If you have ever considered becoming an observer for billfish tournaments then the fall and winter of 2006-2007 may hold just what you are looking for.

In addition to three training class dates set in the U.S. for this fall and winter, two popular fishing resort locales in Costa Rica and Mexico have been added to the IGFA's Certified Observer Program (COP) training schedule.

The first IGFA COP training class will be offered October 25, 2006, at the IGFA headquarters in Dania Beach, Fla.  The class begins at 9:00 A.M. to train and certify experienced anglers, boat captains and crew members as observers for fishing tournaments held around the world.  The course includes sessions on species identification, IGFA saltwater fishing rules & regulations, safety at sea and boating etiquette.

A second US IGFA COP class will be offered December 2, 2006, at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, on the corner of 5th Street and North Flagler Drive, West Palm Beach, Fla.  This class will also begin at 9:00A.M.

The third US IGFA COP class will be offered in conjunction with the 2007 Miami Boat Show on February 18, 2007.  This class, which also begins at 9:00 A.M., will be held during the Miami Boat Show and in the Miami Convention Center.

For those who may want a pre-Thanksgiving get-away, the Costa Rica IGFA COP class is planned for November 11 at the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort.

If you prefer getting away after Christmas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is the site for the January 15, 2007 IGFA COP seminar. The on-site location for Mexico will be announced soon.

"The purpose of the IGFA's COP is to provide tournaments with a pool of qualified witnesses to monitor the observance of rules and fishing practices," said Michele Sedge, the IGFA's COP coordinator.  "Most significantly, the COP classes teach observers about billfish identification, thus reducing or eliminating the need for fish to be brought back to dock for official scoring.
"The idea behind the class in Mexico is to train the captains and the mates among and beyond the large number of the fleet located in Cabo that fish the Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championship Tournament and many other tournaments.
"Costa Rica's waters literally teem with big game like dorado averaging 40 pounds, yellowfin tuna that push the 300-pound mark and one of the largest concentrations of big Pacific sailfish found anywhere," Sedge said.  "In fact, Costa Rica boasts one of the healthiest billfish fisheries in the world, with 20-fish days being a common occurrence.  Unusually calm waters and short rides to the fishing grounds cement the country's place at the top of the big game fishing destinations."
Since its start in 2002, the IGFA's COP has trained 862 observers and has held 24 classes in five states, two US territories and three foreign countries.  Sedge said the number of tournaments using Certified Observers has more than doubled from 7 in 2003 to 19 during 2006. 
"As a result, tournaments that were historically 'kill tournaments' are now beginning to alter their formats by switching to 'all release' or by instituting release categories," said Sedge.  "For example, both the Bahamas and Bermuda leg of the Bermuda Triangle Tournament will be utilizing a release format with IGFA Certified Observers.  These will be the first tournaments in both countries to utilize Certified Observers.  Thus, it is evident that more Certified Observers need to be trained nationally and internationally to continue the spread of release format billfish tournaments."
IGFA COP applications are available at the IGFA website, www.igfa.org, and at IGFA headquarters.  Pre-registration is required and the $150 fee covers the cost of the training class, course materials, and a one-year membership in the IGFA.  For additional information, please contact Michele Sedge at 954-924-4317 or MSedge@igfa.org.