A living legend and a pioneer angler, Syed Aziz Agha, is perhaps the most perfect personification of the quote ‘Do what you love, love what you do’…
Everything about this man is fishy (well not literally, but figuratively)! His is the story of a man whose passion for fishing and drive to bring about a positive change in the environment changed the whole fishing scenario in Pakistan. I was lucky enough to interview him recently and here’s what I found out:
Agha is the man behind the introduction of saltwater fishing as a sport in Pakistan. Honored by the media by being called the ‘Father of Fishing’ and popularly known as ‘Fish Nana’ among the youth, his services to salt-water fishing in Pakistan seem to be more impactful than anybody else’s.
He is also a freelance journalist and a photographer, an environmentalist and a marine activist. Agha’s life revolves untiringly around fishing and that is reflected by every aspect of his life. In fact, even his home décor is inspired by marine life. There are fishing souvenirs from all over the world, a personal collection of amazing rocks and pebbles and extensive photography of priceless and historic moments all available to the fascination of the on looker.
What Are His Services To The Fishing Industry of Pakistan?
How It All Started
Agha recalls, “I spent my early years in Chittagong, part of the then East Pakistan. There I learnt how to fish and swim in nearby ponds and lakes. After migrating to Karachi in 1971 when I was just a teenager, I used to go fishing in the sea with a group of friends. Each of us would pool in rupees 50 to pay for the trip!” This became a regular practice and it made him delve deeper and deeper into the fishing obsession. In addition, since the early 80’s, he has been actively promoting the sport.
The Journey From Interest To Vocation
He formed the ‘King Fishers’, the first saltwater fishing Club in the country in 1984 and since became a record keeper of sea game fish in Pakistan. In 1988, he brought out the first King Fishers publication. He introduced artificial lure fishing in Pakistan, which is another credit to his name. He started the first salt water fishing guide service in 1985. Later in 1995, he started the party boat fishing charters.
Agha’s Sportfishing (the headquarters of saltwater sport fishing in Pakistan) was established by Agha in 1985 in Karachi, with the prime purpose of promoting sea fishing in the country. It organizes offshore sport fishing tournaments, provides fishing guide service, sells charters and publishes marine magazines (since 1997) that also highlight marine environmental issues. He also started publishing Sportfishing Pakistan in 1998. Agha is CEO and also the Editor of the organization’s publications.
His knowledge in the field and his skills at entertaining his guests made him quite popular with foreigners (including many dignitaries) who were visiting Pakistan. Consequently, he has had the honour of taking many foreign diplomats for offshore fishing that include the U.S., Swiss and Korean Consul Generals. He continued this for many years to come, in his first locally built party boat in 1996.
It was in the year 1990 that Agha started organizing his Offshore Fishing Tournaments, which became a great event to focalize anglers and fishing enthusiasts from all over the country. Later, he also introduced the Pakistan Bill Fish Tournament in 1997, exclusively for catching Marlin and Tuna fish. In one of his tournaments in 1997, 222 anglers on 54 boats participated, which included 13 lady anglers.
Especially relevant is that in 1990, Agha was appointed as the IGFA representative for Pakistan. The International Game Fish Association, USA is the premier most fishing body and the leading authority on angling pursuits in the world. They have the largest marine library and are also the record keepers of all the World Record game fish. Agha is a lifetime member of IGFA.
The Feather In His Cap
Perhaps the most note-worthy contribution made by him is the first authentic book from South Asia on sport fishing in the Arabian Sea called ‘Guide to Saltwater Fishing in Pakistan’. This book has received international acclaim and has been included in the IGFA library. “I worked on my book for eight years until I finally launched it in 2007. All the research, photography and the designing has been done by me. If you ask me what I am most proud of, I am going to tell you that it is my book. I consider it the feather in my cap!” says Agha. Agha’s fishing guide book is now also translated in Urdu and is due to be launched soon.
Salwater Angling Achievements
Agha has fished the best fishing destinations in the world in Costa Rica, Panama, Mauritius and Florida (Key West). Therefore, he is like a walking talking encyclopedia on the subject. Moreover, he has several angling achievements to his name. He:
- was a member of the only team that first tagged and released the Marlin fish in Pakistan and registered it with the Billfish Foundation in Florida (1998)
- participated in the Marlin World Fish Tournament as ‘Team Pakistan’ in Mauritius (2000)
- is the local record holder for the heaviest fish caught on spinning tackle. It was a 77 pounds Giant Travelly caught on a 30 pound fishing line (2000)
- has the honour of being the first and only angler to land all the three species of Marlin (Black, Blue and Striped) in Pakistani waters (2003)
What He Has To Say About The Sport
Agha informs, “Karachi’s coast waters are ideal for salt water fishing because they have been blessed with the most varied variety of game fish anywhere in the world, including the big game fish like Marlin, Swordfish, Spearfish, Sailfish and Tuna. So, if the appropriate measures are taken to promote sportfishing, tourism and many other economic benefits can be reaped.”
He explains, “Catching a Marlin is considered an ultimate in game fishing. It is a million-dollar sport abroad. In the US, an average tour for Marlin catching will cost around US $10,000 and in Australia a nice Marlin catching tour package amounts to Aus $25,000. As a result, there are dozens of such tours held all over the world where the prize money for catching the heaviest Marlin is one million US dollars. Karachi is by nature blessed with three species of Marlin — black, blue and striped. Not many big fishing destinations of the world can boast of having all three so you can imagine the tourism potential of our waters.”
Agha, the Marine Environmentalist That Pakistan Desperately Needs
Agha feels deeply about the need to care for the marine environment and therefore has been an activist for it. In his own words, “I believe that the entire marine environment along with its wealth, that is, its habitants, game fish species and related food chain are economic, social, recreational and aesthetic assets, which must be conserved, protected, promoted, wisely used and perpetuated. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of strict environmental laws and their implementation which causes many locals to misuse the marine resources of the country.”
For 3 decades now, Agha has been a freelance journalist who has been voicing marine environmental issues. He has been writing regularly in Dawn Newspaper and also contributes to Wildlife & Environment quarterly magazine as correspondent.
Since the 80’s, Agha has raised voice against activities that are harmful for the marine environment, specifically
- Over fishing
- Sea pollution and reclamation of coastal land
- Illegal and harmful fishing nets used widely in our country.
In his book, he explains in detail how each one of these are playing their role in destroying our marine ecosystem and causing marine species to become endangered and possibly extinct.
“The fish populations in our sea have drastically reduced over the years. It is high time that we all learn to be responsible citizens and play an active role in preserving our marine environment,” urges Agha.
A point of deep concern for him is that despite all his efforts since the early eighties to promote this fantastic tourist sport, conservation of the marine environment has never been given priority by the authorities. He reports that not a single jetty or related infrastructure has been built for the common citizens.
Agha also emphasizes that pollution is a very serious issue. “My stern advice to people I interact with is ‘you brought it onto the boat, you take it back with you’; no dumping in the sea!” says he.
Contribution to the Marine Education and Recreation
Since 2008, Agha has been organizing Agha’s Marine Gala ‘Discover Marine Pakistan’ in addition to his popular fishing tournaments. The theme of this event is ‘Marine Education in Recreation’ and it includes a marine theatre performing short skits to educate kids. Renowned organizations like the WWF and TCF are part of Agha’s Marine Gala. It is a well-liked and successful event. Despite facing numerous challenges in this course, Agha is determined to continue hosting such events for the benefit of the public. He would also like to particularly educate the younger generations. He particularly wants to make use of his marine presentations and talk shows in schools/universities.
Agha emphasizes, “We should learn how to live in harmony with nature.” In 2010, Agha founded his Marine Peace Society, of which he is the Chairperson. MPS is a NGO that works for the cause of marine conservation, recreation and education and which is out to promote the marine environment of Pakistan. He contributes further by being a member of Shehri (the biggest NGO on environmental issues in Pakistan) and of Whale & Dolphin Society of Pakistan.
His Personal Life
The father to 3 and grandfather to 6, Agha says, “My children mean the world to me!” Throughout their childhood, his children Imran, Shazia and Shayan have been deeply involved in the sport. Accordingly, his family accompanies him on many of his fishing adventures.
Interests Apart From Fishing
Agha is in his late sixties, but he says that he stills likes going out for fishing as if he were a 30 year old! He enjoys reading, particularly Ernest Hemingway and religious texts. Also, yoga and meditation on the beach with the Hungarian fitness trainer Dr. Zsuzsanna is one of his favourite pastimes. Moreover, he is a social butterfly, with friends as young as 18 and as old as 80!
“The words ‘stress’ and ‘depression’ are not in my dictionary. I believe that there is nothing in life that you can’t sleep over; I never carry any problem to the next day. We all have our fair share of problems but life is actually very easy, we make a mess ourselves,” he expresses.
Agha loves the outdoors, and doesn’t believe in relying on medications for a better health. Furthermore, a teetotaler all his life, he has never had any interest in other such activities such as smoking, gambling or chewing paan. His favourite food is fish and Fresh Fish Soup is a regular part of his menu. He also enjoys cooking fish, and his specialty is delicious fish nuggets, which his guests often request him to prepare!
A Dedicated Ambassador For Peace
Apart from all this, he is also a dedicated advocate for peace and religious harmony. Hence, he can often be seen voicing concern about grave social issues and participating in protests against injustice.
“If I could change something in my country, I would change the educational policy here. I would also make it compulsory for Muslims to read and study the Quran with the translation. That’s because I believe that opens up the mind and makes one tolerant and righteous,” says he.
“The Arabian Sea is God’s gift to the people of Karachi,” says Agha. He encourages everybody to make friends with nature; to explore and enjoy the environment around them, specially the fishing experience. Agha also regularly emphasizes that we all need to care for our natural habitat and its creatures.
“Fishing is fun, fish is bonus. Always keep that in mind!” he advises.
More about MARINE PEACE SOCIETY:
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/MarinePeaceSociety/
More about AGHA’S SPORTFISHING:
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/AghasSportfishing/
More about the book: http://www.aghasportfishing.org/book-saltwater.htm
More about the TOURNAMENT and GALA (2012): http://theolympicssports.com/other-sports/aghas-marine-gala-discover-marine-pakistan-and-aghas-challenge-cup-2012-sportfishing-tournament.html