was a teen. During Chen's high school years, the family opened a series of successful video stores throughout Miami. It wasn't long before he operated the business himself, taking time off to race motorcycles and eventually racecars. He even built his own show car and won several awards in the annual World of Wheels.
The lure of the sea eventually called him back.
"I went back to Jamaica and fished the Port Antonio Blue Marlin Tournament and won three years in a row, 1987, 1988 and 1989. I was a mate on three different boats and each boat I mated on won that year," recalls Chen.
While Chen had fished sailfish tournaments out of Florida, and still does, it was blue marlin that have long captured his imagination.
"Blue marlin are the strongest specie. They jump and they fight like no other fish," he says. "They're aggressive in the way they hit the baits. And once hooked, they head straight for the horizon."
Chen likes to fish both with baits and lures. "My preference is a sporty or light line test, somewhere between 30 and 50 depending on what I'm fishing for. When you get to 80s and 130s, then you're fighting the reel rather than the fish."
Sailfish, not blue marlin, are the subject of one of Chen's best days of fishing. "We were fishing in the Presidential Challenge of Central America Tournament, in Ixtapa in November about five years ago. On the last day of the tournament, we released some 60 sailfish and moved easily into second place overall. It was fantastic. We had 7 to 8 triple-headers, three to four fish on at a time. It didn't seem like that number, but then again, we were catching and releasing all day. Funny though, the adrenalin rush really took hold. I remember not feeling tired, or hungry or thirsty all day."
Then Chen, as does just about every angler, have that story about the one that got away. "We were fishing off Andros Island in the Bahamas, at about a 1000 foot ledge. The waters were flat calm, when all of a sudden a grander comes up and hits my rod. I had him on for about 15 minutes, jumping on top of the water so close we could really see his size. Then, he got away. Guess that's how he grew into a grander."
Over the years, Chen has enjoyed fishing from just about every island in the Caribbean. "I've been from the Caymans to Margarita. It all started when I was selected as the artist for the San Juan International in Puerto Rico. After that, it was a chain reaction...St. Martin, St. Lucia, Grenada.
Chen has angled in other hot spots too such as Bermuda, Costa Rica and Venezuela.
"My favorite place to marlin fish is St. Thomas," he says. "And, what I like best about fishing is that never knowing what you'll catch when you head out. It's like playing Lotto."
While Chen has had a natural talent for art all his life, the artist inside of him didn't emerge until the past decade.
"I was a fisherman before I was an artist and this has served me well," he tells. "What's unique about marine art is that you really have to be on the water. I've seen a lot of fish that are vibrantly alive and those beautiful brilliant colors are what I translate through acrylic paints to my canvases."
Nowadays, Chen both fishes and works at over 100 tournaments a year. A large part of what he does is tournament art, everything from customized T-shirt designs to trophies.
"Its nice that I can combine my profession with what I love," he says. "For example, in 2006, the San Juan International flew me down as their official tournament artist. I set up a booth to show works in the evening, but I fished by day. In fact, I won that year. Our USA team - myself, William Canida and Scott Price - won the Best International Cup with four releases, two of them I released."
In the future, Chen, who now calls West Palm Beach, Florida, his home, sees conservation as a big issue.
"What I like as an artist is getting a chance to actively help in the conservation effort by donating artwork," he says. "Many tournaments have art auctions with the proceeds being used in billfish conservation. In fact, I'd like to see more artists get involved in this effort."